Travelling by air provides a commodious journey is the most timesaving means to reach far-flung destinations. On the other hand, cruises are a luxurious and pricey option. Then, we have travelling by train. This gives you a little bit of everything, making it a one-of-a-kind travel adventure. Train rides can be exclusive, either in terms of sole appearance or the overall experience.
If stunning landscapes of untamed nature — from snow-capped mountains to lush verdant jungle — then consider one of these 10 train trips across Asia for when the world (or at least the region) opens up! They promise the most majestic views of some rare parts of the world.
1. Qinghai-Tibet Railway
The journey between Mainland China and Tibet is known as the ‘rocket to the roof of the world’. And that says it all. It takes you through and past Tibet’s Himalayan peaks, ancients cities of China, wide rice fields in the countryside, and sparkling brilliantly blue lakes all around. The whole journey will take your breath away, and you won’t want to even blink for fear of missing out on something spectacular.
2. Kurobe Gorge Railway, Japan
If you’re up for 80 minutes of winding through emerald volcanic mountains and over forested ravines, then this train ride is for you! Taking passengers from the Unazuki Station to Keyakidaira Station, the Kurobe Gorge Railway meanders through a beautiful canyon with the enthralling Northern Japan Alps on either side.
Besides the mountains, another captivating marvel is the Kurobe River that cuts through, and is one of the deepest gorges in the country. Passengers will go through more than 40 tunnels and 20 bridges with pitstops, allowing passengers to alight to explore. The canyon is most immaculate in autumn, as the forested ravine is painted with golden, warm, earthy colours that are a visual feast.
3. Reunification Express, Vietnam
Vietnam’s Reunification Express travels to and fro two of the country’s most major cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and symbolic of a reunified Vietnam (North and South) after the war. The train services may not be lavish, but they are guaranteed to be cost-effective. You might want to press your nose against the windows as you roll through Hue and Da Nang, with the South China Sea outstretched before you, and small villages neighbouring the expanse of verdant paddy fields along the way to Nha Trang and the mountainous Sapa. A majestic sight to behold indeed.
4. Hill Country Line, Sri Lanka
Regarded as one of world’s most scenic and beautiful train trips is Sri Lanka’s iconic Hill Country train route. The train departs from Colombo, interchanges at Kandy, and proceeds to Badulla. For most passengers, their favourite part is the route from Kandy, passing through Nanu Oya, and towards Ella which is a colonial train station.
Let your hair down as the cold breeze sweeps in from the highlands, whilst the train breaks through the cloud line and crosses the Nine Arch Bridge or ‘Bridge in the Sky’. When they say that it’s not about the destination and rather about the journey, they must have been referring to this ride that uncovers high mountains, remote villages, lust forests, and divine waterfalls that leave you in wonderment.
5. Konkan Railway, India
The most breathtaking view along the Konkan Railway is from Mumbai to Goa. The journey between these two regions of India captures a spectacular vantage point of the many gorges of Sahyadari, Arabian Sea peripheries, mountain ranges, small river streams, and seemingly endless meadows. The average travel time of 12 hours (that can be shortened to eight hours) with semi-fast speed trains is a relatively long journey, but it’s a sight too good not to behold.
6. Alishan Forest Railway, Taiwan
Alishan is a mountain township in Chiayi County, Taiwan and famous for its five wonders — the sunset, sunrise, sea of clouds, forests, and the railway. The Alishan Forest Railway that’s a narrow-gauge line is unique for various reasons – making 180o horseshoe turns, spiral railways, and zigzag switchbacks that make the train go backwards.
The journey also progresses through three different climate zones – ascending from the misty forests to the high mountains and revealing many sacred trees, mountain peaks, and green valleys. Ultimately, this trip through the forest lets you explore the zen spaces of Taiwan.
7. Goteik Viaduct, Myanmar
Once the world’s second-highest railway trestle and now the highest bridge in Myanmar, Goteik Viaduct stands tall at approximately 100 metres above the thick forested Goteik Gorge that connects Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio. The train is perched precariously on its track without sparing much space, making the ride a vertigo-inducing but simultaneously awe-inducing trip. Especially when it slows down to almost snail-like speeds over the frightfully tall bridge, careful not to exert excessive pressure on the historic railway. To overcome your anxiety, avoid looking straight down to the gorge below and just wallow in the bigger picture of the scenic surrounding above.
8. Urgench to Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is widely regarded for its good railway system with the famous high-speed Afrosiyob train and Sharq Express, and for a much slower service, the night trains (including their newest railway electrification project). As exhilarating as the trip may be on a fast train, it’s the slow-serviced train from Bukhara to Urgench that allows you to enjoy the view. The train moves at a leisurely pace, ambling past the world’s 15th largest desert, Kyzylkum, that’s roamed by camels, abandoned mosques overtaken by the dry trodden sand, and tomb stones further ahead.
9. Jakarta to Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Break away from the thronging city life of Jakarta and be bound for Java’s cultural hub — Yogyakarta. You won’t regret making your way there by train, as the ride showcases beautiful sceneries of country living in Southeast Asia, expansive terrains, and lush paddy fields.
10. Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand via Malaysia
Relive the moments of a bygone era as you board a train dripping with classic glamour and travel between ancient cities. The Eastern & Oriental Express is as opulent as they come, taking passengers from Singapore all the way up to Bangkok through the entire stretch of peninsular Malaysia. You’ll also get to enjoy three renowned cities in Asia, as it traverses Kuala Lumpur as well.
Needless to say, the landscape you’ll get to behold throughout the entire ride is absolute splendour. Widen your eyes to witness the transcendent beauty of tropical forests, the topography of the Southeast Asian countryside, ancient villages, and even myriad temples. Nearing the last destination, Thailand, you’ll also get to see the historical Kanchanaburi where the River Kwai and Death Railway are based.