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The best train journeys in Asia

Tired of your usual train to work? Try one of Asia’s best train journeys instead

Written by
Caramella Scarpa
John Lim
Dewi Nurjuwita
Ed Cunningham

All around the world, trains are back and bigger than ever. From the expansion of night train networks to the resurgence of supremely luxurious rail routes, train travel is proving that alternatives to planes and cars aren’t just greener: they’re often much more enjoyable, too. 

When making a list of the best rail journeys in the world, it sort of makes sense that Asia features so heavily. After all, this continent is vast. It’s home to such a mind-bogglingly huge range of cultures and landscapes that it simply cannot help but also be home to an enormous selection of fab train journeys. 

So, without further ado, here goes: from luxury hotel rooms on wheels to legendary historical routes, these are the seven best train journeys in Asia. 

🚂 The best train journeys in the world
🚅 The best train journeys in Europe
🚉 The world’s most spectacular train stations

The best train journeys in Asia

Blue Train, Sri Lanka

While not officially called the ‘blue train’ – nor should it be confused with the famous South African train of the same name – there’s no easier way to describe these Chinese-made trains that depart Colombo and go to Kandy (famed for its Buddhist temples and tea plantations), Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Badula. It’s the best train ride in Sri Lanka and only takes three hours from Colombo to Kandy, where most travellers alight.

Don’t expect too many frills onboard given its affordable price tag: the air-conditioned first class car is as good as it gets with reclining seats, seat-back tables, and ceiling-hung video screens. Second- and third-class cars aren’t even air-conditioned but come with large opening windows instead. But it’s not all bad because along the way, vendors line the station or jump on to sell local delicacies and it’s a pleasant cacophony of noise and local colour, usually accompanied by loud Bollywood tunes.

Sojourn around the island of Kyushu onboard this sophisticated, luxurious train. Seven Stars Cruise Train offers a four-day journey that takes you through five out of Kyushu's seven prefectures: Fukuoka, Oita, Miyazaki, Kagoshima and Kumamoto. Experience the way the locals live and spend the night at a traditional ryokan in Yufuin, one of the best onsen resorts on the island.

Sit by the large windows and watch at Kyushu's landscapes pass you by. And if you're curious about the meals, the Japanese and Western cuisine served onboard is prepared by Seven Stars' head chef, featuring freshly picked vegetables and produce from around Kyushu. 


Weave through the mountain resort of Alishan in central Taiwan onboard the Alishan Forest Railway, a network of 71km of narrow-gauge rail lines in central Taiwan's Alishan mountain range. In fact, it is one of the so-called five wonders of Alishan – which also include the forest, the sea of clouds, the sunrise, and the sunset.

Cruise-style tours were recently introduced to the century-old railway, aiming to preserve it. While affordable, this train journey is nothing ordinary. You'll be travelling on the nostalgic train surrounded by Alishan's misty forests. The journey doesn't stop once you get off the train, though. Visit attractions around Alishan like the Jiemei lake and get an oolong tea-tasting session with local tea farmers.  

It costs about ten times more than a budget flight from Singapore to Bangkok, but this train ride from Kuala Lumpur Sentral to Bangkok is all about the experience. Buy a ticket for the ETS service to Padang Besar on the Thai border, then change to the International Express run by the State Railway of Thailand and make sure you get the air-conditioned sleeper carriage.

Alternatively, you can opt for an opulent ride
aboard the Eastern & Oriental express train, which houses you in a cabin decked out with a comfy bed and en-suite bathroom, and serves champagne breakfasts, evening cocktails and three-course meals.

Poignantly, the infamous Death Railway – built by the Japanese using POW and local slave labour during WWII – forms part of the track. The train goes over the Bridge on the River Kwai and you can stop at the seaside town of Hua Hin for a few days before catching the train to Bangkok or back to Malaysia.


If 22 hours just doesn’t cut it, then this is the trip for you. Travellers who undertake this journey rave about the distinctive ever-changing scenery, incredible number of bridges crossed (some going over extreme ravines) and passing through what is known locally as the Death Region, which is self-explanatory. You whizz past nomadic tribes, endless plains and nature reserves and suffer headaches from the altitude – but hey, that’s all part of the epic adventure. Nicknamed the Sky Road, the journey covers more than 4,000km and takes more than 47 hours.

Tickets are very reasonably priced considering the distance: expect to pay about $225 (£184) for a soft sleeper, which is your best option. If you’re on a budget, opt for the hard sleeper at approximately $140 (£114), although sitting for that amount of time on a hard seat in high altitude can be quite uncomfortable.

Travelling between Vietnam’s two major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, the Reunification Express isn’t a luxury service – the  best it offers are four-berth cabins in the ‘soft-sleeper class’ but it’s a fantastic way to see the country and you can alight at places like Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang and the verdant mountains of Sapa. The train travels on a historic 1,700km track originally built 80 years ago by the French, which was severed in 1954 when Vietnam was divided between north and south, only to resume service in 1976 following the end of the Vietnam War.

The cabins offer just enough storage space for your bags and a bed for a good night’s rest – which is all you need, as you’ll be up most of the time watching the scenery and exploring the train stops. Those who want to tough it out can opt for the hard seat but pay a little more and gain access to the soft seats or hard sleeper classes.


If dropping thousands on a train ticket doesn’t make you blink, then take the Deccan Odyssey. Based on the royal trains that the maharajas used to travel on during the golden years of the British Raj, this 21-coach train includes 11 luxury cabins, while the rest are occupied by the dining area, lounge and spa.

The cabins are like a five-star hotel room on wheels, complete with a personal attendant to answer to your every beck and call. A few cars away is a well-stocked bar, and dining cabins serve up meals prepared by the prestigious Taj Hotels and Palaces group. If you get exhausted from sitting down in the lap of luxury, there’s also the spa that offers ayurvedic treatments.

There are several packages to choose from, covering places like Goa, Jaipur, Agra, Hyderabad, the Ellora Caves and Udaipur. Most of the trips begin in Mumbai and end in New Delhi.


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