Traveling by rail offers ease and a view of a nation's stunning and ever-changing scenery. Asia's diverse landscapes make for a beautiful setting for some genuinely unforgettable train excursions. Here are what BambooTravel.uk judges to be the top nine Asian train journeys, from the extremely luxurious to the modest.
Hill Country Line, Sri Lanka
The Hill Country line in Sri Lanka, which connects Colombo with Badulla, was constructed during the colonial era to transport tea. The route still winds through tea plantations and offers some breathtaking views. The portion of the route that runs from Nanu Oya to Ella is, in our opinion, the most beautiful.
The train trundles past the tiny villages and tea plantations of this picturesque region during this three-hour slow but unforgettable journey, taking in some breath-taking panoramas.
We advise making reservations as early as possible for seats in the first class observation vehicle, which has plusher seating and huge rear-facing windows.
Reunification Express, Vietnam
The rail system in Vietnam was inherited from the French, but a large portion of it was destroyed during the bloody Vietnam War, or American War to the Vietnamese. Following the war's conclusion, the Vietnamese government set about reopening the route that connected Hanoi and Saigon, which was given the new name of Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the founder of the country's independence movement.
The 1,726 km long line was restored in 1976, and the trains that run along it are known as the Reunification Express.
We do not advise taking the 35-hour trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City in one sitting, despite ongoing attempts to update the nation's rail network, including the introduction of the new antique luxury train. Our favorite and unquestionably the most memorable part of the line is the very short trip that connects Hue with Danang, the entryway to the picturesque ancient town of Hoi An.
The track follows the coastline as it ascends over the breathtaking Hai Van Pass. In one of our earlier blogs, we went into greater detail about the Vietnam train system.
Gokteik Viaduct, Myanmar
Myanmar offers one of Asia's most tense train journeys, possibly even in the world. The massive Gokteik Viaduct, which spans the steep, forested Gokteik Gorge, is slightly under 100 meters high. It remains Myanmar's tallest bridge and was the largest railway trestle in the world when it was finished in 1900.
The bridge, which connects Pyin Oo Lwin, the former summer headquarters of the colonial administrators, with Lashio, the capital of Shan State, immediately gained notoriety for its use in smuggling items into and out of China for the black market.
To avoid putting unnecessary strain on the deteriorating structure, the train slows to a crawl when it passes beneath the 700 m-long viaducts. Although it is advisable to avoid looking down if you have vertigo, the viaduct's height offers a breathtaking vantage point to take in the surrounding landscape.
Alishan Forest Railway, Taiwan
When the Portuguese first saw Taiwan, they gave it the name Isla Formosa. It was a stunning island. The island is undoubtedly lovely, and a cutting-edge train system connects it effectively.
Particularly on the largely underdeveloped east coast, Taiwan's spectacular terrain makes for some fantastic rail excursions. The Forest Railway in Alishan, a narrow-gauge mountain railway built in 1912 that travels through z-shaped switchbacks, tunnels, and wooden bridges, is the only train that can compare in terms of scenery and personality.
Even though the trip and the train are both noteworthy, the dawn over Taiwan's tallest peak, Jade Mountain, which can be seen from the line's higher terminus, Zhushan station, 2,451 meters above sea level, is the actual highlight.