A friend rang me the other day, asking if I would be
available for lunch on Monday. "Sure," I said, "Where do we
go?" "Well," he replied, "meet me at the Railway
Station." "Fine with me," I answered, "did you find a
new khao soi stall?" "Nope, we will be boarding the Eastern &
Oriental Express, and catching a ride to Lampang."
Eastern & Oriental Express upon its arrival in Chiang Mai. You have the
chance to see this legendary train 6 more times later this year.
hardly believe what the chefs create in this kitchen with its extremely
for a rest and a good book - the reading room, dominated by mahogany and
brocade, provides an extensive library, magazines and newspapers.
car, next to the restaurant carriages.
That was it! These three words brought back memories on
the spot, memories of my childhood, the fascination, the books and travel
stories about the "Orient Express" (as we Westerners know it), the
murderers, Agatha Christies’ Hercule Poirot, the plush and the lush - I
could not wait to see it myself.
Monday came, and I went a little earlier to have a look
around. At its maximum length, the train (if you may want to call it just
that) consists of 22 carriages. The two restaurant cars, the bar car and
saloon car were situated at the centre, with the compartment carriages
located on both sides of these central cars. I found the observation car at
the very end, and was looking forward to having a G&T just there.
Having caught up with my friend, we were met by the
charming Ms. Leesa Lovelace, E&O’s deputy general manager, who took
both of us on a tour of the train. In every way reflecting the style and
grandeur of its European sister train, the Eastern & Oriental Express,
it leaves its own mark on the world. It remains true to its grand heritage
in its meticulous recreation of colonial splendor, yet offers a view of an
altogether more exotic world.
Stepping on board, we knew that we would experience
something out of the ordinary. Leesa informed us that the immaculate carria
ges were brought to life by the traditional skills of master craftsmen, and
we realized just how their delicate skills, intricate brass work and fine
wood marquetry have decorated the interior. Passengers can, depending on the
depth of their pockets, choose between ‘Pullman-’, ‘State-’ or a ‘Presidential-Compartment’;
however all compartments vary only in size, as amenities and facilities are
the same - ensuite shower and w.c., a personal safe, a minibar, not to
mention towels, bottled water, toiletries, hairdryer, E&O stationery,
and route information. To put it simple: a 5 star hotel on rails for not
more than 132 passengers; stylish - the old-fashioned way.
After a little refreshment in the bar, we were politely
informed that our table had been prepared, and that the food was ready to be
served. The maitre-d had set-up our table at the saloon car, where we met up
with Ulf Buchert, director of Passenger Services, the heart and soul of the
train. No need to mention that the layout of the table was absolutely
spotless and perfect, and so was the menu. Chef de Cuisine Kevin Cape had a
light ‘East-meets-West’ menu prepared for us, starting with a clear
vegetable and wonton soup, with tanlueng leaf and char siew pork, followed
by an aromatic comfit of duck, Szechwan-style vegetables and puree of black
bean and cumin. My personal favorite, however, was the Asian mixed-fruit
crumble, served with Roselle ice cream.
the magnificent views you can enjoy from your private compartment, when the
world is passing by.
at the bar - the ambience of the train provides a marvellous opportunity to
display some glamour and style.
obligatory farewell picture after a short yet remarkable trip - from right;
David Thomas, Wanna Tours, Ulf Buchert, E&O’s Director of Passenger
Services, Leesa Lovelace, E&O’s Dep. General Manager, and Chiangmai
Mail’s Michael Vogt.
While the train majestically found its way through the
most scenic surroundings, I asked Ulf about some operational issues - having
seen the very limited space in the kitchen earlier, having noted the very
discreet and very attentive service, I wanted to find out how he recruits
and trains the staff. His answer was quiet simple - "We don’t have
to! We basically do not have any staff turnover, and about 90% of the
employees have been with us ever since we started the E&O Express, and
that is now almost 11 years ago. When I do interviews, I look for people
with charisma and character, that’s what we need. Experience is certainly
welcome, but not really essential. We like people with an attitude!"
In my opinion (having had 25 years hotel experience
myself), a very refreshing and modern approach towards "Human
Resources", which proves to be successful, and could also work for
other hospitality sectors that claim to ‘know it all’.
Asking Ulf about one or another unusual experience or
request he has had in the past 10+ years, he hesitated to answer. Why?
Noblesse oblige! At the E&O Express, the passengers’ wish is the
command, and should you ever need a private airplane at 3 in the morning -
check with Ulf. He and his staff make the impossible possible, and he might
even tell you where to find the best local food stalls between Chiang Mai
and Singapore, whenever the train halts for a routine stop.
Without any doubt, there is something special about this
train - Leesa and Ulf proudly remark that they welcome about 60 to 70%
returning passengers on board, passengers who have undertaken other trips on
the European routes, or in Australia. Passengers who are enjoying their
honeymoon, a wedding anniversary, or any other auspicious occasion which
calls for a very special treat.
At a very gentle pace, we approached Lampang, and as we watched the
scenery unfold from the comfort of this luxurious cocoon, we could
understand what inspired Paul Theroux to write, "The journey, not the
arrival, matters". So, should you have your personal special occasion
coming up later this year - the train will be back in Chiang Mai 6 more
times before this year comes to an end. Spoil yourself, and experience a
most unique, nostalgic way of traveling.