It’s a no-brainer that flights are simply the quickest and most convenient means to travel around in a matter of hours. But if you’re looking for an offbeat path that lets you immerse yourself in natural landscapes, go on one of the scenic train rides in Asia.
We know exactly what’s going through your mind: “Why spend 2 days on land when I can fly from Singapore to Bangkok in just 2 hours?”. Well, a wise poet, TS Eliot, once said, “The journey, not the destination, matters.” Some of these train rides are as long as 48 hours, but some are only an hour.
So, if you’re willing to give slow travel a shot, you’re guaranteed beautiful scenery and a taste of the local culture along the way.
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We know that budget flights to Bangkok can be really cheap, but where’s the sense of adventure in just hopping on a plane? Instead, take train from Singapore to Bangkok for under S$110, and you’ll be there within 48 hours or so.
Your journey begins from Woodlands, where you’ll take your first train to Johor Bahru Sentral. Once you’re at JB Sentral and done with the customs, take the KTM ETS/Intercity train to Gemas. You might want to dabao some food from JB Sentral because this ride will take around 4.5 hours.
Image credit: @yongvvc via Instagram
From Gemas, you can either take the KTM train to KL Sentral, where you can make a stopover in KL before continuing the rest of your trip, or to Padang Besar, the border town of Malaysia and Thailand if you plan to get to Bangkok ASAP. The former journey takes 2.5 hours, while the direct route takes roughly 8.5 hours.
From Padang Besar, it takes another 19 hours to get to Bangkok, and you will need to get on board a sleeper train, the Special Express No. 46. There’s only one trip daily, so it’s best to book your tickets a month before your trip.
Image credit: @feisu.desu.ka via Instagram
This particular train route is the best part of it all. As you make your way to Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Station in Bangkok, you’ll enjoy the views of Thailand’s countryside and coastal towns, including Hat Yai, Nakhon, and Hua Hin.
Once you’re in the city, you can take several Bangkok train trips to get around the rest of the country. Oh, and if you’re still feeling adventurous, just know that you’ll be 2 train rides from Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Travel time: ~48 hours
Price: From S$78.54/pax
Image credit: @crecofficial via Instagram
A train ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane is not only scenic but also faster than travelling by car because you avoid all road traffic. Plus, it’s convenient as there are multiple trains departing throughout the day almost every hour, so you can choose the timing that fits your itinerary the best.
During the brief 1-hour ride on the high-speed train, you’ll get to witness Laos’ forests, limestone mountains, and various Laotian landscapes, including farmlands and the forested Mekong. While Vang Vieng is known for its waterfalls and lagoons, Vientiane is the town to explore temples and pagodas.
If you want to continue your journey further with this Laos-China Railway, this train carries on towards China and terminates in the city of Kunming.
Travel time: ~50 minutes
Price: From S$23/pax
Image credit: @vhs_travel_lovers via Instagram
If you’re a true adventure seeker, you may have heard of the Gokteik Viaduct – one of the highest railway bridges in the world. Standing 102m above the ground, this bridge is set along the railway that goes between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw in Myanmar.
Fun fact: the Gokteik Viaduct was the highest railway bridge in the world when it was built in 1901. It’s no surprise then, that this scenic train ride is on the bucket list of many travellers.
Not only does this ride provide a welcome surge of adrenaline, but it also offers stunning views of green fields and rolling hills. The 140km railway track passes through 9 stations and crisscrosses 7 hours of mountainous terrain, concluding in an exhilarating journey over the Gokteik Viaduct.
Regular class seating.
Image credit: @jonnyrouse7 via Instagram
There are 2 seating options: upper and regular class. The upper class (MMK2,750, ~S$1.79) offers cushioned reclining seats, while the regular seats (MMK1,200, ~S$0.70) are made of wooden benches.
Keep in mind that the train ride can be bumpy at times, so it’s best to choose the upper-class seats for a more comfortable experience. Also, there is no online reservation system, so you’ll need to buy tickets in person from Pyin Oo Lwin train station. This means you have to be there at least an hour before the train departs.
Travel time: ~7 hours
Price: From MMK1,200 (~S$0.70)
Image credit: @alecia.janeiro via Instagram
Much like other train rides across Asian countries, the train from Phnom Penh to Kampot makes its way through semi-rural areas and mountaintops. During the 3-hour and 40-minute scenic train ride, you’ll see rice fields with cute wooden cottages that cluster beneath a canopy of palm trees.
The railroad line also crosses the Cardamom Mountains, home to lots of endangered wildlife, including sun bears, pangolins, and civets.
Before hopping on the train, don’t miss the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and Wat Langka Buddhist temple in Pnom Penh.
As the train draws closer to Kampot, passengers can spot farmland with water buffalos and Brahman cows. In Kampot, some of the highlight attractions include Phnom Chhngok Cave and Preah Monivong Bokor National Park. These places are where you can see ruins of old French colonial settlements.
Travel time: ~4 hours
Price: From S$12.53
Image credit: @visits_thailand via Instagram
History buffs can’t miss the famous Death Railway in Thailand. This iconic railway serves as a memorial to those who tragically lost their lives building the railroad.
Take the train from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok to see incredible attractions along the way. Between these 2 stops, the train will cross the very famous Khwae River Bridge, which allows you to witness the riverbank communities living in floating homes along the Kwae Noi River.
Wang Pho Viaduct.
Image credit: @alan_bligh_kl via Instagram
After departing from Kanchanaburi, the train winds down the cliffside, weaving through magnificent vistas of the country’s streams, waterfalls, and bamboo groves. For the most breathtaking views, nature lovers should sit on the left side of the train and have their cameras ready.
Other highlights on the scenic train ride include the Wang Pho Viaduct and the Golden Buddha statue hidden in the Tham Krasae Cave. To get train tickets, get to the station early and buy them from the State Railway of Thailand ticket counter.
Travel time: ~2 hours
Price: ฿106.05 (~S$4)
Book a day tour to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok ($74.05).
Image credit: @taiwantourism.na via Instagram
Unlike most of the other trains on this list, the train operated by Alishan Forest Railway is a steam locomotive. The Alishan Forest Railway route is famous for its sakura, sunrise views, and 3 different forest zones – tropical, warm, and temperate.
The century-old steam train passes across 72 bridges and 47 tunnels during its entire route of about 80km, starting from Chiayi Railway Station in Chiayi City to the forested area near Alishan Station.
Image credit: Taiwan Travel Wishlist via Facebook
If you’ve come to see the cherry blossoms, you can simply take the short ride from Alishan House to Zhaoping Station and see Yoshino cherry trees along the way.
While the exact dates of flowering might vary from year to year, mid-March to mid-April are often the cherry blossom seasons in Taiwan. You could plan your trips around these months to witness this beautiful season.
Travel Time: ~10 minutes
Price: NT$100 (~S$4.25)/adult | NT$50 (~S$2.12)/child
Image credit: @toyama_visit via Instagram
The Kurobe Gorge Railway in Japan is best seen during autumn when a splash of orange is all over the mountaintops and forests. Hop on the scenic train ride from Unazuki to Keyakidaira stations to enjoy the view of the gorge and mountains surrounding the Okukane Bridge that spans the Kurobe River.
Along the 1-hour and 20-minute trail, the train will stop at 2 stations – Kuronagi and Kanetsuri, which allows passengers to hop off and explore the surrounding areas at their own leisurely pace. The scenic train ride includes the sights of a dam, a stone bath, and several hot springs.
Image credit: @unizou_lifestyle via Instagram
When it comes to the trains, you can choose to either sit in a windowless open carriage railway or in the First Class coach with windows. The best way to enjoy good weather and scenic views on the train ride is the former option, but if you don’t want to ruin your hair, then pick the latter. Do keep in mind that tickets must be purchased from Unazuki Station.
Travel time: 1.5 hours
Book a one-way ticket for Kurobe Gorge Railway ($18.28).
Before we get into the details of the scenic train ride from Kandy to Ella, here’s a mini history lesson. If you know anything about tea, you’ll know that the world-famous Ceylon tea is from Sri Lanka. This rail network was initially built by the British to transport tea from all over the country to Colombo for exporting.
The Nine Arches Bridge is one of the most iconic photo spots in Sri Lanka.
Image credit: @marie.piw via Instagram
The route from Kandy to Ella can take anywhere from 7-10 hours depending on how long the train stops at each of the stations en route – and the interval duration isn’t always exact. The locals also use this train as their mode of daily transport between towns, so it can get pretty busy and crowded.
That said, anyone who has been on this expedition only has good things to say about it, proclaiming that the captivating scenery is worth every minute. Highlights along the way include tea plantations, gushing waterfalls, and winding rivers.
Image credit: @sabryfasce via Instagram
If the full journey seems a tad long, break it up by stopping over at either Nuwara Eliya or Haputale. Nuwara Eliya is a hillside town known for its many waterfalls, while Haputale is where you can see the famous Nine Arches Bridge up close.
There are 3 travel classes on this train, with First Class being the most comfortable thanks to air-conditioning, but Third Class is the most popular because of the open doors that people like to peek out of for the IG-worthy shot.
Travel time: 7-10 hours
Price: From S$5
Book a train ticket from Kandy to Ella.
Board the East Coast Sea Train to relish the jaw-dropping views of South Korea’s coastline. The hour-long train ride from Gangneung to Chuam offers panoramic views of the ocean from the comfort of your seat.
Before we get into the scenic train ride, here’s how to get to Gangneung: take the KTX train directly from Seoul station to Gangneung station, and you’ll be there in less than 2 hours. You might get a whiff of pine scents as you alight here since the coastal city is famous for its pine trees.
Image credit: @seoulsaaram via Instagram
Now, back to the East Coast Sea Train ride. The first few carriages have been designed with seats that face the windows so you don’t have to hurt your neck looking sideways. The last carriage is for families where the passenger seats face each other.
On the way, the train will stop at 3 other stations – Jeongdongjin, Mukho, and Donghae. You can get off at any of them, but you’ll have to buy another ticket should you wish to take the train onwards to another station.
Image credit: Korea Trip Tips
Why would you travel down to Chuam? Because the white sandy beach here is touted as the best one on Korea’s eastern coast. It’s also extremely rare for a train track to be built this close to the ocean.
Travel time: 1 hour
The dreamy train journey from Beijing to Lhasa is truly one for the books. As a passenger, you’ll get to indulge in the sights of majestic snow-capped mountains and glacier lakes.
Image credit: @lene9fisher via Instagram
There are 7 stops along the way, and some people prefer to break up the 40-hour journey by getting off at Xining, which comes after 19 hours. This city is where one can admire architecture blending both Chinese and Islamic styles.
The Soft Sleeper berth comes equipped with individual headphones too.
Image credit: Tibet Travel
The entire journey to Lhasa in Tibet by rail is an overnight one. So, getting one of the sleeper berths is highly recommended. The Hard Sleeper fits up to 6 while the Soft Sleeper fits only 4 persons, offering slightly more privacy and individual space.
Travel time: ~40 hours
If you’re looking for an exhilarating yet scenic train ride in Asia, simply look towards the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. The track ranges from about 325m to 2.2km in height above sea level, making it the steepest sloping track in Asia.
Image adapted from: @idiotwind1973 via Instagram
The train is also known as “The Toy Train” because the engines and coaches are much smaller than any ordinary steam locomotive. You cannot miss this scenic train ride if you’re in the state of Tamil Nadu in India.
It takes about 3.5 hours to make the journey from Ooty to Mettupalayam, and this train route will bring you through 208 mountain curves, 16 tunnels, and a whopping 250 bridges.
During peak tourist season, you might want to book your train tickets at least 2 months in advance because the tickets sell like hotcakes during this time.
Travel time: ~3.5 hours
Image adapted from: @koyuri344 via Instagram
Imagine looking out the window and seeing the ocean, mountains covered in snow, vast forests, sprawling industrial centres, and teeny-tiny villages surrounded by rice fields – all in one journey. You can see all of this, plus a spectacular sunrise against Mount Fuji aboard Japan’s famous overnight sleeper train – The Sunrise Express.
The Sunrise Express travels from Tokyo to Okayama before branches into the Sunrise Seto and Sunrise Izumo. Each train then branches off in a different direction – the Seto goes south to Takamatsu, while the Izumo heads north to Matsue and Izumo.
Lounge area in one of the cabins.
Image credit: @atriptofuture via Instagram
The sleeper train sets off at 10pm from Tokyo and takes 12 hours to get to Izumo or 9.5 hours to get to Takamatsu.
Heads up: making a reservation or purchasing the tickets online is not an option. You must contact the ticket office to reserve a ticket a month before your trip or purchase the ticket physically from the Midori no Madoguchi ticket counter. Also, reservations are only possible once you’ve activated your Japan Rail Pass.
The pass covers basic fares for sleeper trains, but extra charges on the accommodation fee may apply according to the type of cabin you choose. JR Pass users get to reserve a “Nobi Nobi Seat” or a non-reserved seat for free. An additional fee is charged for sleeping berths with more privacy.
Travel time: 9.5-12 hours
Book the Japan Rail Pass.
We’re sure the photos have spoken for themselves. But if you need more convincing, trains are more eco-friendly than planes, have much less turbulence, and allow you to skip the endless customs and airport security lines. In most cases, the tickets are also way cheaper.
For more train trips from Singapore:
Cover image adapted from @lene9fisher, @seoulsaaram, @visits_thailand via Instagram, & Taiwan Travel Wishlist via Facebook
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