Trains Really Are the Most Romantic Way to Move Across Asia

By Greg Rodgers
Asia Travel Expert,
Trains in Asia are scenic, social affairs with a much more relaxed atmosphere than the buses speeding along chaotic roads. There’s a good reason the prolific travel writer Paul Theroux always preferred to travel by train in Asia.

Taking in the green countryside as your train slowly click-clacks across a country is an unforgettable experience. So stock up on snacks, grab a copy of Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, and enjoy the ride!

Tips for Taking Trains in Asia

  • Always keep your ticket easily accessible; it may be checked more than once along the journey.
  • Don’t get too excited if you have a car to yourself, and don’t spread out your belongings -- others may join at a later stop. Sometimes passengers sat in cheaper cars will pay a small fee to upgrade mid journey.
  • If on an overnight train, ensure that the attendant knows your destination; they should wake you a few minutes prior. Be mostly packed and ready to get off quickly if your stop isn’t the last.
  • Cars with air conditioning may get incredibly cold. Have a blanket or jacket ready.

Choosing the Right Class[post_ads_2]

The classes of carriages vary widely across Asia, but the lowest class -- the cheapest -- will usually be the most crowded. Luggage and goods being transported often clog the walkways in the bottom-class cars.

On trains in Burma and many other countries, the difference in price between classes is not that significant. A lot of additional comfort can be enjoyed just by paying a little extra.

When traveling by train in India, you’re more likely to meet educated, English-speaking people -- and enjoy a friendly cultural exchange -- by paying a little more to upgrade from the cheapest cars.

Choosing the Best Seat

Solo travelers will most certainly enjoy a window seat for taking in scenery as the train cuts through the countryside. Don't worry about a lonely journey: it's easy to meet people on trains!
If given an option, choose a seat in the middle of the car that isn’t on top of the wheels and suspension. Sitting farther from the bathroom is generally a good idea, too.

Choosing the Best Bunk[post_ads_2]

For sleeper trains, you’ll probably have to decide between upper or lower berths. Travelers who are physically able and don’t mind climbing up and down will enjoy more privacy on the top bunks. People coming in and out of a car often disturb the lower bunks; sometimes other passengers may even use your lower bunk as a seat!

Tall travelers may have more difficulty squeezing into top bunks and will fair better in the lower.

Food and Drinks on Trains

Generally speaking, you should try to take your own food and drinks for extended train travel. With the exception of a few luxury train rides, food on trains in Asia is often lower quality and extraordinarily expensive by local standards. I have encountered several instances in Southeast Asia when everyone who ate on board was sick from spoiled food!

Sometime along the journey, an attendant will come through to take orders for food. If on an overnight train, your order for breakfast will be taken the evening before. Meals are brought to your seat. As is the case with trains in Thailand, attendants receive commission for selling drinks; don’t be surprised if they come around asking if you’d like a beer or softdrink at least once per hour.

Some trains, but not all, will be put together to include a dining car; it isn’t always at the end of the train. The dining car is often a place to socialize and meet fellow passengers for a drink. Attendants push carts through some trains to sell snacks and instant noodles.

Locals who are traveling by train like to take a bag of fruit and snacks; you should consider doing the same. At the least, take your own drinking water. One option is to jump off to buy food from the carts at stations along the way -- but don’t linger, the train won’t wait on you!

Security on Trains[post_ads_2]

Unlike when traveling by night bus, you won’t really have to worry about your bags being opened while traveling by train in Asia. As a precaution, always try to keep your luggage with you or nearby, beneath your bunk or above your seat.

Leaving an iPod or smartphone on your seat when going to the toilet is asking for trouble!

Toilets on Trains

Toilets vary on trains; many are of the squat-toilet variety. Using a squat toilet as the train bounces and sways down the tracks can take some practice! Pretty much all the toilets on trains are small, cramped affairs that end up wet from splashing water.

The water on tap in trains is not safe to drink. You can use it to brush teeth, but don’t drink it. An exception is the kai shui (boiling water) on tap for making tea and noodles aboard Chinese trains.


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Travel Magazine: Trains Really Are the Most Romantic Way to Move Across Asia
Trains Really Are the Most Romantic Way to Move Across Asia
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