Experiencing the iconic and exotic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from Bangkok to Singapore has long eluded my many travels to Asia. Not any more, I have just returned and am delighted to be able to give my first-hand view of the itinerary, the train, the service and all aspects of one of the incentive travel world’s most iconic and exotic trips. If incentive travel is about the ‘wow’ factor, then the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express has always promised one of the biggest ‘wows’ there is. Did it deliver?
Expectations are Set
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express holds a unique position in the market, blending history, old world standards, and a commitment to service and luxury deemed second to none. As I left Heathrow with Thai Airways (incidentally, one of my best experiences in economy, especially the food and service) bound for Bangkok, a lot of questions were running through my mind about the forthcoming trip – is Bangkok to Singapore the best route? How would three nights aboard the train be? How would the whole itinerary work, from airport to hotel to train and back, and how seamless would the transitions be? And perhaps most importantly, would the actual experience live up to my expectation, set by the wonderful website and pre-trip reading?
We arrived in Bangkok nine and a half hours after departing, and the entry process and chauffeur transfer to the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok went very smoothly, so much so it seemed that in no time I was in my room. The hotel is in a superb location, possibly the best in Bangkok given its prestigious riverside location which gives views of daily river life, and proximity to all central Bangkok has to offer, yet all the while being a welcome oasis from the city bustle. After a couple of recharge hours in my super room, with an enormous, comfy bed and superb cotton sheets, it was time for the pool, and what a pool. The gardens, cabanas and lemongrass scented towels take you a world away from a city centre location.
Off to dinner, and full use of the location is made thanks to a transfer over the river to Sala Rim Naam, the hotel’s traditional Thai restaurant. Relaxed dining at night, al fresco, of wonderful food on the gorgeous terrace is the perfect immersion into the Thai experience.
Ready to Board
The following morning the main event beckoned. After breakfast, a spa visit, and then a stunning lunch at the Blue Elephant, it was back to the hotel and a late afternoon private transfer by the Eastern and Oriental chauffeurs, in immaculate white uniforms, to Bangkok’s Hualampong station. It was here that you experience the seeming chaos of everyday life, but I was quickly in the air conditioned departure lounge having experienced what appeared to be a parcel sorting office. It is contrasts like this that I think helps to heighten the amazing experience the itinerary had delivered so far and promised.
The train is something like a quarter of a mile long and comprises Pullman carriages, State Rooms, a Presidential Suite, restaurant, bar, lounge and observation cars. We had champagne with the general manager and then boarded. My two berth, en-suite, Pullman cabin was a sheer delight, beautifully equipped, and if small touches make a big difference then the cabin was a lesson in how this can be achieved, one example being the attention to detail in the lighting – there was a light for all reasons, it was subtle, homely and welcoming and showed off the teak, silks and furnishings superbly. I must mention that one of the welcome surprises were the Bvlgari toiletries, my favourite!
The train departed early evening and it was soon time for drinks and nibbles in the Piano Bar and then dinner. Dress was smart, collars and ties and dresses, again a sign of the high standards running throughout the experience. The two restaurant cars have two sittings and 28 covers each. The dining environment was not just fine, but finest, with plenty of space and exquisite linen, silver and crystal adorning the tables. The 16 chefs, headed by Belgian Yannis Martineau, produce a menu with plenty of choice - both western and Asian dishes feature. I managed to sneak a look at the two kitchens and to be able to produce such splendid and delightful food in such a small space is testament to their skill and organisation. The restaurant experience was completed by the attendant maître d’ and sommelier.
My cabin was prepared for the night by my carriage butler who asked what time I would like breakfast which is served in the cabin. After a restful night and continental breakfast it was time to sit back and observe. The movement of the train, a gentle and relaxing sway at worst, encouraged the viewing of daily Thai life as the countryside slid by. There is a reading room, reflexologist, and, oddly, a palm reader on board. You want for nothing aboard. We stopped at the Kwai Bridge Station after breakfast and visits to the museum and graves, and a river trip added interest to the journey. It was then lunch and more whiling away the time taking in the stunning Thai scenery.
Day three saw us arrive at Penang and the crossing into Malaysia, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express take care of all border formalities, and the landscape contrasts with Thailand were noticeable, adding more talking points and flavour to the journey. Here I got a couple of hours or so off the train and the chance to explore Georgetown by trishaw. Day four and we were at Woodland Railway station in Singapore, where I was met by the Mandarin Oriental Singapore chauffeur and whisked away to the stunning Marina Bay area. It is four years since I have stayed here and the area has been developed superbly, and is especially stunning by night. More luxurious dining and treatments preceded my flight the following day back to Bangkok and home.
The Orient Experience for Incentive Travel?
I reflected on the questions I asked myself when I departed Heathrow, especially the time aboard the train, and on this I have to say that the itinerary was perfect. At each stage of my journey the experience got better, each part building on what had gone before. Leaving a grey Heathrow aboard Thai Airways was a perfect way to travel as it meant my experience started immediately with the graceful and exquisite Thai service. Then the transfer, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and its location and dining totally took this to another level. The leisurely journey through different cultures and scenery, all the while indulging in luxurious train travel, meant I arrived to enjoy to modernity of Singapore totally rested, relaxed and invigorated. A memorable experience that is, to be honest, like no other.
And this, to me, was the essence of my journey – if incentive travel is to have ‘R&R’ at its heart then the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express experience from Bangkok to Singapore is right at the pinnacle of ways to achieve this, especially if the group like travelling, appreciate style and know how to engage and understand differing cultures.
To see more of what I experienced, where I ate, stayed and kicked back and viewed then head to our Pinterest board.
Flexibility is key for corporate incentive travel and there are many ways we can accommodate the variables of duration, destination and route with the E&OE team and our regional hotel partners. If you have some ideas and thoughts or want to hear more of mine about group travel aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express then I would love to have a chat, so please don’t hesitate to contact me.