Dis-Orient Express

Singapore 076 When we planned our Asia leg for our trip, we thought it would be fun to spend a couple of days and nights on the Orient Express (or, the Eastern and Oriental Express, to be precise). Well, it was, in all senses, a once in a lifetime experience, mostly because we’d never do it again! It had it’s interesting aspects, but it won’t skyrocket to the top of our list of trip highlights, that’s for sure!

Singapore 047 We flew from Cambodia to Singapore, where we spent almost no time. We got in late on a Wednesday night, and were on the train departing at 11:00 a.m. the next morning. We did have time for a quick walk around a very impressive Singapore. The city, just one degree of latitude north of the equator, shimmers.

Singapore 152 We then hopped on the train for a 60 hour, 1,260 mile trip from Singapore, through Malaysia and Thailand, terminating in Bangkok. They claim the train’s maximum speed is 35 mph, but they’re being modest. I’m sure it goes twice that velocity in rocking side to side! But the cabins were cozy, and we all slept really well, despite the motion.

Singapore 140 On our way up, we stopped briefly in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysis, which looked big and interesting. I did my best to get a picture of the towers there (two identical, and beautiful, buildings), but the best I could come up with was of one. You’ll have to trust me that another lies right behind it. But, having heard the name “Kuala Lumpur” for years on NPR, it was fun to actually be there. And it looked beautiful at night.

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Singapore 167The next day we stopped for a couple of hours to explore a place called Panang, Malaysia. Well, Panang makes just about anywhere look like a fabulous tourist destination by comparison. Honestly, the picture at the right was by far the most interesting I took of Panang, and I know it’s boring. It’s just one of those places. It’s tag line is “It’s a City … It’s an Island.” To which I’d add “It’s a Bore.”

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Singapore 126 That night, though, we got a great treat when our kids put on a shadow puppet show for us. Shadow puppets are big in Cambodia. We didn’t get to see any shows there, but we did buy a few of the puppets. Our kids wrote a story and acted it out for us in our train cabin, while we chugged our way north through Malaysia. .

Singapore 226 On our last day on the train, we made a morning stop at the town where the famous Bridge on the River Kwai is located (a film made about it garnered seven Academy Awards). They had a “Death River” Museum, and we went on a brief river tour. This visit was more interesting than the stop in Panang, which says nothing. The bridge itself is not all that interesting, but the museum,and the World War II history it relates, was fascinating. We then visited a cemetery across the street with graves of thousands of Singapore 231 Allied troops who died as prisoners who were driven beyond belief to build a 250 mile railway in eighteen months. In all, some 12,000 captured troops and 100,000 conscripted Asians died, but the railway linking Rangoon, Burma, with Bangkok was finished on schedule. We read the inscriptions on many of the tombstones, and it was so sad to see the emotional messages from the families who lost their sons (most in their 20′s).

We then dragged ourselves back onto the train, where we met our restaurant point person (below, left), who we nicknamed “Dr. No.” And we recalled fondly the Thai dancer on the train, who without a doubt was the clumsiest dancer we’d ever seen perform in front of a group. When the train pulled into the Bangkok station, we were thrilled to arrive. .

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The train ride wouldn’t be something we’d recommend, but we actually had a great time on the train, despite the challenges (including no hot water for a morning shower in a stall the size of a shoe box, rocking back and forth!). And, for us, it was one of those “You only go around once” experiences, which will give us lots to talk about for the rest of the trip. And seeing the sacrifices of the troops in World War II put it all in perspective for us, underscoring how lucky we all are that so many brave people fought in such an important cause.

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