IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF
A wide-ranging tour through Southeast Asia culminates in an excursion on the Oriental Express.
I accompanied a small group of guests on a journey through Southeast
Asia that included a luxurious ride on the Eastern & Oriental
Express from Singapore to Bangkok. The impending trip inspired me to
read the book of travel writer William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
called, “The Gentleman in the Parlour” to prepare for the journey.
Somerset Maugham was born in
Paris, educated in Canterbury and the University of Heidelberg, finally
settling in the south of France. In the above book, the travel writer
set out by ship from London to Colombo and Rangoon in 1923. There he
visited the famous Shwedagon Pagoda and went up by steamer to Pagan and
Mandalay. From Mandalay, he proceeded to Taunggyi to cross the Shan
States to Kengtung and on to Chiang Mai, where he took a train to
Bangkok to continue to French Indochina by steamer.What an adventure
must have been in those early days of travel!
| >> As the Somerset Maugham suite was occupied, I could only marvel
at the facade
of the old building,
which is more than 130 years old, and looks out into a tropical
|Eastern & Oriental Express in Bangkok
Retracing some parts of
Maugham’s adventure, my modern journey started with a low-cost carrier
flight that departed from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City
early on the morning of October 25.
In Ho Chi Minh City,
formerly called Saigon, I met my travel guests from Germany.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt Hotel downtown in an area that is still
called Saigon. Formerly a Khmer port town called Prey Nokor that the
Vietnamese had occupied
and annexed in the 18th century, Ho Chi Minh City boasts close to 12
people – most of them drive motorbikes.
During a one-day sightseeing
tour, we visited attractions such as the Opera House, Notre Dame
Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office, which was built from 1886
to 1891 by renowned French architect, Gustave Eiffel.
We inspected the
Independence Palace, where the official transfer of power to the
victorious communists took place on April 30, 1975. A visit to the
Museum of Vietnamese
History evoked 3,000 years of cultural development, which started in the
Stone Age, but also showed marvelous art pieces of early Champa and the
temples were seen with the Thien Hau Pagoda in Cholon and the Jade
Emperor Pagoda in Old Saigon. A romantic dinner cruise on the Saigon
River ended a fine day.
The next stops on our
luxurious tour through Southeast Asia led us by air to Phnom Penh and
Siem Reap in Cambodia,
where we stayed one night at the Raffles Hotel “Le Royal” in the capital
and four nights at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Both hotels were built
in the 1930s.
We enjoyed a stroll at Wat
Phnom in Phnom Penh and had enough time to see the Royal Palace,
National Museum and Central Market. In Siem Reap, we stumbled over the
stone castles of Banteay Srei, Angkor
Wat and the mysterious Bayon within Angkor Thom. We visited the fishing
village of Kampong Klaeng, which neatly nestles
near the Tonle Sap Lake, and ended our sightseeing tours with temples
the “Great Circuit” such as Prasat Preah Khan, Neak Pean and Ta Phrom -
visit when night is falling in. Also, don’t miss any of the classical
“apsara” dance performances, which echo times of a lost paradise, as
well as “Pub Street” with a
myriad of restaurants near the Old Market.
To reach Singapore at the
southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, we flew from Siem Reap via Phnom
Penh on November 2.
We arrived at Singapore’s Changi International
Airport in the afternoon and were transferred straight to the landmark
Raffles Hotel Singapore. Founded in 1887 by the four Armenian Sarkies
brothers, this iconic
property had welcomed Somerset Maugham between the two world wars and
functioned as second home for people like Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling
|Hotel de Ville in Saigon