Two of the best food cities in the world are Bangkok and Singapore, so gourmands will especially appreciate this tour, which begins by boat and continues by train, sampling excellent food all along the way. Explorations begin in Bangkok, once known as Venice of the East, where glittering skyscrapers are positioned next to massive temples and traditional wooden houses. Take a Thai cooking lesson inside one of those wooden houses or on board a rice barge and prepare Thai recipes while gliding down the river.
Continuing to Singapore, board the Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express, where you can enjoy fine dining amid richly appointed accommodations. As the Malaysian countryside passes, view the unobstructed landscapes via the open-air observation car. Once in Singapore, sample the fine street food in the Arab Quarter and Maxwell Food Centre, visit golden-domed mosques and Hindu temples and stroll through lively markets and ornate gardens. Wrap up your trip with a high-speed ferry ride to Bintan Island in Indonesia.
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Arrive in Bangkok late in the evening and check into your hotel.
In this bustling metropolis, you’ll discover an array of treasures, from spectacular temples huddling beneath glass skyscrapers to extraordinary cuisine. “But perhaps the greatest pleasure,” Mr. Harper argues, “is just sitting beside the Chao Phraya River, watching the endlessly fascinating life of this uniquely colorful waterway. Stately rice barges make their way down to the Gulf of Thailand, while brightly painted ‘long-tail’ water taxis forge upstream in a welter of spray.”
Begin your explorations by boat, gliding past glittering skyscrapers, monumental wats, venerable mansions and traditional wooden houses, until you reach the Royal Grand Palace. This mini-city comprises formal gardens, ornate halls and elaborate temples, including Wat Phra Kaew, the famed Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Nearby, the immense Wat Pho contains an enormous golden statue of the Reclining Buddha, as well as Thailand’s most famous massage school.
After lunch, meander through the Monk’s Bowl Village, where craftsmen beat out metal alms bowls in a traditional Khmer technique. The lightweight lacquered bowls make ideal souvenirs.
Late this afternoon, return to your hotel, where you might indulge in a relaxing spa treatment.
Spend today touring the opposite side of the river, beginning with the spectacular Royal Barges Museum. Here it’s easy to understand why Bangkok was once known as the Venice of the East.
Majestic Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, rises about a mile downriver, its towering spires encrusted with colorful ceramics.
Board a private long-tail boat and embark on a tour of Bangkok’s khlongs (canals), which flow throughout the city. Over the years, many khlongs were filled in to make way for roads, but numerous other canals remain intact, inviting leisurely exploration. You might like to stop at a floating market, where traditional boats laden with flowers and produce vie for prime water real estate.
Consider starting today with a Thai cooking lesson in a traditional wooden house on the river. Learn how to prepare dishes such as grilled pumpkin with curry sauce, northeastern-style herbed soup with chicken or black sticky rice with taro in scented coconut syrup, and enjoy your creations for lunch. Alternatively, we can arrange for a memorable cooking class aboard a stylishly converted wooden rice barge, during which you prepare traditional recipes while cruising along the river.
In the afternoon, visit the exquisite house of Jim Thompson, who almost single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry. The six teak wood houses he assembled and converted into a modern home stand on Khlong Saen. Some of Bangkok’s most upscale and interesting shops are nearby in the Siam Square neighborhood.
Founded in 1876, this legendary resort hotel is set on the banks of the Chao Phraya River amid tranquil gardens.
Set on the west bank of the animated Chao Phraya River, this sleek luxury tower hotel houses 370 rooms.
Located in the historic Dusit district near many of the city’s most famous attractions, this impressive hotel with a glass pyramid roof is nestled on 3 landscaped riverfront acres.
Board Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express, sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The carriages of this extraordinary and rather exotic train have been completely refurbished and redecorated in the style of the golden age of rail travel. Public lounges and private accommodations alike feature intricately inlaid wood paneling, rich upholsteries and brass accents.
An open-air observation car at the end of the train allows for unobstructed viewing of the dramatic landscapes and timeless villages passing by. A live pianist entertains in the bar car each evening, and the gracious restaurant cars serve sophisticated Western and local recipes.
Book a State Cabin or the Presidential Cabin for the most space.
Disembark at the River Kwai Bridge (immortalized in the famous film) for a cruise along the river guided by a local historian.
Later in the morning, visit an evocative war museum and, if you like, a nearby war cemetery.
Return to the train for lunch and dinner. Expect dishes like a pan-seared scallop gratinated with chile-spiked calamansi on green papaya and pomelo salad, and aromatic confit of duck with cauliflower purée and vegetable teppanyaki.
Arrive in Singapore and transfer to one of Mr. Harper’s recommended and Alliance partner hotels.
As he notes, this city-state off the tip of Malaysia is full of surprises: “Most people are aware of Singapore’s robust economy and eerily spotless rapid transit system. They may be less familiar with its Arab Quarter, raucous food stalls and centuries-old temples.”
Singapore has become a major gourmet center, and it’s one of the best cities in which to sample Peranakan cuisine, a seductive fusion of Chinese and Malay flavors.
Start perhaps with a walk around the atmospheric Arab Quarter, home to the grand golden-domed Sultan Mosque as well as numerous shops and sidewalk cafés.
A 15-minute walk northwest leads to the Little India neighborhood, home to the impressive Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali. Atop its elaborate entrance gate stand four rows of colorful sculptures illustrating religious stories.
On the other side of the Singapore River is the city’s Chinatown, home to the ornate Thian Hock Keng Temple, one of the oldest in the city. Dragons swirl around the columns flanking its tranquil courtyards, and elaborate gilded capitals support the sweeping green-tile roofs.
A short walk along streets lined with colorful old shophouses leads to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, an elaborate Tang Dynasty-style building, and the Sri Mariamman Temple, the city’s oldest Hindu temple, built in 1827.
A short walk from either temple, the Maxwell Food Centre ranks among Singapore’s best “hawker centers,” collections of food stalls that look unpromising but nevertheless sell some of Singapore’s most delicious local cuisine. A guide can help point out dishes to try, or ask your concierge for the best options. The food here qualifies as street food, but because it’s Singapore, you’re guaranteed that it will be perfectly safe (and thoroughly delicious) to consume.
After lunch, have a walk along pedestrianized Trengganu and Pagoda streets, home to a popular outdoor market. Much of the merchandise ranks as tourist kitsch, but the markets make for great people-watching and it’s an excellent place to find small, inexpensive gifts to bring back home.
If the weather is good, head to the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark Observation Deck, set atop one of Singapore’s most iconic contemporary buildings. The views over the city, the bay and the port—its thousands of vibrant shipping containers looking like so many Lego bricks—are sensational.
Set on a lush 30-acre estate on parklike Sentosa Island, this 112-room resort fuses two British colonial houses with striking modern extensions designed by Foster + Partners.
Opening onto lush gardens, this historic 1887 colonial hotel is set in the heart of the business and shopping district.
Set on Marina Bay in the heart of Singapore’s central business district, this glamorous, glass-walled hotel offers 100 rooms.
After so much time in cities, it’s time for some relaxation along the beach. Take the comfortable high-speed ferry 45 minutes from Singapore to Bintan Island, Indonesia. Mr. Harper’s recommended hotel The Sanchaya can easily arrange for the ferry tickets and the visa necessary to enter the country. This colonial building that once sheltered government officials and army officers in Singapore has been converted into a 21-villa, nine-suite retreat beside the sea, embellished with Thai-style pitched roofs, Burmese window frames, Laotian temple ornaments and Khmer glazed pottery jars.
Settle into your accommodations, and perhaps follow in Mr. Harper’s footsteps this afternoon: “After a dip in the 150-foot infinity pool, I indulged in a signature Sanchaya spa treatment, which involved deep-tissue massage and warm-stone therapy.” Or simply have a peaceful stroll along the beach.
On Bintan Island, according to Mr. Harper, “The most impressive sight is the 500 Lohan and Guan Yin Chinese Temple, with its life-size handcarved stone statues of arhats (a Sanskrit word that means ‘one who is worthy’), or Buddhist saints. Tanjung Pinang, Bintan’s capital, is located on the southwestern coast of the island. A lively town where many of the houses have been built over the sea, it is a great place to shop for Javanese batik textiles.”
Alternatively, you might enjoy a round at the Ria Bintan Golf Club, which Mr. Harper ranks as one of the best in Southeast Asia.
After taking another morning to relax on Bintan Island, return to Singapore and head for home on an evening flight.
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