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A Train Trip to Remember

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ian Lloyd

[UPDATE: Parts of this trip have changed since we took the journey but a visit to the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai and the Thailand Burma Railway Centre and Prisoners of War cemetery is still an option. It was the most moving part of experience.]

Cocktail hour can be a precarious business on board the Eastern & Oriental Express. There’s a risk of losing great splashes of your G&T overboard with every sway of the train. But standing on the open sided observation deck at sunset, passing by the verdant scenery of South East Asia, is worth any effort incurred. And of course being a passenger on a luxury train is really no effort at all.

Our journey had begun in Singapore where we spent the night at Raffles whose white shutters, balustrades and wrap around balconies outside; and dark wood, ceiling fans and antique furniture within took us back to a more gracious era. Perfect before boarding the E&O for a three-day journey through Malaysia and into Thailand, disembarking in Bangkok.

Pic: Shane Arnold

Now, 24 hours later, we are deep into the Malaysian countryside. And with darkness swallowing up the last of the view, it’s time to dress for dinner. The E&O is owned by the Orient-Express company [Update: now rebranded Belmond]and as such features exquisite marquetry and fabrics. Unlike the Venice Simplon train that runs through Europe, the carriages are not Art Deco originals. But what they lack in authenticity they make up for in modern comforts – ensuite bathrooms, the aforementioned observation deck and a reading room (home to a resident reflexologist and a fortune teller). There’s also the bonus of some pit stops along the way.

Eastern & Oriental

The first takes place just before dinner when we pull in to Kuala Lumpur station. It’s fun to walk up and down the platform in our finery, and see the pleasure on the commuters’ faces when they look at our gleaming train, but the best bit is to come. As we leave the station, tucking into our first course of goose liver wrapped in Chinese with pumpkin and coconut veloute, we spot the Petronas Towers sparkling in the darkness.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Mark Hind

In the bar car after dinner the gregarious pianist, Peter, keeps playing until the last guest goes to bed. On this occasion, not us – we are out stayed by a young couple from the UK. When we return to our State cabin it has been transformed into a bedroom, the sofa and lounge chair magically turned into twin beds.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Mark Hind

“Did you sleep well?” enquires our steward, Sarawut, as he brings us breakfast in our cabin the next morning. When we sheepishly reply in the negative he is not that surprised. “Some people don’t on the first night, it’s like sleeping through an earthquake.” At 8.35am we pull into Butterworth station. All the passengers set off on the first of our excursions to the island of Penang, passing a sous chef wheeling a trolley filled with ice along the platform.

Georgetown, the capital, has UNESCO heritage status on account of its abundance of historical buildings. We are all now settled into trishaws as we are pedalled around the ancient streets. Had I known it was an unofficial race I may have chosen a younger cyclist – the task of pushing both me and my husband seems a little much for ours. But the leisurely pace means we get a good view of the beautiful buildings from old merchants houses to Chinese temples filled with red lanterns or bright pink firecrackers. We pass through Little India, China Town and the Street of Harmony (so called because it’s home to a church, a temple and a mosque) and make a promise to return for a longer stay.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ian Lloyd

Back on board it’s time for lunch. From his tiny galley kitchen chef Yannis Martineau has prepared a tom yam vichyssoise with quail followed by pan roasted seabass with Sichuan style vegetables. Yannis’ dishes are a perfect blend of East meets West with local ingredients and techniques incorporated with his French fine dining background. At Penang, he took the opportunity to stock up on spices which will we try tonight in a delicious beef medallion curry.

We gain an hour today, as we cross the border into Thailand. The scenery changes noticeably. Palm trees give way to paddy fields, small temples can be glimpsed through tree tops and in the distance we spot a huge golden Buddha statue.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ron Bambridge

From the observation deck we get an unbeatable taste of local life. We pass through rural stations where food stalls are set up along the platform. A couple of Buddhist monks in their distinctive orange robes chat on a bench. In one village the locals are sitting in a row of deckchairs having an evening foot rub. Children riding bicycles try to keep up with us. Everywhere, people stare or smile and wave – the train has an uplifting affect on everyone who sees it.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Mark Hind

To celebrate our crossing into Thailand, a traditional Thai dancer is performing in the bar car this evening. There’s the usual merriment as the she entices guests up to join her. The trip is a convivial one: there’s something about a train journey that draws people together. Friendships are forged in the bar car, on the observation deck, over lunch and dinner. Our fellow passengers range from other couples to families with young children or teenagers, and several singles. There are honeymooners, Ruby wedding celebrators and at least one blossoming romance.

Our last day on board and the train manager announces that we are running slightly late but I think we are all secretly pleased to have some extra time on the train. When we pull into a stop right next to the River Kwai bridge we cause quite a stir. The tourists are intrigued and delighted by the train.

Eastern & Oriental Pic: Ian Lloyd

We leave them to their photography and embark on a gentle raft journey along the Kwai, floating under the notorious bridge as a local historian tells its story. Our tour continues to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre, a small but well run museum and the adjacent cemetery for Prisoners of War – a soothingly pretty spot. Everyone seems moved by this visit; it is undoubtedly one of the best experiences of the trip.

We re-board the train at the photogenic Kanchanaburi station for the last leg of the journey. As we draw closer to Bangkok the temples become bigger and more frequent. On the outskirts of the city, hard hatted construction workers wave at the train with the same enthusiasm as the school children in the countryside.

Soon we draw alongside canals – the city’s famous khlongs – and know we about to reach Hualamphong station. The frenetic station is a shock after the cosseting of our train trip but we are soon back to the comfort we have grown accustomed to when we check into the Mandarin Oriental. We are staying in the Author’s Wing, the original part of the hotel named after the likes of Somerset Maughan and Noel Coward who stayed here. At the heart of it is a gorgeous colonial style conservatory with rattan chairs, cream shutters and a Gone with the Wind staircase. It’s as fitting an end to our trip – although you can also take the train from Bangkok to Singapore, with an extra night onboard.

Inside the Authors’ Wing at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

On our last evening in Bangkok we catch the wooden shuttle boat over the Chao Praya river to the hotel’s Sala Rim Naam restaurant. In the opulent setting of a Thai pavilion we feast on the set banquet menu including fried snow fish in red chilli sauce, roasted duck with tamarind and warm flour dumplings with coconut milk. All the while entertained by a traditional show.

Mandarin Oriental boats crossing the Chao Praya river

Tomorrow we will be leaving Thailand but alas the journey involves airports and planes not stations and luxury trains. If only travel was always as glamorous as the E&O.

For more details on trips aboard the Eastern & Oriental see http://www.belmond.com/eastern-and-oriental-express/

Start planning your trip to these Westworld 3 filming locations in Singapore

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[UDPATE Atlas has won been awarded Best Bar in Asia in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020]

Westworld season three sees the storyline move outside of the Western theme park as the hosts seek to discover “the real world”. And what a world it is when the scenes are shot in SingaporeFor the city state looks magnificent on camera with its beguiling blend of steel and glass skyscrapers and lush tropical foliage. And especially at night as the Formula One coverage has long proven and Westworld 3 displays in lingering shots of the Marina Bay area, Raffles Place skyline and the twinkling Esplanade theatre roof. 

It’s this mix that caught the eye of Westworld co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. “The goal from the beginning was to find the future. If you go out in the world the future is there, it’s in places like Singapore,” Nolan says in Westworld’s Behind the Scenes aftershow on HBO. 

“There’s nowhere that looks like Singapore. There is a shape to the skyline that no other city has. There is a beautiful curvature to it that is really unique and interesting,” Joy told media during filming. “[And] It’s the ways in which nature entangles with modernity here. Singapore has done this incredible job of integrating nature into the city.”

For the most part the Lion City is mainly masquerading as a futuristic Los Angeles though it gets a name check in episode four. “Another simulation? Well this one is a bit over the top,” snaps Thandie Newton at the Atlas Bar only to be told “No Maeve, it’s Singapore.”. 

While the cast Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and Luke Hemsworth Instagramed themselves visiting the Botanical Gardens, Haw Par Villa and Sentosa’s Adventure Cove waterpark, here are some of the key locations in episode one and beyond.

Parkroyal Collection Pickering

Park Royal Westworld

In the opening scenes of series 3 we catch a glimpse of this hotel close to the CBD and Chinatown in a flashback shared with Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores (now a champagne quaffing killer in a little black dress and heels). Specifically the roof terrace with its distinctive bird cage cabanas and infinity pool. In a later episode the hotel’s exterior is shown in its full splendour, all curved lines and draped with greenery. Charlotte Hale (or whoever is inhabiting her body since she was killed at the end of series two) meets Dolores here for a martini. The interior shots of the bar and bedrooms are not the Parkroyal though – in reality these are pared back, Scandi chic. The cast and crew did however stay here during filming. Jeffrey Wright who plays Bernard posted an impressive picture of the hotel on Instagram with the caption “’Til next time, Singapore.” 

Marina One

Marina One Lasalle

Dolores arrives in LA by futuristic looking helicopter. The building she exits though, having landed on the roof, is in actual fact in Singapore. An aerial shot focuses on a courtyard garden surrounded by multi level, loop shaped walkways. And Dolores walks through the garden (complete with three storey waterfall) when she demands: “Find me something fast.” Although it looks as if it could have been created for a dystopian fantasy, this is the Green Heart at Marina One, an exclusive condo, office and retail complex between Marina Bay and the CBD. The garden was designed to provide shade for office workers, shoppers and now presumably tourists.

SOTA 

We are introduced to new character, Caleb, an ex soldier played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, visiting his mother in hospital – in reality the School of the Arts (SOTA) – before leaving at the Stadium MRT station. Spectacular looking SOTA, made up of three towers connected by bridges and again dripping with foliage, is a high school dedicated to visual and performing arts. Its three performance spaces – the concert hall, the Drama Theatre and the more intimate Studio – are open to the public for performances.

Lasalle College of the Arts

Lasalle Westworld

Caleb seemingly attends a job interview at Lasalle’s McNally campus, noticeable for its striking multi faceted glass facade. Then in episode three Caleb and Dolores are filmed outside Lasalle following, not to give anything away, their first official introduction (but not first actual meeting which occurred in episode one’s unconventional meet cute). The college’s prominent Expression and Collaboration signs are strangely apt in the scene. 

Orchard Road

When Caleb takes a phone call about his job interview against a backdrop of brightly lit designer stores and neon illuminated steps at night it’s between Wisma Atria and Ion shopping centres on Orchard Road. Sensibly Caleb is there in the evening, the best time to visit rather than during the punishing sun of the day. Had Caleb nipped inside the Ion he probably would have skipped all the cookie cutter international stores and headed to the sub basement four levels underground and Food Opera with its hawker style stalls.

The Helix 

Taking another call, again at night, Caleb walks across the eye catching Helix bridge, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel just visible in the background. The pedestrian bridge links the Marina Centre waterfront with Marina Bay Sands and is so called as it’s constructed of a double Helix ie it apes the shape of a double stranded DNA molecule. At night The Helix looks particularly spectacular and futuristic as the neon LED lighting emphasises the parallel curved steel structure. 

Pulau Ubin

pulau ubin Westworld

At the close of episode one Bernard walks through a kampong before approaching a local fisherman at the jetty and asking him to take him to Westworld. The scenes were filmed on Pulau Ubin, an undeveloped island a 15 minute bum boat ride from Singapore’s Changi Point ferry terminal though a million miles away in other aspects. Pulau Ubin is a glimpse of how Singapore used to be, and a side that tourists rarely see. 

Atlas Bar

EK YAP
Creative Director
Photographer
www.ekyap.com
www.flickr.com/ekyap

Thandie Newton’s Maeve and Vincent Cassel playing new character Serac meet for a drink at the visually ravishing Atlas Bar. Maeve is still knocking back the sherry (“In the largest glass you’ve got”. Perhaps she’s heard about Singapore’s notoriously small pours) although gin and champagne are the house specialities.

“If you really wanted to impress me you’d have taken me to Paris,” she quips to Cassel. The line is doubly amusing as Atlas is a new build, designed in homage to the original Art Deco European brasseries. While it’s consistently voted one of Singapore’s favourite bars, it feels decidedly theme park-ish which makes it perfect for a Westworld location.

National Gallery Singapore

Rotunda-Dome-at-Supreme-Court-Terrace_1_Photo_credit_National_Gallery_Singapore

Dolores and Caleb’s visit to “the bank for a certain social set” takes place inside the National Gallery, the former Supreme Court and City Hall. The design, 19th century architecture mixed with modern additions of glass and steel, alone is worth a visit. Design and history tours take place daily during the week and twice a day at weekends. The pair’s banking transaction scene was shot in the Terrace, an event space in the Supreme Court Wing next to the Rotunda. You can actually go inside the dome as it’s a library (open Monday to Fridays except public holidays).

Visitors are also spoilt for choice for bars and restaurants here including rooftop Smoke and Mirrors where there’s a bird’s eye view of the curvaceous Singapore skyline beloved of Westworld’s creators.

Food Street

Chinatown’s Food Street is where we see Maeve meander under the red lanterns and past the roast meat and noodle stalls in episode four. (Though the beginning of the scene was actually shot over on Orchard Road with Maeve in front of Orchard Gateway and Peranakan Place). Following a multi million dollar revamp, the shophouse lined street with all weather roof is probably the most theme park-esque of all the Westworld 3 locations.

Indoor Indulgence from the Downton Abbey Creator: Belgravia

Belgravia Baby Monster
Belgravia – ITV and Epix

Belgravia the new lavish costume drama by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes based on his best selling novel of the same name is just the sort of television indulgence we need right now. The series showing on ITV and Epix features an ensemble cast of impressive British actors including Tamsin Greig, Philip Glenister, Alice Eve, Harriet Walker and Ella Purnell (“baby monster” in the Sweetbitter TV show). Fellowes’ story follows the upwardly mobile Trenchard family from the Duchess of Richmond’s legendary ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 to London’s grandest new neighbourhood, Belgravia, in the 1840s.

The Trenchards’ beautiful young daughter Sophia falls for the dashing Lord Bellasis, who is several rungs above her on the social ladder, in the heady days before Waterloo in Belgium. A few decades later the families become entwined again as they move to the newly fashionable Belgravia where old and new money live side by side though not necessarily in harmony. Here’s five things to know:

Belgravia Sophia and Bellasis
Belgravia – ITV and Epix

The story combines fictitious and real characters

Fellowes details the lives of the fictitious (newly wealthy) Trenchards and the (aristocratic) Brockenhursts interspersed with real historical figures including the aforementioned Duchess of Richmond, pioneering builder Thomas Cubitt who created the Belgravia area of London and the Duchess of Bedford who invented the concept of afternoon tea.

This exclusive enclave was created from scratch on swampland

The “spangled city for the rich” as Lady Brockenhurst describes it in the television series was developed in the 1820s. Ship’s carpenter turned master builder Thomas Cubitt designed the wedding cake style white stuccoed and porticoed town houses on the smart streets, crescents and garden squares. Behind were cobbled Mews to house the staff. “It was a total concept,” Fellowes told The Telegraph. “It was an attempt to build a society that was going to work. You build places for horses, carriages, upper servants. The interesting thing about Belgravia is that it was made up from scratch. If you dig through Belgravia, you don’t get to Georgian London, there’s just swamp. There’s not much in London that is equivalent.”

Belgravia cast
Belgravia – ITV and Epix

Filming actually took place in Edinburgh.

“It’s quite impossible to shoot in Belgravia,” the show’s producer Gareth Neame told History Extra website. “There’s no way you can shut down these parts of London and have horses and carriages going around for four days. So what we did was to go to the New Town of Edinburgh.”

Belgravia is owned by one family

Bordering Buckingham Palace, Knightsbridge and Hyde Park the land was, and still is, owned by the Grosvenors. The name Belgravia stems from the location of their country estate in Belgrave, north west England after which the centre piece square was called. Eaton Square is named the family’s seat, Eaton Hall. The current patriarch is 29 year old Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster.

Peggy Porschen spring-install-belgravia_1000x1000
Peggy Porschen, Belgravia

Belgravia has some of London’s chicest boutiques and cafes

While largely residential as well as being home to several embassies, shops and cafes have cropped up on picturesque Elizabeth Street. These include Beulah the sustainable designer label worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, Jo Loves by beauty guru Jo Malone and the much Instagramed Peggy Porschen bakery.

Self Isolate in Style

Timothy Oulton spaceship capsule

Timothy Oulton Studio

In Timothy Oulton’s spaceship capsule – based on the dimensions of real life Apollo 11 one. You’re welcome.

http://www.timothyoulton.com

 

What it’s like to sleep in the world’s most exclusive bed

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Bedroom in the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London

On World Sleep Day a look back at Chopstix’s stay in the Royal Suite at The Savoy:

When it comes to sleeping I’m definitely in the Princess and the Pea camp, I tend to toss and turn throughout the night rarely getting a restful 8 hours. So I was intrigued to check into the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London where an exclusive handcrafted bed has been installed promising a superlative sleep.Befitting the vast suite (it takes up the entire river side of the fifth floor) decorated in an elegant Edwardian style, the bed itself looks straight out of a fairytale. And the ornate four poster king with draped canopy has added advantages in a handmade box spring base, mattress and topper valued around SG$150,000.

The Savoy Royal Suite Sitting Room .jpg Sitting room in The Savoy’s Royal Suite

As with all the best mattresses The Savoy’s are made with horse tail between pocket springs. The one in the Royal Suite also features a hand tufted topper made by yarn specialist Tengri from rare fur – hand combed once a year from yaks roaming the Khangai mountains of Mongolia. Their hair is softer than cashmere with exceptional temperature regulating properties so perfect for aiding sleep.It’s the creation of prestigious British brand Savoir which has been hand making beds for the hotel for over 100 years. When Richard D’Oyly Carte opened The Savoy in 1889 he set new standards for luxury hotels in London. He couldn’t find a bed maker that met his exacting criteria so Savoir was formed to create beds for The Savoy.

The Savoy entrance.jpg The Savoy hotel London

My first impression is that the mattress is surprisingly firm. But it also has just enough flexibility and I don’t feel any points of undue pressure – it’s just right, as Goldilocks would say. I close my eyes with the intention of a 20 minute afternoon nap and I wake up over an hour later.The true test though comes after supper in the suite’s dining room overlooking the Thames (the view that Claude Monet painted) and impeccably served by morning coated butlers. While I still wake up several times in the night as is my wont I immediately fall back to sleep each time. Even more remarkably the back pain I’d been feeling the day before had disappeared.

 

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Dining Room in the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London

 

Usually (and frustratingly) I’m not able to lie in, restless to get up by 7am, but here I found the opposite. The only thing that eventually tempts me out of bed is the thought of Omelette Arnold Bennett for breakfast: made with smoked haddock, hollandaise sauce and cheese, perfected for the writer while he stayed at The Savoy in 1920s. After a call to the butler I’m tucking into this moreish dish and taking in the marvellous London view. Did I feel I’d slept in a bed fit for a king or queen? A resounding yes.

https://www.thesavoylondon.com

[UPDATE: Savoir Beds is opening a store at the refurbished Raffles hotel in Singapore in August 2019.]

Savoir Beds Raffles Hotel Arcade #02-08, 328 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188719

Tel : +65 6261 2788

Singapore@savoirbeds.com

[This story was originally published in July 2019]

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