A journey filled with historical facts, interesting tidbits

In early 2020, when Liverpool was running away with the English Premier League crown, some friends discussed a way to celebrate ending a 30-year title drought.

Former magistrate and ex-editor M. Zulkifli A. Jalil suggested we take the Electric Train Service (ETS) from Kuala Lumpur to the northern Malaysian state of Perak.

“We can book the whole carriage, so it will be just as fans talking about the best moments of the EPL season,” said Zulkifli, an ardent Liverpool fan.

“We leave in the morning, arrive in Ipoh in time for brunch, walk around, have more food, and then make our way back to KL.”

The idea excited everyone. Several reminisced about taking the train from down south in Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur.

Then Covid-19 happened, and the trip never materialised.

Fast forward to 2023, and some of us wanted to take a train to Singapore to watch Liverpool in its pre-season tour at the end of July and early August.

However, upgrading the ETS tracks meant taking three trains, so we scrapped the idea. But it did spark another round of “I miss travelling by train”.

It hit home that travelling by train was so much fun and vastly different from taking the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) or the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains in the city.

Ironically, sitting in an LRT carriage 11 days ago gave me time to read a book called ‘Six of the Best: Train Journeys in Malaysia’ by David Bowden.

This website had previously reviewed another book in this series of Six of the Best: Malaysian Sporting Icons by Bob Holmes.

There is a third book called ‘Mat Salleh Authors on Malaysia’, while there are plans to have at least six more titles, some of which are gruesome murders, battlefield tours and the best places for a Sunday walk in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Bowden is an authority on trains, having also authored Great Railway Journeys in Asia and Great Railway Journeys in Australia and New Zealand.

In this book, he begins with the history of the Eastern & Oriental Express (E&OE), a luxurious train ride that took three days and two nights from Singapore to Bangkok.

The return journey is four days and three nights.

Sadly, the E&OE stopped operations during the pandemic but is due to resume in the fourth quarter of this year.

Bowden fills the book with plenty of photographs, which he took himself. So when he describes something, you get a fuller picture of what he is trying to say.

It is handy when Bowden talks about the North Borneo Railway (Chapter Three), describing the stunning landscapes and river the train tracks pass along.

Bowden also drops some interesting tidbits and historical trivia throughout the book, and I must confess that I had forgotten about the East Coast Line (Chapter Six) that passes through three states – Negeri Sembilan, Pahang and Kelantan.

Also known as the ‘Jungle Railway’, you can take the train on the way to an adventurous stopover at Taman Negara.

The other chapters in the book are on the West Coast Line, East Coast Local Line and Penang Funicular (main image).

You do not have to be a train aficionado like The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper to enjoy reading ‘Six of the Best: Train Journeys in Malaysia‘.

The book will teach you something about the history of train journeys in Malaysia and its connection to the ‘Death Railway’.