GBA Lifestyle News
Travel Outside HK Section
By Gayatri Bhaumik | March 13th, 2019
  • Asia

Wolfgang Eipeldauer has spend a career transforming a childhood love of trains into a job he loves. Having joined the luxurious Belmond hospitality brand some 15 years ago, he’s worked his way up from steward on Belmond’s famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to train manager on the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express. Along the way, he’s held a range of roles on a number of Belmond trains — all of which prepared him to take the helm on one of Asia’s leading train journeys. Here’s what he says you need to know about a journey on the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express.

Describe your journey to train manager on the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express?

Since childhood, I’ve loved trains — especially the novel “Murder on the Orient Express” [by Agatha Christie]. I’ve been working for [Belmond] for almost 15 years now. Before, I was working in Paris for the Germany National Railway Service, and they wanted to close the Paris office and move to me to Germany. I decided I wanted to experience something else. So I discovered the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and started working there as a steward. It was a great privilege to work on this train, and an honor to continue the tradition of this king of trains. I grew from steward to senior steward, and then to head cabin steward, which on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is basically the assistant train manager.

The next step was to go on different trains, so I went to Scotland to work on the Royal Scotsman [another Belmond train] and then had the great opportunity of launching [Belmond’s] Irish train, the Grand Hibernian. I wanted to work in Asia, but had to wait until the opportunity came up on either our ship in Myanmar, or the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express. Finally, the opportunity arose, and now I’ve been here for a year.

How does the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express differ from the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train?

The beauty of Belmond is that we offer experiences that are very tied into the local culture. You’ll have a different experience in Europe than in Asia. Both trains have luxury accommodation, luxury service and very good food. But they’re different flavors, each one offers different things.

As the train manager, what exactly do you do?

The position of a train manager is a very versatile and widespread one. We’re in touch with the guests, we meet a lot of people, and we work with the train team to make everyone happy so they have a great memory to take away. I also look after all the different components on the train to make sure everything’s running smoothly. In a regular hotel you might be able to go around the corner to pick up something quickly from a supermarket, but on a train, that’s not an option, so you have to plan in advance. I spend a lot of time on planning and preparing.

Are there a lot of challenges?

Not so much. Because the train has been running for 25 years, we have reached a point of sophistication — it’s a well-run ship. We do have to take care of special wishes and try to tailor for extra requests or special celebrations like birthdays.

What’s your clientele like? What kind of traveler boards the Belmond EOE?

I think we have a very diverse mix of different passengers. This is part of the beauty of a rail journey. You have guests from Asia, from the States, from Europe, from Australia, from all over the world. We also have a wide range of ages — older, younger, sometimes even children! And we have a range of cultures. And you all meet on the train. It creates a feeling of mystery — you don’t know who you’ll encounter! That’s a big part of the train journey — to make connections with other travelers. Definitely the travelers who choose train travel are usually more experienced, and enjoy discovering new things and sharing their experiences.

Why do you think guests should experience this train journey, as opposed to visiting these places through other forms of transport?

Well first, you’re not dealing with the horror of packing and unpacking! You can settle into your compartment and move around, enjoy some drinks. You have all these conveniences while enjoying the cinema of the landscape through your windows. Plus you can enjoy our excursions if you want to delve into the culture a bit more. It’s a nice bubble, to experience the train while still being able to engage with the local environment.

What is the one thing you think guests should know before the board the train?

Be prepared to experience something new. The beauty of the product for us is the service — you will be taken care of at a high level. You have your own cabin attendant to attend to everything, and this makes the train different from other hospitality experiences. You have the same crew taking care of you throughout the entire journey, and you build a relationship with the staff.

And pack wisely! This is a train, and while we will assist to try and find as much space as possible for everything, a train cabin is not a regular hotel suite, so space is limited. Think about what you really need for these few days and only have that in your cabin.

What are the most interesting requests you’ve had from guests?

We’ve always had things like engagements and birthdays, so we try to make it special with surprises. For example, maybe we’ll stop somewhere special to allow the guests to go outside to propose. We try to really create good experiences in that sense. We don’t consider anything crazy or outlandish! Everything has a reason and purpose, and deserves to be taken care of.

What’s the coolest experience you’ve had on the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express?

Well for new year’s for example, we have a DJ onboard. We transform our observation bar into a small disco with lights and disco balls, and because it’s very intimate the DJ can create a great atmosphere. So that’s very cool!

Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express

Is there anything guests need to consider before travelling on the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express?

I wouldn’t really say so. We have all types of guests and we assist as much as possible in terms of physical challenges. Of course there are limitations because of the nature of the train – this is a vintage train so to adapt to all kinds of mobility issues can be challenging. But our reservations team works closely with us to find solutions to accommodate everyone.

[Editor’s note: Some of the cabins on board have bunk beds, and some guests did mention that this was tricky, especially for older travellers.]

Let’s talk dress code: We know we have to dress up, but how fancy are we talking?

I mean, dress code is always a big thing – it depends on the country. Passengers from the UK, for example, have a bit more of an attachment to dress codes. But times change, and there aren’t many occasions now where you have strict dress codes. We encourage guests to be elegant, to make an effort. And we’re prepared — if a guest wants to borrow a jacket for dinner, for example, we have them. I do think dressing up is part of the charm of the journey — it’s pleasant for everyone on board, they appreciate it. People usually make more effort in the evenings. There’s an old-fashioned sensibility on the train, so dressing up well fits this beautifully!

What’s your personal favorite part of any journey on the Belmond EOE?

I have to say, I’m a morning person — I love mornings — that’s why we have the Belmond Morning Moment. We open the observation car before sunrise and provide snacks and teas, so guests can enjoy watching the sunrise Going through the landscape and seeing the atmosphere change as the sun comes up is always a special moment for me.

If we were only able to take one train trip, why should the Belmond EOE be it?

I think it’s a wonderful way to connect two very vibrant and distinctive capitals. To travel between Singapore and Bangkok…both cities offer very distinctive, fantastic experiences. It’s a convenient, relaxing, and different way of going between the two cities. You don’t have all the stress of the airport. And you can take in all these landscapes you wont’ get anywhere else. And of course, the food is excellent, the staff has a lot of experience in offering a very warm, Asian style of hospitality – very discreet and friendly.

Belmond was recently sold to LVMH. What do you think LVHM will bring to the Belmond experience?

Well, the agreement was only signed [December 2018] so it’s very fresh. I can say we’re all very excited about this. I think it’s a wonderful match. We are now joining a family of brands that resonate high luxury so we feel very much at home with Louis Vuitton and the like. I think it’s a great family we’ve joined. LVMH has a track record of buying heritage brands and dealing with them in a reasonable way — they’re not there to change everything — so that’s very comforting for us as well.

Note: The author conducted this interview while traveling as a guest on the Belmond Eastern & Oriental Express.

Want to see more interviews with cool people in travel? See our Travel Talk profiles for more!