Great Asian Railway Journeys: Series 1
Michael Portillo is in south east Asia, armed with his 1913 Bradshaw’s Handbook. It leads him on a spectacular 2,500-mile railway adventure across six countries. Michael explores towering megacities and magnificent mosques, visits jewelled temples and golden Buddhas and rides some of the world’s most exhilarating and notorious railways.
Part 1: Kowloon to Wan Chai
Beginning in Hong Kong, Michael investigates how Britain won the island and Kowloon from China after two shocking drug wars. He boards the island’s most famous funicular to The Peak and straddles a bamboo pole to learn the traditional Cantonese art of noodle making!
Part 2: Hong Kong University to Lantau Island
Michael continues his exploration of Hong Kong aboard the impressive MTR metro system, which handles six million trips a day. In Wan Chai, he discovers why Hong Kongers are protesting all over the city and asks them about their hopes and fears. At Hong Kong University, Michael learns about the father of modern China, Sun Yat Sen,
Part 3: Chiang Mai to Lampang
Michael Portillo embarks on a four-part rail adventure through Thailand from the northern city of Chiang Mai to Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai, and from Bangkok to the southern beach resort of Hua Hin. On this leg, Michael tries his hand at the art of umbrella making and learns about northern Thai cookery. He explores the walled and moated city of Chiang Mai, former capital of the Lanna Kingdom before it was annexed by the King of Siam.
Part 4: Ayutthaya to River Kwai
In the former Siamese capital of Ayutthaya, Michael admires gigantic ruined temples and finds out about what was one of the greatest cities in Asia. He makes a trip to an unusual market – a must for any self-respecting train-lover. Michael finishes this leg of his Thai journey at Kanchanaburi, close to the border with Myanmar, to ride one of the world’s most notorious tracks and, for him, the most poignant – the Death Railway.
Part 5: Bangkok
Michael Portillo is in the Thai capital, Bangkok, midway through his rail tour of Thailand. He learns how the late 19th-century King Rama V built a grand palace and introduced railways to his country. Michael learns that King Rama V’s love of steam engines was inspired by Queen Victoria.
Part 6: Bangkok to Hua Hin
Michael Portillo continues his exploration of Thailand by rail, steered by his 1913 Bradshaw’s guide. He steps into the ring under the guidance of champion trainer Master Toddy to learn Muay Thai boxing. Can he perfect the cobra-inspired right hook?
Part 7: Ho Chi Minh City to Phan Thiet
On this leg, Michael braves the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on a motorbike, one of 8.5 million people to do so daily. He attempts the national sport, da cau, and samples the French-Vietnamese fusion food banh mi.
Part 8: Da Nang to Hoi an
Michael continues his thousand-mile journey through Vietnam aboard the Unification Railway from Ho Chi Minh City to the capital, Hanoi. In the Annamite Mountains west of Da Nang, Michael joins modern Vietnamese on holiday in a quirky facsimile of a medieval French village.
Part 9: Hue to Ninh Binh
On this leg, Michael tours the formidable imperial city of Hue and in a village nearby, Michael meets milliner Mrs Ngo, who tries to teach him how to make the iconic conical hat, with comical results.
Part 10: Hanoi to Ha Long Bay
Approaching Hanoi aboard the Unification Railway, Michael passes the famous train street, where the locomotive passes within centimetres of the houses either side of the tracks. The vast container port of Haiphong offers Michael an insight into Vietnam’s future. He ends his journey amid the spectacular limestone islets and turquoise waters of Halong Bay.
Part 11: Jakarta to Bogor
In the heaving capital city of Jakarta, Michael uncovers Indonesia’s Dutch colonial past and its rich history as a port but discovers its future is uncertain. He negotiates the city’s notorious traffic, makes a colourful cycle ride, tries the newly launched MRT metro
Part 12: Jakarta to Borobudur Kutoarjo
Michael continues his journey across the largest island of the Indonesian archipelago, from the capital, Jakarta. His seven-hour railway journey takes him through rainforests and paddy fields as he heads to the volcanic heart of Java’s Central Province. He visits Java’s most dangerous volcano, Mount Merapi, and learns how over 300 people were killed when it erupted in 2010.
Part 13: Yogyakarta to Ambarawa
Michael Portillo’s rail tour of south east Asia resumes in the southern archipelago of Indonesia. Michael is in Java’s Central province, travelling east towards Surabaya. Beginning in Java’s royal city, Yogyakarta, Michael visits the Sultan’s palace and admires the ancient art of shadow puppetry known as wayang.
Part 14: Ambarawa to Surabaya
Michael is in Indonesia, today one of the biggest coffee producers in the world. In the mountainous interior of Java, Michael discovers how coffee was first brought to the island for cultivation and learns about production today.
Part 15: Penang to Kuala Kangsarl
On the island of Penang, Michael traces the origins of the former British colony in Georgetown, rides one of the world’s steepest funicular railways and is enchanted by exotic specimens at Malaysia’s first butterfly sanctuary.
Part 16: Kuala Kangsar to Cameron Highlands
Michael Portillo’s rail exploration of south east Asia continues in Malaysia. His journey resumes in Kuala Kangsar, where he taps into the source of the lucrative rubber industry that boomed at the time of his 1913 Bradshaw’s Guide, Michael learns how rubber engineering today ensures railway passengers enjoy a smooth ride.
Part 17: Kuala Lumpur to Melaka
Michael continues his 2,500-mile rail tour of south east Asia. On this leg, he explores the phenomenal growth of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, from muddy swamp to seat of British colonial power to the financial and economic tiger of today.
Part 18: Melaka to Johor Bahru
Michael Portillo is in Malaysia on a 2,500-mile tour of south east Asia. His 1913 Bradshaw’s Guide takes him to Melaka, for centuries one of the greatest trading ports in the world. He tastes the spicy cuisine of the Kristang community, descendants of early 16th-century Portuguese settlers who mixed with local Malays.
Part 19: Raffles Place to Botanic Gardens
Michael Portillo’s south east Asian railway tour reaches its final stop – the phenomenally successful island city state of Singapore. In Chinatown, Michael dines with an artist and his family and learns about the history of the Chinese community. At the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Michael helps to keep the orchids blooming, and later, he enjoys an extraordinary spectacle at gardens of a very different kind down by the bay.
Part 20: Chinatown to Gardens by the Bay
Michael Portillo is in the island city state of Singapore on the last leg of his 2,500-mile exploration of south east Asia. In Tai Seng, Michael goes underground to marvel at the world’s largest subterranean rail depot, where self-driving MRT trains are maintained. He takes a cable car to Fort Siloso on the island of Sentosa, where he learns about one of Britain’s worst military defeats and the brutal Japanese occupation which followed.