Switzerland’s panoramic trains are well-known amongst travellers, but did you know that Indonesia has their own panoramic train as well?
There’s no need to look further than our underrated Southeast Asian neighbours if you are into slow travel and scenic train rides — there’s gems like Vietnam’s coastline railway with unfettered views of the deep blue sea, and now, another panoramic train in Indonesia to catch.
About the Argo Parahyangan Panoramic train
With large viewing windows that run from floor to ceiling not unlike the famous Glacier Express of Switzerland, you’ll be getting a 180-degree view of everything Indonesia has to offer in just three hours on the Argo Parahyangan Panoramic train.
Your Panoramic train ticket covers more than just a plush reclining seat and ample leg space. You’ll have access to the KAI Luxury Lounge at the station, featuring plenty of refreshments and small bites like cakes, toast, fruits and more.
Don’t stuff yourself full at the KAI Luxury Lounge because there will be complimentary drinks and food onboard the train. Not to mention — free WiFi, television, power outlets, tray tables, reading lights and more amenities for your maximum comfort.
The Argo Parahyangan Panoramic train runs between Jakarta and Bandung, but there are also other panoramic trains that will bring you to other major cities all across the country.
The Turranga Panoramic and Argo Wilis Panoramic trains offer a 10 hour journey from Bandung to Surabaya with stops at Yogyakarta. There is also the Sancaka Panoramic train serving Surabaya and Yogyakarta, and the Argo Muria Panoramic train on the Jakarta-Semarang route.
There are plans for more lines in the future, but for now, you can get a taste of what these panoramic train rides in Indonesia have to offer on this short Jakarta-Bandung route that’s renowned for its beauty.
Overview of the Jakarta-Bandung route
If you’re travelling from Gambir Station, you’ll be able to see the bustling streets of Jakarta as the train weaves through the urban landscape. The Argo Parahyangan train is similar to an express train, and will only be making quick stops at Bekasi Station before running uninterrupted all the way to Cimahi Station and finally, Bandung Station.
Most of the sights begin after you pass Purwakarta Station, which is also known as the train graveyard. Vast blue skies and looming mountains in the distance will accompany you throughout the ride, along with lush rice terraces, valleys, forests, historical railway structures, and plenty of elevated bridges like the Cisomang Bridge and Cikubang Bridge that will make you feel as if you’re floating above the world.
How to buy Panoramic train tickets
Before we delve deeper into the heart of the journey, there’s something important to know about the Panoramic trains. There is only a single Panoramic-class carriage with 38 seats, while the other carriages feature regular cabins from Economy to Luxury classes.
“38? That’s too little! I definitely won’t be able to get one!” — is probably what you’re thinking, but don’t give up just yet. It’s easier than you think to secure a spot as the trains run twice daily. One runs in the morning at 9.30am, and another in the evening at 7.45pm.
While tickets for the morning train usually sell like hotcakes, all you need to do to guarantee yourself a seat is to book a week ahead, avoiding Fridays and the weekends when many locals will also be travelling.
Typically, guides will advise you to avoid third-party websites and book directly from official websites, but you’ll have no choice but to do the opposite here.
The official booking site of railway operator Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI) only accepts Indonesian credit cards and phone numbers, so I recommend using partner websites like Tiket or Traveloka which accept foreign cards with a small booking fee.
An important thing to note is that Panoramic-class tickets usually do not show up immediately. Make use of the “Train Name” filter and select “Argo Parahyangan Panoramic” for an easier booking process.
How to get the best views
If you’re wondering which side of the train to pick for the best views — save yourself from the trouble. Seats on both sides of the train will have equally great views. (I mean, it’s a panoramic train after all.)
However, you might want to avoid taking the train during March to April, and October to November since rice harvesting takes place during these months. Otherwise, the monsoon season of November to March is your best bet for flourishing green rice terraces.
What to look out for on your journey
Your journey begins before you get on the Panoramic train.
Arrive early to Gambir Station (if you’re travelling from Jakarta) or Bandung Station and check in with the e-ticket from Tiket or Traveloka for your boarding pass. The boarding pass will grant you access to the KAI Luxury Lounge and you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast there before it’s time to board the train.
Leave your luggage with the capable attendants of the Argo Parahyangan Panoramic train when you board. They’ll be placed at the end of the train so it doesn’t obstruct the views. Even if you don’t have any luggage, you get to keep the tag as a souvenir.
Then it’s time to kick back and relax! Train attendants will be distributing a snack box filled with treats like buns or pastries, as well as water and juice boxes. You’ll have free-flow hot drinks like chocolate, coffee and tea as well, so don’t be shy when it comes to asking for seconds or thirds.
You’ll cross Purwakarta Station near the last hour of your journey. Although its other name is the Train Graveyard, the station itself has been in operation since 1902.
Keep your eyes peeled for the out-of-service train cars stacked upon each other like Disney Tsum Tsum plushies as the Argo Parahyangan rolls into the station. There are more than 180 used trains that have come to rest there, making it a unique tourist spot for train enthusiasts.
Rice Terraces and sweeping views
Much of your journey from here onwards will be elevated, meaning you’ll be getting quite the birds’ eye view of rural Indonesia and the picturesque rice terraces that you’ll pass by along the way.
Unlike the first part of the journey which was mostly in straight lines, this will also be your chance to get some beautiful shots of the train body from the full windows as it twists and turns through the countryside.
Cisomang Railway Bridge
You’ll climb up to the Cisomang Railway Bridge, currently the highest railway bridge in Indonesia, standing almost 100m above the Cisomang River. Cruise along the treetops, where the horizons stretch out into the distance, and witness the river below you carving through an idyllic valley.
You may even spot daredevils climbing the rusted steel frame remains of a bridge right beside your window. That’s the Old Cisomang Bridge which had served Indonesia for more than a hundred years before it retired. The bridge you’re on would be the new Cisomang Bridge which began service in 2004.
In addition to panoramic views, this train journey offers an opportunity to explore Indonesia’s rich historical railway structures. You’ll be passing through the longest active railway tunnel in the country, spanning 949 metres long. The Sasaksaat Tunnel was built during the Dutch colonial rule in 1902 and is intricately connected with Sasaksaat Station, which holds a few stories of its own that’s deeply intertwined in the nation’s history.
The Cikubang Bridge breaks the longest railway bridge record, stretching 300 metres across two deep gorges, and 80m above the Cikubang River. It’s just as old as many of the historic structures, being in operation since 1906.
You may want to gaze at the paddy fields below and to your right for the highway that you’ll be passing under soon.
Treat yourself to a relaxing journey through the verdant countryside of Indonesia on a luxurious panoramic train for your holidays. Even first-class seats on planes don’t offer such wonderful views — so what’s there to think about? Start planning your journey now!
P.S. For a really luxurious ride, the Eastern & Oriental Express will have you sipping on free-flow champagne as you ride from Singapore through Malaysia!
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