Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express – the exhibition

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 8 novel and fez

Walk through historic carriages of the Orient Express and discover its legacy in Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express, a pop-up exhibition at Gardens by the Bay.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore Outdoor Train engine far away

Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express was first held in Paris back in 2014, and the pop-up in Singapore marks the first time the exhibition is staged overseas.

Perhaps an exhibition about travel – from a distant land and time – would be much appreciated by travel-starved locals in this climate.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 1 Outdoor queue Entrance

Taking place under a tent designed to imitate the Gare du Nord station in Paris, the exhibition features a few segments of actual the Orient Express train. The engine is proudly presented outside the ‘station’ for anyone walking by to admire.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore Outdoor Train engine

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 1 Queue Inside Station

Step inside and you’ll find yourself at a ticketing platform which serves as a waiting area to board the train.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 1 Boarding Station

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 1 First Class Carriage

The exhibition opens with the boarding of a few restored carriages from the famed train. These carriages are also not accessible by wheelchair, though the rest of the galleries are designed to be accessible.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Carriage walkway

These are the lounge cars, flush with exquisite details of luxury travel from the Orient Express’ bygone era.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin room

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 1

The restored interiors, props and items are all staged in these carriages, alluding to the high life on board.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 2 newspapers

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 3 newspapers moving

“Moving” newspapers were also attempted.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 4 story tags

Tags can be found on various items, describing characters or real people with a connection to the Orient Express.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 5 typewriter

The experience of walking around the cabin without glass panels in front of displays is very enjoyable – but no sitting or touching is allowed.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 7 poker cards

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 2 First Class Cabin 8 private room

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 3 Cargo corridor

The walkthrough continues into the fourgon car, otherwise known as the baggage van or ‘cargo area’.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 3 Cargo 1

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 3 Cargo items closeup 2

Lots more bric-a-brac here, including items connected to well-known fictitious characters.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 3 Cargo items closeup

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 4 Cargo casket closeup

You’ll have to walk past the covered body of Cassetti from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 4 Cargo casket tag

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 5 History of Georges Nagelmackers

And then you’re off the train – and into the more conventional museum segment of the experience.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 5 History of Georges Nagelmackers writeup

Here you will learn about Georges Nagelmackers, who founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) back in 1876. His company brought the experience of train travel on board Pullman carriages from America to European railways.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 6 Model of train cabin

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 7 train exhibits cabin detail and uniforms

The next gallery features artifacts from the Orient Express and other items related to the train, including fittings, tableware and uniforms.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 7 high life magazine

This is how High Life, the train’s magazine, looked like (which looks more like an encyclopedia).

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 7 high life magazine inside

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 7 train exhibits origin of press trip

Apparently the idea of a ‘press trip’ – a publicity method where the media is invited to an experience as a guest (usually expenses paid for) – was invented by Georges Nagelmackers.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 7 train exhibits route detail

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 8 train exhibits back area wider

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 8 train exhibits dining car setting

In the middle of this gallery is also a dining car setting, along with a few vintage Louis Vuitton luggage, including the iconic steamer trunk which you can still buy today (though I think most owners use them to decorate their home).

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 8 train exhibits louis vuitton briefcase trunk

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 9 train exhibits technical intro

The back part of this room focuses on the technical aspects of the train, and features several scale models.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 9 train models closeup

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 10 final exhibits beside train area

In the final area of the exhibition, you’ll get to see the train carriages again from the ground, which look massive from this perspective. This is where most people took their group photos as the cabin interior is too crammed for it.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 11 train carriage photospots

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 11 train route card closeup

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 12 travel brochures guides

The last section focuses the development of tourism by rail – with many printed articles: brochures, postcards, guidebooks. These things that have, in the past decade, mostly shifted to digital form, and often ephemeral. Just ‘gram it and go.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 12 travel tourist guides exhibits

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 13 souvenirs

The Orient Express adventure concludes in the gift shop, where you can pick up some souvenirs. Recently, the face mask based on the exhibition’s poster artwork was made available for sale.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 13 souvenirs store overview

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 14 Orient Express Cafe by Yannick Alleno overview

Apart from the exhibition, this pop-up also includes two dining experiences: One set in a restaurant built to resemble the luxury dining cars (but still not the real one), with prices to match. The other is the Orient Express Cafe by Yannick Alleno.

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 14 Orient Express Cafe by Yannick Alleno menu

Despite the markup, I’m sure some would be tempted to just grab a table and relax here – since the pop-up is some distance away from the Gardens by the Bay’s attractions and the nearest cafe. The sandwiches do look delicious!

Orient Express Exhibition Singapore 14 Orient Express Cafe by Yannick Alleno sandwiches

Other activities available at the pop-up include luxury dining experiences in the replica dining car, and some ‘escape room’ game that somehow nobody seems to have a clue about it other than it’s “coming soon”. We’ll see.

A short review on the Orient Express exhibition in Singapore

I thought that the experience peaked very early with the walkthrough of train carriages. Once this highly immersive part is over, it’s hard for the rest of the exhibition to keep up with the same wow factor – the artifacts are very cleanly (and consistently) presented in the ‘trunks’. It’s like the train whisked us into a museum. This might have been part of the design to avoid another bottleneck within the exhibition, if the train was in the middle or at the end, especially with all the safe management measures.

The train walkthrough is also very compact and with a line of people waiting to get in, you can’t dawdle. Find the tag, read and go. Muse yourself with the table settings and try to recall scenes from the Orient Express films – whichever that you had watched. Walk too fast and you’ll quickly find yourself in the cargo area – the space where many would breeze through quickly since it looked like a haunted house attraction, along with that covered ‘corpse’ of Cassetti.

It would have been nice to have reproductions of the sleeper trains or other train-related settings to explore, but I presume the exhibition is designed to be as authentic as possible with actual artifacts – after all they’ve already built the replica dining car outside for the restaurant, and bringing in more film artifacts would dilute the focus. Also, this exhibition should take about 45-60 minutes to complete if one were to read and see everything, including some inevitable waiting time in line at the start.

For the casual museum go-er, it could be a big ask to make a special journey to the gardens for the Orient Express. But I thought it would be a nice stop to complete a visit to the Flower Dome and other attractions nearby.

Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express

Gardens by the Bay West Lawn (next to Bayfront Plaza)

Now till 13 June 2021.

Tickets from $25 per person. A family bundle (2 Adults and 2 Children under age of 13) is available for $88.
A Fast Track/ VIP ticket is available at $80 per person, this allows the ticket holder to skip queues and go directly into the train carriages.

For more details visit

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2 Responses to Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express – the exhibition

  1. Kevin Barbee February 7, 2021 at 9:58 am #

    Nice photo essay on the exhibition!

  2. Sophia September 16, 2021 at 8:29 am #

    Extremely unpleasant experience with the customer service. I booked way back in June and when the government imposed dining restrictions, I emailed to ask for updates and didn’t receive any information until the dining restrictions were lifted. Even then, the email sent on 5 July was merely to inform me that the restaurant decided to postpone their opening in view of the lack of economies of scale associated with the dining restrictions (dining in groups of 2 and limited capacity etc).

    Whilst I was given alternate dates for reschedule, I previously booked tickets to the museum to coincide with the dining experience and have already visited the museum. But we were keen on the dining experience and I made a request via a reply to their email on 13 July to have our date rescheduled to 1 August. Disappointingly, I still did not hear back and emailed them on 25 July to ask on the update of the reschedule as it was only a few days short of 1 August. I also called on numerous occasions but no one picked up the call.

    Following my email, I received the following response on 26 July:
    “In accordance with the latest government regulations dated 20th July
    2021, we are reaching out to inform you that the restaurant will be
    closed for dining in from the 22nd of July to the 18th of August.” Why does the team not think it fitting to respond to emails for rescheduling done on their request and only revert when asked for a followup?

    Given my experience thus far, I decided to request for a refund and informed them as such via email on 29 July since no one was picking up my calls nor responding to my WhatsApp messages. My request for cancellation was acknowledged in their email reply on 3 August in which their finance department was also on the cc list. Thereafter there has been no response despite an email from me on 27 August requesting for an update.

    It has been more than 1.5 months since the request for refund was acknowledged but no response was received nor was the refund made.

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