Asia’s finest heritage hotels – Part 1

THEY might be hallmarks of a past now long gone, but Asia’s oldest hotels remain some of the the world’s finest  and many have reached almost iconic status and even been immortalized in literature.

Stretching from places like Singapore to Vietnam and Burma, a step through their doors is almost like stepping back through time. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to an overnight stay, they’re worth a visit for their unique old-world atmospheres and the age-old traditions that continue in their lobbies and bars.

The lobby at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

For 135 years, travelers arriving in Bangkok have stayed at the Mandarin Oriental. In fact the original incarnation of the hotel, The Oriental, was the first hotel built in Thailand when it opened in 1879. It has always made the most of its location on the Chao Phraya River, the River of Kings, and today it is still welcoming visitors and has become known for its service, luxury and history. It frequently wins awards and is considered one of the world’s best hotels.

Famous guests to have graced the rooms and suites of the Mandarin Oriental include Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, Mick Jagger, Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson and Diana Princess of Wales. The hotel has 358 rooms mostly with river views, 35 river suites, nine restaurants or bars to choose from, 14 treatment suites for spas and ayurvedic programs, a ballroom, business centre and leisure areas.

Raffles Singapore

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The Raffles Hotel is really far more than a place to stay – it’s a landmark in Singapore, and an iconic one at that. It has even featured in the novels of Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. For more than 125 years the colonial architecture and lush gardens of the hotel have welcomed visitors from around the world.

The Raffles Hotel was the first building with electricity in Singapore and opened in 1887. It was named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. When it first opened it had 10 rooms and was by the seaside and has survived WWII and occupation by the Japanese, and even the Great Depression when it went into receivership. It has expanded over the years and today there are 15 restaurants and bars, 103 suites, a spa, swimming pool, museum and shopping arcade. A highlight for many is a visit to the Long Bar, where the tradition of afternoon tea continues as does the imbibing of famed cocktail the Singapore Sling.

The Strand, Yangon

 The Strand, Yangon, Burma

The Strand is one of Yangon’s finest examples of the era of British colonialism in Burma. In fact so well restored is the Victorian hotel that it’s almost possible to believe those days haven’t ended yet. Built in 1896 it was once one of the Empire’s grandest hotels and like the Raffles survived WWII and Japanese occupation.

After some years of neglect it was grandly renovated in the 1990s and reopened as a boutique hotel with all its colonial vestiges intact – teak and marble floors, wonderful old furniture, period bathroom fixtures and canopied beds. It counts Rudyard Kipling, Mick Jagger, David Rockefeller, Oliver Stone and Somerset Maugham among its guests. The hotel has a wonderful bar, a modern art gallery and boutique shops on the first floor.

The Peninsula Hong Kong
The Peninsula, Hong Kong

It might not be as old as some of the other hotels in this list, but the Peninsula Hong Kong is no less grand and was indeed built with the idea of being “the finest hotel east of Suez”. It first opened in 1928 across from where ocean liner passengers disembarked and near the terminus for the trans-Siberian rail link, providing a convenient link for luxury travelers on either service.

Today the hotel is notable for its very own fleet of Rolls Royces that were painted Peninsula green, the hotel’s signature colour, and its exclusive helipad for clients. It still offers guests spectacular views over Victoria Harbour, all the wonderful atmosphere of afternoon tea in the lobby as per the English tradition, and a selection of wonderful rooms and suites, restaurants and fashion arcades.

The Queen’s Hotel, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Reeking of British Colonial luxury, this 54 room hotel makes the most of its location in Kandy with beautiful gardens and a lakeside location. It also faces the famed Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Today Queen’s is one of the oldest hotels in Sri Lanka and features include the Queen of Hearts restaurant, Royal Ball Room, The Pub Royal and The Lord Mountbatten Lounge Bar, named for the man himself who was a frequent guest at the Queen’s.

Read part 2 of this article here