We love hotels. After all, freedom of travel would not be possible without them. They provide safety and sanctuary and are gateways into a new land, often providing venues as beautiful as the natural surroundings of the country in which they’re situated. Moreover, we adore the historic hotels of Asia, the ‘Old Dames’ that echo eras past.
In Southeast Asia, many of the first hotels to welcome the pioneering wave of ‘cultural travelers’ still stand as romantic relics to an age where international travel was only for the elite and abhorrently wealthy. Today, Asia is a more open playing field and travel is accessible to more people, but those original icons still often represent the highest quality service and lodgings.
So where can you find the most iconic hotels in Asia? Here’s our list of the most nostalgic, romantic and legendary places to stay:
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok, Thailand
Resting on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok is the oldest hotel in Thailand. Built in 1879, and then known as ‘The Oriental’, the five-star hotel has seen its fair share of change in the City of Angels but has endured all to remain the most revered hotel in Bangkok. The luxury hotel has hosted a staggering list of the rich and famous, including Prince Charles & Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Audrey Hepburn, and authors like Noel Coward and Joseph Conrad among others. Mandarin Oriental’s innovative fine-dining options, colonial style architecture and luxurious accommodation have maintained its reputation as the place to stay in Bangkok for over 130 years.
Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh, Cambodia
One can only imagine the lavishness of the official opening of Le Royal in Phnom Penh in 1929. Built during French rule, the original hotel featured 54 rooms, only 41 of which had private bathrooms. The hotel’s first ‘celebrity’ guest from the West was Charlie Chaplin, then the most popular star of the silver screen. In 1945 the hotel was commandeered by the invading Japanese army, and also survived the occupation of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. In May 1996 the hotel was taken over by Raffles International Limited who renovated the property and reopened it as Raffles Hotel Le Royal. The luxury five-star boutique hotel, renovated once more in 2011, now features 170 tastefully appointed guestrooms with art deco style and Cambodian objects d’art. Although much changed from its original state, Raffles Hotel Le Royal is a lasting icon of the influence France had on colonial Cambodia.
La Résidence Hue Hôtel & Spa, Vietnam
Built in 1930, La Résidence Hue once served as the French Governor’s official residence. After existing as a government-run hotel for many years, in 2005 the colonial mansion was lovingly restored to become the luxurious boutique hotel with high ceilings and an art deco style that stands today. The former capital city of Vietnam, Hue is a scene of great history and merely stepping foot inside this well-preserved sanctuary provokes the feeling that the last 80 years never took place. The city of Hue is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former Imperial Citadel, once home to Emperors, reflects the majesty and elegance of Vietnamese culture. Now mixing modern day comforts and technology with charming history and class, the four-star, three-storey hotel set on the banks of the Perfume River is a building that softly whispers its history and character into the ears of all who visit.
Strand Hotel Yangon, Myanmar
The Strand Yangon was built in 1901 by Sarkies Brothers, a band of brothers born in Persia known for founding a chain of luxury hotels throughout Southeast Asia. This luxury hotel is considered one of Asia’s oldest and most revered hotels. Constructed in Victorian style during the British rule of Burma, the hotel is essentially a national landmark in the heart of Yangon. Every feature of the hotel still echoes the era it was opened. We can consider the hotel not just an icon of style and living, but also as a working museum and somewhat of a good luck charm – during World War II the hotel was hit by a bomb which failed to explode on impact. Yangon itself is also a telling representation of the British colonial influence. The 19th century architecture dotted around the city combined with renowned Buddhist sites such as Shwedagon and Sule Pagodas are partly the reason Myanmar has become such a sought-after destination by culture-hungry travelers today.
Hotel Majopahit, Indonesia
Another Sarkies Brothers construction, the five-star Hotel Majapahit is a National Heritage Landmark of Indonesia in the center of Surabaya, the country’s second largest city. Originally named Oranje Hotel, it opened on July 1, 1911. The hotel would exist under several different names over the years (Hotel Yamato, Hotel Merdeka, Lucas Martin Sarkies Hotel, and Majapahit Kingdom) until settling on Hotel Majopahit in 2006. Similar to the other luxury hotels we’ve featured, during World War II the hotel was occupied by the Japanese and used as a prison camp and military barracks. You can feel the pulse of the history throughout the corridors of this well-preserved colonial-style building.
If you are planning to visit Asia, and one of these ‘Old Dames’ tickles your fancy, get in touch with Backyard Travel. We’ll help you experience some living, breathing history at any one of these unique properties!