Asia is littered with heritage properties that have been stunningly restyled into luxury retreats. Gayatri Bhaumik heads off on a history lesson.
There are many historic hotels throughout the world, but thanks to Asia’s unique colonial
history, some of the region’s oldest properties offer an experience you won’t find anywhere else. I have been lucky enough to have stayed in many of them, so here's my pick of the region's stand-out examples.
Galle, Sri Lanka
Amangalla's serene pool in Galle, Sri Lanka. The hotel reopens on August 1.
This stunning colonial-era hotel is housed in a series of historic buildings that were
built by the Dutch East India Company in 1684. In 1863, it became the New Oriental
Hotel and welcomed a steady stream of loyal guests (including, at one point, Sting) before
it was rebranded under the Aman flag in 2005.
There are 30 well-appointed rooms here, each one fitted with vintage wood furnishings, four-poster beds, pettagama chests, roll top baths, hardwood floors, and – appropriately – jazz playing on entry.
Around the property, guests can swim in the shaded, cabana-fringed pool, walk through 200-year-old exotic gardens, tuck into a traditional afternoon tea on the verandah, or drop into the onsite spa for personalised Ayurvedic treatments.
Families are very much welcome at Amangalla. Rooms are large enough to accommodate young children, babysitting can be provided on request, and a kids’ menu is available at the Verandah. Youngsters can also enjoy small group cooking classes or painting and board games in the library, while older, more adventurous children can accompany their parents on excursions around the Galle Fort, or further afield to Sigiriya, the tea plantations, or the 2,000-year-old temple at Yatagala.
The property is currently closed due to COVID-19 but is slated to reopen on August
1. Several special offers are available, including the 'Discover Galle' package which includes half-board, a tour of the fort, and a massage for two (from US$550/night).
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
The sun sets over 135-year-old 'Pearl of George Town', Malaysia.
Established in 1885 by the same 'Sarkies Brothers' who were responsible for Singapore’s
Raffles hotel, the 'Pearl of George Town' is a testament to the grand architecture of the British colonial era.
For almost 135 years, the property has been an icon of Malaysia; it’s welcomed luminaries from all over the world, including royalty, writers, and actors such as Mary Pickford, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.
The hotel boasts two wings. The original Heritage Wing has just emerged from an extensive
renovation, while the Victory Annex, created in 2013, is a modern iteration of the classic hotel style.
There are two pools here (guests of the Heritage Wing can access both), along with a
PANPURI Organic Spa, and no less than five food and beverage outlets. Slip into the convivial Farquhar Bar for sundowners, visit the elegant Palm Court for afternoon tea and feast on an international buffet for breakfast at the Planter’s Lounge.
Families will be pleased to know that the sizeable suites here are spacious enough to
accommodate several guests (and rollaway beds) and come with attentive butler services
to take care of any requests.
The Eastern & Oriental reopened on May 20, but as Malaysia’s borders are currently closed
to international travellers, there are no offers geared towards the international
market. However, if you happen to be resident in Malaysia already, you might want to book
the Eastern & Oriental Luxury Stay (RM720/night) which includes daily breakfast, one dinner, in-suite minibar, daily in-suite amenities, evening canapes and cocktails at The Cornwallis and late checkout until 8pm. Guests should note, though, that due to current restrictions, the gym, swimming pool, spa, and some restaurants are closed.
Belmond Governor’s Residence
Dusk falls over Belmond Governor's Residence, Yangon.
Tucked away in Yangon’s Embassy District, this lavish hotel is an oasis of calm. The elegant
teak mansion was originally built in 1920 and was once the home to governors of the British
Crown Colony of Burma.
Now, guests can check into beautifully appointed rooms rendered in teak wood that pay
homage to Burmese craftsmanship. While here, take a dip in the fan-shaped swimming
pool, indulge in some pampering at the Governor’s Oasis Spa, try the famous “Mandalay
Sour” cocktail at the Kipling Bar, and sample traditional Burmese cuisine at the Mandalay
If you’re visiting as a family, book one of the spacious Two-Bedroom Junior Suites
for added comfort (though rollaway beds can be added to most rooms). Babysitting
is normally available but has been suspended during the pandemic. Bring the
kids along for dinner (kids’ menus are available) or local expeditions to markets,
cookery classes, and pagodas.
Belmond Governor’s Residence is currently closed due to the pandemic but is
scheduled to reopen in July. Their current staycation package (from
US$150/night) comes with a la carte breakfast, a choice of a three-course lunch,
afternoon tea or dinner, and 30% off at the spa.
Sofitel Legend Metropole
Children are well-catered for at Sofitel Legend Metropole, Hanoi.
This grande dame of hotels was originally built in 1901 as the Hotel Metropole Hanoi to
welcome dignitaries and well-heeled travellers during the French colonial period. A veritable
who’s who of travellers have stayed here, from Charlie Chaplin and Graham Greene to
Somerset Maugham (who, incidentally, seems to have made his way to almost every hotel
on this list). During the Vietnam War, the hotel’s bomb shelter protected famous guests like
Joan Baez and Jane Fonda; it’s now part of the hotel’s 'Path of History' tour.
There are 364 lavish bedrooms here - each one combining colonial style with modern
amenities - along with a range of elegant dining options. Try classic French cuisine at Le
Beaulieu, high-end Vietnamese at Spices Garden, or brasserie fare at La Terrasse, or head to Angelina or Bamboo Bar for a drink. Of course, there’s also an opulent spa, well-equipped gym, and a palm-fringed pool.
The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi creates tailor-made offerings for families which include
50% discounts on kids’ rooms, complimentary breakfasts and unlimited ice-creams for kids,
exclusive Le Petit Prince kids’ meals, and complimentary babysitting services.
With Vietnam’s success in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotel was able to stay
open throughout. Right now, you can book its 'Legendary Indulgence' package (from
$260/night) which includes daily breakfast, complimentary airport transfers, and US$100
dining credit per night.
Tai O Heritage Hotel
Tai O, Hong Kong
The pirates have long-gone from Hong Kong's Tai O, leaving a boutique heritage hotel in their wake.
This unassuming hotel hidden in the fishing village of Tai O traces its origins to 1902, when
the building was created as a permanent police station to deal with the pirates who were
prevalent in the neighbouring waters.
In the ‘90s, declining crime rates meant the police station was no longer needed and in 2009, the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation was invited to revitalise the property and turn it into a nine-bedroom boutique hotel.
Today, the hotel is a charming throwback to a bygone era with simple but well-appointed
rooms, and a restaurant fitted with furnishings from the former China Tee Club in Central.
There’s something of a back-to-nature feel about a getaway at this low-key hotel, so
families will enjoy embarking on some of the cultural tours and village workshops that the
hotel offers (although those are currently suspended due to the pandemic). Suites here are
big enough to accommodate two adults and one child; some have two double beds, while
others may use a fold-out couch or rollaway bed. For adventurous littlies, the hotel can set up 'glamping' tents on the verandah outside the rooms so they can sleep under the stars.
The hotel has remained open during the pandemic, and until August 31, guests can enjoy one night’s accommodation, breakfast, and a set dinner for two from HK$2,680/night.