Southeast Asia’s Grandest Hotels

Yes, the Raffles still stands, the flagship of its brand, but the peanut – shell charm of the Long Bar is wearing stale. The Fullerton, a relatively new ‘grand old’ – it opened on January 1, 2001 – has all the heritage charm and grandeur sans some of the stuffiness and snobbery. It has been a long journey from the Fort Fullerton officers’ barracks to the present, but its history locates the heritage landmark Fullerton Building, formerly home to Singapore’s GPO, Exchange, Chamber of Commerce and Singapore Club, in the heart of the CBD. The Palladian style hotel it has become retains Italian marble floors and Doric columns; but has added a contemporary art gallery, iPreciation, as well as a (posh) retail wing, infinity pool and Hirsch Bedner interiors. You can request transfers by new Mercs or vintage Rolls Royce. Polished shoes are delivered discreetly, to a niche in your dressing closet and not brought to your door while you are entertaining a guest! Its 400 Art Deco-styled rooms with fabulous views – and cute monikers, starting at the Post Master level – are complemented by 24 hour concierge service, 24 hour business centre, 24 fitness centre… because luxury clearly does not stop at the stroke of midnight. Eats are excellent, and the Courtyard does a fine Indian buffet as well as Japanese and afternoon tea and a chocolate buffet, so you should feel right at home.


When Pullman Hotels partnered with the Vietnamese government to restore the Metropole, it was quite the coup for the company. Now Accor, the group boasts both heritage hotel (since 1901) and luxury in a downtown address with the legendary Metropole. Another address to have been graced by authors (Maugham again, Greene) and other celebrities (Chaplin on honeymoon, Joan Baez in full recording voice through an air raid, Stephen Hawking and Mick Jagger and Roger Moore!), its beautiful wrought iron brackets sustaining an alabaster facade have long been a Hanoi landmark. Mahogany and porcelain light fixtures retain pride of place in the historic Metropole Wing decorated in 1920 French mode, while the younger Opera Wing leans neoclassical. The Parisian-style La Terasse bar pushes its cafe tables out on to the streets for unsurpassable atmosphere-easily the best spot in town to savour a drink, even if it is a bottle of Perrier.

Not an old world experience, this. The joint venture between Amanresorts and the local Aboitiz and Sariano group is very much about those modern luxuries – space, privacy and leisure. Fringed by seven kilometres of coral-reefed seas, it accomodates guests in private villas and casitas replete with local crafts and craftsmanship, each with their own buggy for island hopping. Coconut-shell tables, paddy-straw basketry and pebble-dashed walls correspond to vernacular arthitectural inflections of the bahay kubo style in the casitas. Villas come with a cook and housekeeper. The spa sits up a hillside, with views of the Sulu Sea from each tratment room. Among the excellent and varied F&B venues is a bar on a bamboo raft out on the sea! The vietnamese joint is particularly good too.


Palatial luxury for the sporty at heart – especially golf, but also tennis, badminton, squash, bowling .. and a sumptuous beachfront that the two-level gym looks on to. Oh, and nine pools dotted around the property, providing 12,285 cu.m of dipping water to choose from! Even the smallest rooms have marble-clad bathrooms. Italian linens, gilt fixtures and hand tufted carpets are everywhere in the old-fashioned, opulent style of furnishings. The presidential suite, the Emperor (of course!), even has its own movie theatre; but a lower category can also score Bang & Olufsen sound while Swarovski crystal chandeliers light up your ablutions. It’s just over a dozen years old in the business, after taking half a dozen to put itself together, but refurbishments are already in progress and should be fun to see when done. The no-alcohol policy is unlikely to change soon, hwever.

The 100 acres worth of wellness, in seemingly a Balinese wilderness, is hard to beat for self-indulgence. This residential spa retreat a small way out of Ubud proper, in the rainforests along the river Ayung, is the brand’s flagship property with a mere thirty suites. Its twin restaurants make much of eating ambiently: the Indonesian Kudus House occupies a nineteenth-century Javanese villa while organic Glow’s pavilions salute the river valley. All health facilities draw water from a local spring revered for its healing properties.


Once upon a time, circa 1884-85, there was the Eastern Hotel and there was a Oriental Hotel, both built by the now-legendary Sarkies Brothers. Then they were one, the big sister to Singapore’s Raffles. From Kipling to Sun-yat Sen to Michael Jackson, it has hosted the rich (Sultan of Brunei) and famous (Herman Hesse). Then it closed down in 1996 – and came back beautiful in 2001 with moorish minarets and echo dome still in place; and this year, the addition of a new Victory Annexe (the first was an extension built in 1923) in modern classic attire has refreshed its reputation. Facing the Andaman Sea, the now all- (spacious!) – suite property is luxurious by any era’s definition.


One of the oriental treasures of the Orient-Express group, this is more a boutique property (formerly the Pansea) than a grand old lady like many on this list. However, the air of space and luxury is unmistakably fine. And the hilltop situation overlooking the World Heritage town with a royal and a French colonial past is the very best money can buy here. It also boasts the country’s first purpose-built spa, with treatment pavilions set beside limpid pools of water. Accomodations are all suites, thirty-four of them, furnished with rosewood, parquet and traditional textiles, as well as freeform terrazzo baths. The solitary restaurant does credit to both Laotion and French heritage; but the best table is outside in its celebrated tropical garden, for private candlelight dinners in the flow of 500 flickering flames.


The Armenian Sarkies brothers were responsible for many of the grand colonial hotels of Southeast Asia, and this is their Burmese beauty. Facing the Yangon it opened in 1901 and then went on to have a patchwork of a history since World War II, Until a collaboration with Adrian Zecha after the 1988 coup d’etat saw it reopen as an all-suites luxury property in 1993. No new wing, no swimming pool or golf course plonked in, this one is a true-to-its-roots classic; there is a spa. Now a national landmark, it still maintains colonial-style dining rooms. There is no ‘front desk’; there is instead of butler’s desk on every floor! Teak-floored suites are spacious and all come with 24-hour butler service. Despite several changes of management, the endearing old world charm endures, keeping pace with the fast, free wi-fi.


The 135 years old grand dame of them all the Oriental-possibily the best address on the Chao Phraya that a traveller can buy – has had a few unfortunate encounters with modernization, but still remains the style to beat in Bangkok. Built in 1876, it was the first ever hotel in Thailand when it began operating in 1879; it is now one of the Mandarin Oriental group’s flagship properties (the other being the Mandarin, Hong Kong) and a seminal acquisition. Now its 358 rooms, most with river views, are surmounted by the coveted Authors’s Suites-named for former guests Maugham, Coward, Michener, Conrad et al-while its restaurants, the Thai speciality Sala Rim Naam and French fine-dinner Le Normandie as well as seafood master Lord Jim remain peerless.


Currently a Raffles resort, this propert has been in the business of grand hospitality since 1929, when the first Western visitors traipsed over, braving the sinister jungles to see Angkor. The recently refurbished rooms sport art deco inflections alongside vernacular flourishes that extend to staff uniforms-not just the noble helmets but the pants coloured by day of the week per traditional astrological convention. The property is more low-slung mansion than big hotel by modern stadards. Outside, the land scaped gardens reflect Cambodia’s French colonial legacy while the royal place sits across. Inside, a circa-1932 cage elevator still ferries guests up to their rooms from the black and white chequerboard lobby level. Lots of choice in dining, but khmer is surely the must do. Just one warning: the mod cons are not all that modern as the restoration has sought to retain the heritage charm of the building rather than a complete do over.

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