For anyone looking to combine top-class accommodation with a unique cultural experience, look no further than this selection of hotels steeped in history. Some more famous than others, these historic hotels not only offer luxury during your stay but also tell a story of the important eras of change.
Historic Hotels in Asia
1. Raffles Hotel – Singapore
When it comes to lodgings with a legacy, there are few that can match Singapore’s famous Raffles Hotel. Its stunning white-fronted façade on Beach Road is a landmark as much as a place to stay.
Established by Armenian brothers Martin and Tigran Sarkies, the hotel was named after Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. It first opened its doors in 1887 as a 10-bedroom colonial bungalow before being expanded in 1899. Over the years, Raffles has had a part to play in the history in Asia as it hosted, over the years, many famous writers and politicians and, at the end of World War II, was used as a camp for prisoners.
To this day the historic hotel in Singapore continues to exude a colonial charm. You need only order a Singapore Sling at the legendary Long Bar or treat yourself to a dainty afternoon tea at the Tiffin Room to be transported back in time.
2. Hotel De La Paix – Luang Prabang, Laos
Next on our list of historic hotels is a hotel in Laos. Perched on a peninsula where the Mekong and Nam Kham rivers meet, the town of Luang Prabang – named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 – combines laid-back Lao culture, chic colonial architecture and stunning temples.
It’s also home to Hotel De La Paix – a gem of a boutique hotel with a unique history. Previously a governor’s mansion, a garrison and a prison, the building has been transformed into a stylish mini-resort. Launched in 2010, it has won plaudits for its innovative design.
Its architect Duangrit Bunnag said: “You’ll see steel bars on the reception and boutique windows, but not in bedrooms, and we turned the two watchtowers into a special private dining experience.”
3. Manila Hotel – Manila, Philippines
Open since 1912, there are few hotels in Asia with as colourful a history as the Manila Hotel.
Between 1935 and 1941, the American General Douglas MacArthur and his family made the hotel their home, during his spell as military advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines. When World War II broke out, the hotel became the general’s command post. But at the height of the war, the Japanese occupied the hotel and he was forced to leave.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippines’ First Lady at the time, Imelda Marcos, was a frequent visitor to the hotel. On her arrival, a red carpet was rolled out, garlands were hung and the air was sprayed with deodorant.
The historic hotel was extensively renovated in 2008 and these days it has all the requisite modern comforts while remaining true to its fascinating past.
4. Peninsula Hotel – Hong Kong
The Peninsula, Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, opened in 1928 and since then has been witness to the dramatic ups and downs of the island’s history.
On Christmas Day, 1941, following the Allied loss of the Battle of Hong Kong, the British Governor Sir Mark Aitchison Young, surrendered to the Japanese at the hotel. He was held for two months in one of the suites before being sent to a Shanghai prison.
Today, the hotel is home to the Philippe Starck-designed Felix bar situated on the 28th floor, which offers breathtaking views of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
The drama doesn’t stop there. In truly luxurious style, guests are transported in a fleet of 14 Rolls-Royce Phantom saloons, all painted the hotel’s signature ‘Peninsula Green’.
5. Hotel Continental Saigon – Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
The first hotel in Vietnam, Hotel Continental Saigon, opened in the heart of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) in 1880. From its roots in Vietnam’s French colonial period, the hotel changed hands several times and, by the 1930s, was owned by a Corsican gangster (!)
The property also made its mark in pop culture, marking its place as one of most interesting hotels with history. During the 1950s, the British writer Graham Greene took up residence in Room 214, where he conceived his celebrated novel The Quiet American about the end of the First Indochina War. The Continental ‘starred’ in the 1958 and 2002 film adaptations of the novel.
During the Vietnam War the hotel became a base for reporters, with Newsweek and Time magazines each using the second floor as a Saigon bureau.
Today, this last hotel on our list of historic hotels in Asia, remains part of the city’s rich history, standing alongside other symbols of old Saigon such as the Opera House and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Stayed in other historic hotels that have stories written in their walls? Share with us in the comments below.