Before there were direct flights, people would travel for weeks or months in large steamships to get from one continent to another. Imagine having to travel from Australia to United Kingdom before there were direct flights. During tedious journeys like these, people would stop halfway for a few days before continuing their voyage – we are talking about colonies like Singapore, Penang, Bombay and Colombo.
It was not until 1869 that steamships actually travelled to Asia. It was also during the British colonisation period and the establishment of its trading posts in the East that colonial hotels were built to accommodate travellers and seafarers of every shade and description – missionaries, merchants, officers, rajahs, mercenaries and adventurers.
Thriving ports became the most strategic location for these iconic hotels as a key landmark of the heydays. The need for luxury and comfort amongst the upper-class society witnessed the rise of some of the most beautiful colonial hotel architecture in history.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang (once called The Premier Hotel East of Suez) was the first to open in 1885 by the Armenian Sarkies brothers. The foremost hoteliers of the East continued to open some of the world’s greatest colonial hotels in Asia, including the likes of Singapore’s Raffles Hotel and The Strand in Rangoon.
Colonial hotels have a long and vibrant history — going through World Wars, invasion and struggling to remain relevant in current context. Some suffered permanent damage but were recently restored to its former glory. The Imperial Tokyo and Cairo’s Shepheard Hotel were reconstructed according to its original blueprints in the last decade as fabled landmarks in Japan and Egypt respectively.
Some colonial hotel buildings were lucky enough to survive the different eras and are still standing strong and stately. The Peninsula Hong Kong, dubbed the legendary Grand Dame of the Far East, as well as the 210-year-old Mount Lavinia Hotel in Colombo are still a breathtaking monument on its own.
Despite the rise of ultra-chic multi-starred hotels around the world, heritage hotels are something no architect today can replicate. They are the epitome of classical grandeur, timeless sophistication and a seamless marriage of ‘east meets west’. Next time when you’re in some of these cities, take some time to visit these colonial hotels that have stood the test of time – offering nothing less than rich heritage, old world charm, unique architecture and historical anecdotes. Click next to know more about these century-old colonial hotels.
Take a walk along the beach and around Mount Lavinia Hotel to see the remnants of the past — a railway from the British colonisation that was used as a mode of transport as well as the strategic sea-front location overlooking the Indian Ocean. The beach around Mount Lavinia was also a favourite hangout spot for many voyaging travellers from around the world.
Raffles Hotel Singapore opened in 1887 with just 10 rooms in an old bungalow-style building. The building, overlooking the beach and the South China Sea, was established by the same hoteliers as E&O Hotel in Penang. The unmistakable classical colonial style has a blend of Moorish architecture, and up to this day remains one of the most revered heritage buildings in Singapore.
The Taj Mahal Palace is Mumbai’s first harbour landmark built in 1903. When it first opened, the hotel was the first in India to have electricity, German elevators, American fans, Turkish baths and English butlers. It is also home to the city’s first licensed bar, India’s first all-day restaurant and the country’s very own discotheque, Blow Up.
Many renowned personalities, social elites and presidents have stayed in The Taj Mahal Palace including Lord Mountbatten and Bill Clinton. Barack Obama also checked in right after the restoration in 2010 and said that “the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.”
The Imperial Tokyo was originally designed by Yuzuru Watanabe in the late 1800s. When the building was destroyed in a fire in 1920, American architect Frank-Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the new hotel building and annexe in a Maya Revival style. Pictured here is the entrance to Wright’s Imperial Hotel which was subsequently demolished in 1967 to make way for a new high-rise structure.
The Imperial Hotel Tokyo today is a modern structure void of any classical resemblance but its history supercedes the utilitarian archetype. It is one of the very few buildings in Japan with an American architect’s intervention and remains one of Wright’s most cherished building designs in the world, even though it was demolished some 50 years ago.