What better reason to visit a country than to stay at a historic hotel? None at all – this hotel was selected and booked purely on its historical heritage and luxury rating.
My First Time in Malaysia is dedicated to the E&O hotel in George Town Penang, which opened its doors on 15 April 1884, built by the famous Sarkies brothers – Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak of Armenian descent.
Just take a look at this for an A-rated listing of hotels
founded by the Sarkie brothers:
1884: Eastern Hotel, George Town Penang, Malaysia.
1885: Oriental Hotel, George Town Penang, Malaysia
1887: Raffles Singapore
1889: Eastern Hotel sold, Oriental Hotel renamed as Eastern & Oriental Hotel
1901: Strand Hotel, Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar)
1923: Sea View Hotel, Singapore
1929: Crag Hotel, Penang Hill, Malaysia
Over the course of seven years the Sarkies opened three of the world’s greatest hotels in the Far East – E&O Penang, Raffles in Singapore, and The Strand in Rangoon. What an impressive portfolio. (Note to self to check out The Strand Hotel one day).
I booked this hotel from my room at the Raffles Hotel Singapore, founded by the very same brothers, and flew to Penang with Silk Air – what a beautiful name for an airline.
Penang is situated on a peninsula on the north-eastern coast of Malaysia, overlooking the Strait of Malacca. Malaysia was in the news a few months ago due to the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which happened shortly before I visited. Everywhere I went people were talking about this flight; today the world is no closer to knowing as to what happened to the plane and its passengers and crew.
The E&O Eastern and Oriental is one of South East Asia´s most magnificent hotels, reminiscent of the days of the Belle Époque. It was one of the first hotels to offer hot and cold running water, telephones and what was the world´s longest promenade.
As you walk in the door you can just soak up the history, over a century of it. The mahogany check-in desks in the original building with pigeonholes for their 100 suites, the doormen in khaki safari-like gear, complete with pith helmets, the waiters with crisp white shirts and jet-black bowties, the traditional outfits of the chambermaids – all this transported me back in time. The round entrance table with its magnificent floral decorations sits below a copper dome, which must have been privy to many extraordinary conversations. Imagine the guest list with over 125 years of history; this hotel forms part of the golden age of travel.
Penang, which is still known as the Pearl of the East, was a key point on the silk route – the first British trading post in the East. Over a century ago Penang was already a well-established major commercial city and a thriving port. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, wealthy travellers arrived – the perfect clientele for a luxury hotel. Dignitaries, celebrities and writers such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Hermann Hesse have been guests in this hotel. That’s the wonderful attraction – you can feel the history, the aroma of the past – even today the original wing has the same furniture from the bygone colonial era.
And in a fittingly historic hotel manner, the charismatic British GM, Mike Saxon, explained that they have a ghost – a young lady who brushes her long, long blond hair. Thankfully, I didn’t see her, I only heard about her, but I do think I’ve seen that hair-brushing scene in many movies. To date the ghost has only been sighted in the original hotel, and not yet in the new Victory Annexe, where I stayed, which opened in March 2013 and features 122 magnificent suites.
The spacious bathrooms, with free-standing bathtubs, huge vanity units, immense walk-in showers, exquisitely stylish 1920s black and white tiles; two-square-metre beds with superb quality fabrics; high-speed WiFi, desks, minibars; butler service; and unrestricted views from private balconies to the Andaman sea – you could never be in a hurry to check out, and as soon as I checked in I immediately extended my stay. Did I mention their afternoon tea, evening canapés and cocktails, breakfasts from around the world veering from freshly-made Chinese dumplings to healthy, vitamin-loaded juicing stations, excellent cuisine, cosy bars, infinity pools, state-of-the-art gym, cycle hire, rickshaw tours and limousine transfers?
This hotel seems to have it all and I felt very much at home. Mr Saxon, who hails from Yorkshire, is as memorable as the hotel – a published author, engaging conversationalist, and professional chef – no the wonder the food is so good! He loves his job and it shows. I will be back.
As I departed for the airport in the hotel´s limo, all this made me wonder: who are the modern-day Sarkies brothers? Who would be their equivalent be? The answer is that only time will tell and history will inform.