This 19th Century Masterpiece Is The Older, Northern Sister Of Singapore’s Raffles Hotel

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Google “Penang, hawker fare” and you’ll be flooded with entries heaped by food-savvy Singaporeans on this gastronomic hot spot. It’s a well-deserved obsession. Some of us make that yearly pilgrimage – with a short plane ride or a leisurely cruise – to indulge in a weekend of sweat-inducing and rewarding hawker trails.

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If Penang’s world-famous, sweat-inducing Assam Laksa (spicy-savoury soup with mackerel fish flakes, prawn paste and flour noodles), or Char Kway Teow (glass noodles stir-fried on a huge fire) don’t get to you, her creamily sweet dessert known as Chendol, will. So yes, the diet and the #cleaneating hashtag can wait.

More than her culinary prowess, Penang is famed for the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (known affectionately as the E&O), a 130-year-old property that epitomises heady nostalgia with Singaporean baby-boomers.

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The place breathes an untouchable colonial beauty, the kind of beauty that has witnessed thousands of high-society parties. The service today remains no less impeccable. If you haven’t experienced doormen and bellhops dressed in formal uniforms and making you feel like royalty, you haven’t lived.

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Built in 1884 by the Sarkies Brothers – sociable Armenian traders and businessmen known for establishing early 19th-century luxury hotels throughout Southeast Asia, at a time when wealthy and privileged Westerners still considered this part of the world “the exotic East” – the E&O remains the belle of the island, and one of the most iconic landmarks in George Town, Penang.

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The brothers also founded Singapore’s Raffles Hotel in 1887, which explains the vast similarities in architecture, design, and the refined spirits of old-world hospitality in both properties. Both hotels boast grand foyers, classically-styled ballrooms and authentic butler services. Prestige service was immaculate. No one in the hotel staff is wearing a man-bun, showing off tattoos, or goes overly casual. In true Victorian hospitality, you’re usually greeted with a refreshingly formal, “Good morning sir, how can I help you?”

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With a total of 122 sea-view and sea-facing suites, guests at the E&O have a unique perspective of the gently lapping waves. If you’re located in a Corner Suite, you’ll enjoy a 270-degree view of the blissfully calm Indian Ocean. En-suite bathrooms are fitted with claw-footed long baths, pedestal ceramic basins and breezy-but-private balconies.

But the Victorian sensibilities, celebrated as they were, end there. Known as the largest hotel in Penang in her time with more than 100 rooms, the E&O captivates guests with a large seafront view that remains a hit with guests at sunsets.

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Location, location, location

Located just 20km from Penang International Airport, at the intersection of Farquhar Street and Penang Road, a bustling nightlife hub in its own right, the hotel is a grand testimony a headier, more decadent time. No anecdote about Penang’s modern history would be complete without a story about the E&O.

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For an intimate glimpse into past, visit the hotel’s classic food and beverage outlets, Sarkies, 1885 and Farquhar Bar. While the former two are well-appointed establishments, the latter, for example, feels like a bar where time stood still, but not antiquated. The ceiling fans spin lazily, while the wooden bar stools bear the happy marks of many lively parties and long nights.

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Fatigued from over-eating? Take the afternoon off to rejuvenate at the Panpuri Organic Spa, which offers a range of Thai and Oriental-influenced treatments with ache-relieving therapies. You’ll wake in a stupor, but your knotted muscles would have been properly kneaded and released.

A Heart For Art

With the recent addition of the E&O Gallery in the hotel’s Victory Annexe, a joint venture between E&O and the Think City Sdn. Bhd. , there is a creative space for local artists to showcase Penang’s cultural milestones. These are sensory touch points that enhance the hotel experience for guests and arts patrons alike. With the well-documented appeal of George Town as a hub of diverse artistic talents, the gallery is a fitting crown in the hotel’s modern legacy.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, 10 Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 Penang, Malaysia. Tel: +604 222 2000 www.eohotelc.com

All photos courtesy of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.