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10 of Asia's can't-miss colonial hotels
Soak up the history at these colonial hotels that mix old-world charm with modern extravagances
The Chosun Hotel (now The Westin Chosun Hotel), Seoul, South Korea
Then: As the oldest and most venerated Western-style hotel in Korea, The Chosun prides itself on enlightening a nation. It claims to have introduced the country to the elevator, the dance party and even ice cream. The colonial-era structure hosted Marilyn Monroe, Gerald Ford, Bob Hope and Muhammad Ali. North Korean and Chinese troops also hung out at the hotel when they occupied Seoul in 1950.
Now: The 20-floor, 456-room hotel located in the Sogong-dong neighborhood offers the largest guest rooms in Seoul, all magnificently renovated.
Details: Westin Chosun Hotel, 87, Sogong-dong Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea. 011-82-2-771-0500. www.echosunhotel.com.
The Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong
Then: Built with the idea that it would be "the finest hotel east of Suez," the Peninsula lived up to its expectations, quickly becoming the hottest ticket in town for governors, generals and visiting royalty. Beyond its grandiose appearance and immaculate service, the Kowloon hotel has another claim to fame: In 1941, at the end of the Battle of Hong Kong, the British surrendered the territory by candlelight in room 336.
Now: Taking afternoon tea inside the Peninsula's famously ornate lobby is a must-do on any trip to Hong Kong. It's one of the few traditions still standing from the city's colonial period.
Details: The Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. 852-2920-2888. www.peninsula.com
Peace Hotel (to re-open later this year as Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai), Shanghai, China
Then: The brainchild of Sir Victor Sassoon, an Anglo-Jewish real estate tycoon, the art-deco masterpiece was originally two buildings: the Sassoon House, an office/residential complex, and the Cathay Hotel, one of the world's most prestigious hotels in the 1930s. Sitting proudly on the Bund, the hotel lodged famous figures such as actor Charlie Chaplin and writer Noel Coward, who penned his drama "Private Lives" in room 314.
Now: When the landmark re-opens before the World Expo in May, guests can stay in one of the 269 renovated rooms, enjoy the famous jazz bar and get a sense of old Shanghai cabaret on the ninth story's sprung wooden dance floor.
Details: Peace Hotel, Nanjing Dong Lu 20, 021-6321-6888. www.fairmont.com/promo/peacehotel.
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, Thailand
Then: Bangkok's oldest and most luxurious hotel, originally called Oriental Hotel, introduced Siam to features and amenities never seen outside of a royal palace: a second floor, carpeted hallways, smoking and ladies rooms and a billiards room. This Grande Dame has housed just about every big name under the sun, including Neil Armstrong, David Beckham, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Princess Diana.
Now: The Mandarin Oriental features 358 rooms, 35 unique suites and the famous two-story Authors' Wing, the only remaining structure of the original 19th century hotel.
Details: Mandarin Oriental, 48 Oriental Ave, Bangkok, 10500, 800-526-6566; 02236-0400. www.mandarin-oriental.com.
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan
Then: The original structure was built at the request of the Imperial family, who wanted to house the influx of foreigners in Japan. The owners later commissioned a new design by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the renovated hotel was completed in 1922. The visual effect was stunning and dramatic with its tall, pyramid-like structure and Maya-inspired details.
Now: Wright's signature touches can still be seen in the hotel's designs, furniture and Art Deco Old Imperial Bar.
Details: Imperial Hotel, 1-1 Uchisaiwai-Cho 1-CHOME, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo, 13 100-8558 Japan. 03-3504-1251. www.imperialhotel.co.jp
Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Then: Built to accommodate the increasing upper-class trade, the shamelessly grandiose hotel, named after the colony's founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, became Singapore's place to see and be seen. Interesting facts: The Singapore Sling was invented there, the last wild tiger on the island is said to have been shot and killed under the Bar and Billiard Room, and Japanese soldiers reportedly found guests enjoying one last waltz when Singapore fell in 1942.
Now: The hotel has been painstakingly restored to its original splendor. Its open lobby, theater playhouse, hotel museum and exclusive boutiques draw thousands of visitors daily.
Details: 1 Beach Road, Singapore. 65-6337-1886. www.singapore-raffles.raffles.com.
Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai, India
Then: Commissioned by Indian industrialist Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata at the turn of the 20th Century, the architectural marvel, which fused Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles, was the most celebrated address in Mumbai. George Bernard Shaw famously claimed that after staying there, he no longer had any need to visit the original Taj Mahal in Agra. The hotel has also been graced by The Beatles, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and The Prince of Wales.
Now: More than a year after the devastating terrorist attack in 2008, the majestic landmark has reopened its doors, allowing guests to wallow in its luxurious old-world splendor.
Details: Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, India. 022-202-3366. www.tajhotels.com.
Eastern & Oriental, Penang, Malaysia
Then: The first enterprise of the Sarkies Brothers, who were also behind Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the gleaming white structure was one of the earliest major historic buildings in Georgetown. It became Penang's social hub, hosting the annual St George's Day Ball. By 1927, E&O was dubbed "The Premier Hotel East of Suez", boasting an 842-foot seafront, the longest of any hotel in the world.
Now: After an ambitious refurbishment, E&O remains the most atmospheric hotel in Penang, with tropical gardens, manicured lawns and a magnificent pool surrounding the mansion-like treasure.
Details: Eastern & Oriental, 10 Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. 04-2618333. www.e-o-hotel.com.
Galle Face, Sri Lanka
Then: Originally built by four British entrepreneurs, the elegant hotel began as a Dutch villa called Galle Face House. Its nightclub, the Coconut Grove, became the area's hot spot -- Radio Ceylon recorded music programs and Mignonne Fernando and The Jetliners regularly entertained guests there. The hotel is one of the oldest in Asia and has hosted numerous notable guests, including author Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, who penned the final chapters of his famous sci-fi novel 2001: A Space Odyssey during his stay.
Now: Guests can choose between two wings -- the Classic, exuding old colonial grandeur, and the Regency, refurbished in a luxe, contemporary style.
Details: Galle Face Hotel, Galle Face Centre Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka. (0)112541010. www.gallefacehotel.com.
The Manila Hotel, Manila, Philippines
Then: The landmark hotel was the backdrop for many historic events. It was the guesthouse of the American colonial administration, the residence of World War II General Douglas H. MacArthur (for whom an entire floor was added) and the spot where the political party of Ferdinand E. Marcos held its convention before the presidential election.
Now: Renovated guest rooms showcase authentic Philippine interior design and provide a breathtaking view of the bay and the fabled Manila sunset.
Details: One Rizal Park, 0913 Manila, Philippines. www.manila-hotel.com.ph.