The Grand Tour – A Year in the Colonial Cities and Grand Hotels of Southeast Asia

Grand Tour SEAAlright, it’s probably time to admit that I’m going to be in Singapore for extensive periods of time this year (in between returning to NYC). And so I thought I’d get on with my new series – something I’ve always wanted to do.

I call it The Grand Tour of Southeast Asia. 

At the turn of the 19th century, it was fashionable for the incredibly wealthy or famous to take 2 to 3 years off travelling to the lands of the Far East – at that time, merely a collection of far-flung territories of European colonial powers.

To cater to the sophisticated needs of these European travelers, a string of legendary “Grand Hotels” sprung up in the capital cities of the time. A popular itinerary, taking these intrepid world travelers from Europe, through India and Southeast Asia to China and Japan also developed, with stops scheduled at major port cities on the way. Many writers from the period – Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Graham Greene – famously travelled along part or the whole of this itinerary, and wrote extensively about their experiences while on the tour or after it.

In the course of the next year, I intend to visit (or re-visit) 12 of these cities in Southeast Asia, each with their very own legendary Grand Hotels: Bangkok and the Oriental Hotel; Yangon and the Strand Hotel; Hong Kong and the Peninsular Hotel; Hanoi and the Hotel Metropole; Manila and the Manila Hotel, ending up finally in my home base of Singapore, at the Raffles Hotel – the most illustrious of them all.

The plan is to spend one long weekend – 3 full days! – each month in one of these cities / hotels. There, I shall observe, absorb, photograph, take notes, for the purpose of putting together written and photographic accounts of my experience, which I shall upload each month in Dream of a City.

At the end of this, I should have accumulated a book length record of how it was like in the glory days of the Grand Tour; and how it could be like for the modern-day globe-trotter hoping to walk in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before. My aim is also to reintroduce the idea of the Grand Tour to a new audience, and to ensure that these glorious hotels may never again be in danger of being abandoned, or demolished unceremoniously (as some of them have).

The map below details the 12 stops I’ll be making. The very first: Penang, Malaysia and the legendary Eastern & Oriental Hotel, sister to the Raffles in Singapore.

All aboard ship!

Download the full Introduction to the Grand Tour:

PDF: The Grand Tour

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
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3 Responses to The Grand Tour – A Year in the Colonial Cities and Grand Hotels of Southeast Asia

  1. sayeri says:

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  2. Noordin says:

    One of the hotels that you may consider while visiting KL is the Carcosa Seri Negara Hotel. Originally built to house the first British High Commissioner, this luxury hotel is seeped in history. The two mansions that make up the hotel sit atop two hills, just 15 minutes from Kuala Lumpur. Each of the 13 suites is unique and is named after Malaysian states. Guests are assigned a private butler, who is on hand to fulfill all your requests from the time you are met at the airport. A must try at Carcosa Seri Negara is the English Afternoon Tea that is still served in the original drawing room of the mansion. The luxurious Carcosa Seri Negara Hotel is a true gem with service and quality that is sure to surpass all expectations.

    Another colonial hotel in Kuala Lumpur is The Majestic Hotel. The Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur is situated opposite the old railway station on the historical mile of Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is an iconic 1930s colonial heritage landmark which has served as an integral part of the city’s vibrant past; playing venue of choice to glamorous social get-togethers, historical events and as a luxe home-away-from-home for visiting dignitaries.

    Hope you enjoy your grand tour visiting those colonial hotels of Southeast Asia. Let us know of your wonderful experiences.

    Kind regards

    • Kennie Ting says:

      Thank you so much for your amazing recommendations. I was excited by the opening of the Majestic Hotel in KL and I do hope to get there this year. I’ve completed this first Grand Tour but I’m definitely mulling over a second one to cover the cities and hotels i did not manage to get to.

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