Alright, 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: