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Asia: 10 best heritage hotels

By Alisa Chau 3 February 2022

Header image courtesy of Raffles Singapore

For a stay that allows for greater immersion into the history of a city, look no further than a heritage hotel. Decades-old (some even centuries-old), these structures have been converted from palaces, forts, mansions, and residences into luxurious lodgings. 

Although revamped with facilities and services that add a modern touch, the original façades and architecture of each place still shine through. Make your next Asia-bound holiday extra special by staying at one of these jaw-dropping heritage hotels.

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Amangalla, Galle

Surrounded by the UNESCO-protected seventeenth-century Galle Fort, against a backdrop of lush flora, this peaceful citadel is a gorgeous getaway spot for those who love to chase the coastline. First opened as military headquarters for Dutch settlers, this 30-room garden house is nestled within the bustle of streets upon streets of colonial-era buildings, leading to nearby historic attractions Historical Mansion Museum and Dutch Reformed Church

Each room is brought to life with restored antique furniture, some with views of the harbour. Guests can relax by the verdant cabana-lined swimming pool before rejuvenating their muscles at the in-house Ayurvedic spa, or by practising yoga at an open pavilion.

Amangalla, 10 Church Street, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka | (+94) 912 233 388

Belmond Governor’s Residence, Yangon

Established by the wealthy Balthazar merchant pair in the 1920s—who were also owners of the Balthazar Building downtown—this mansion provides a little enclave of peace and quiet not far from the leafy Yangon Embassy District. Featuring an emerald fan-shaped pool, elegantly simple suites, and restored original architecture, serenity permeates every corner. 

Enter the long teak-wood corridor to discover a residence preserved in another time, then excite your tastebuds with authentic Burmese flavours at the alfresco Mandalay Restaurant with a glass of their signature Mandalay Sour cocktail in tow. Guests may also book city-wide private tours, from pagoda sightseeing to golfing trips.

Belmond Governor’s Residence, 35 Taw Win Road, Dagon Township, Yangon, Myanmar | (+95) 1 230 2092

Capella Shanghai Jian Ye Li, Shanghai

If its location within the former French quarter is not telling enough, the interior design of this chic villa mixes Western-style sensibilities with historical Shanghainese courtyard architecture. First built during the golden era of the 1930s to host upper-middle-class traders and expats, these shikumen (石库门) houses showcase arching stone gateways that branch off into brick lane houses where russet wood doors and window frames border each room. 

Lap up the early twentieth-century glamour, then indulge in French gourmet delights at Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire, styled after a Parisian salon.

Capella Shanghai, 480 West Jianguo Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai 200031, China | (+86) 21 5466 6688

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Chakrabongse Villa & Residence, Bangkok

Set along the iconic Chao Praya riverbank within the historical district, the site offers unparalleled views of the gilded Wat Arun Temple of Dawn (วัดอรุณ), just across the bobbing waters that can be explored by boat excursions. Popular attractions such as the King’s Palace, The Museum of Siam, and the Yodpiman Flower Market are just a short romp away. 

The quaint gardens and relaxing swimming pool transport guests back in time to the summers Prince Chakrabongse had spent in retreat at the villa, which he built as an escape from palace living. Each room is themed and adorned with traditional Thai décor, infusing each with a unique twist to its classy simplicity.

Chakrabongse Villa & Residence, 396/1 Tatien, Maharaj Road, Phraborommaharajawang, Phanakorn, Bangkok, Thailand | (+66) 2 222 1290

Las Casas Filipinas de Azucar, Bataan

A collection of almost 40 Spanish-Filipino colonial structures, a handful dating back to over 300 years ago, Jose Azucar’s collection of original architecture marvels bring guests on a journey through local history. Traverse through the cobblestone roads by tram, or take a boat down the river routes that run throughout the area. 

These heritage houses have been curated to encompass everything from grand palace-like homes to modest wood-stilt shanties, showcasing varied designs that work to form Filipino construction culture. A time capsule encircled by the picturesque Bataan landscape, the nearby Bataan National Park also offers extensive natural vistas like Limutan Falls, Kairukan Falls, and Mount Natib for guests to experience during their stay.

Las Casas Filipinas de Azucar, Brgy, Bagac, 2107 Bataan, Philippines | (+63) 2 833 3333

The Majestic Malacca, Melaka

Famed as a historical district that doubles as a cultural melting pot, the coastline capital of Malacca (or Melaka) boasts this stunning hotel as a landmark stay. The hotel is a 1920s Straits-style mansion that still features its original Victorian porcelain floor tiles, teakwood fixtures, and stained-glass windows. 

Nestled within a culturally diverse, UNESCO World Heritage-recognised area, guests can immerse themselves deeply in the unique Kristang history that is essentially a creole ethnic empire that emerged from a mix of local Malaccans and Portuguese colonists. Wander down 600-year-old Dutch alleys towards Jonker and Heeren, and witness the peaceful cohabitation of European churches, a Sumatran Mosque, and a Hokkien temple.

The Majestic Malacca, 188, Jalan Bunga Raya, Melaka, 75100 Melaka, Malaysia | (+60) 6 289 8000

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Raffles, Singapore

World-renowned, and a government-declared official monument, this grand hotel is the crown jewel of Singapore’s luxury accommodation sphere. Housing Long Bar, the birthplace of the gin-based Singapore Sling cocktail, this elegantly restored manor boasts old-world comforts that still shine brightly today. 

Its rich history has seen guests among the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Rudyard Kipling, and Ava Gardner. Accompany your stay with relaxing strolls in the tropical courtyards and a fabulous afternoon tea of curated delights with a menu that is constantly renewed.

Raffles Singapore, 1 Beach Road, Singapore 189673 | (+65) 6337 1886

Sofitel Legend Metropole, Hanoi

First opened by two French investors at the turn of the twentieth century, this prestigious venue has played host to many prolific actors, dignitaries, and playwrights—Charlie Chaplin, Graham Greene, and Somerset Maugham, to name a few. 

Sitting in the street-side café of La Terrasse, there is a strange calm in observing the chaotic Hanoi streets that plunge guests backwards into the hotel’s early golden days. Although suffering from neglect and disuse during the wartime era, its Neoclassical structures and majestic rooms have been restored and refreshed to become the ultimate luxury destination it is today.

Sofitel Legend Metropole, 15 P. Ngô Quyền Street, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam | (+84) 24 3826 6919

Tai O Heritage Hotel

Overlooking the Tai O Fishing Village and the South China Sea, the hotel was once a colonial police station put in place to stand guard over bandits on the shore. Surrounded by indigenous Hong Kong heritage as well as the glittering blues of the mirroring sky and sea, this grand white building houses elegantly furnished rooms that preserve its original nineteenth-century aesthetic. 

Restoration was carried out with a meticulous eye—details like the granite floors, French windows, and corner turrets have been maintained in their original style. Enjoy the panoramic views from the glass-roofed Tai O Lookout restaurant while admiring artisan creations from local artists on show.

Tai O Heritage Hotel, 14 Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Hong Kong | (+852) 2985 8383

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Umaid Bhawan Palace, Rajasthan

A royal palace, museum, and hotel, this destination is a distinctly magnificent piece of still living history all in itself. Commissioned by Maharaja Umaid Singh, this Indo-deco sandstone and marble building that perches 103 feet tall atop Chittar Hill was partly a humanitarian project, as its construction in 1929 employed thousands of farmers during a time of famine.

Peacocks decorate the 26-acre gardens circling the palace, while the subterranean Grecian pool lies under the in-palace tennis courts, restaurants, murals, and the library. With its private wing still housing the Jodhpur royal family today, this five-star accommodation is literally fit for royalty.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Circuit House Road, Cantt Area, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342006, India | (+91) 291 251 0101

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Alisa Chau

Editor

Always down for an adventure, Alisa’s general approach to life (and anything, really) is to “just go with the flow.” She believes that the most unforgettable moments are the most spontaneous ones. One thing she will always be certain of, however, is her love for the band My Chemical Romance and potato-based food.

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