Around the World in 80 Hotels (5)
Photographs on top of page: A porter at the Imperial in New Delhi / Andreas Augustin exploring a long abandoned tunnel under the People's Grand Hotel in Xian, China / The courtyard at Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
In 30 years the author of these lines has researched the history of about 500 of The Most Famous Hotels in the World, and has written over 50 history books about them.
A journey around the world can take – as we have all learnt – 79+1 days, but it can also take you to 80 different hotels. Speed is only a virtue if you are racing. Many believe that your far-travelled Louis Vuitton luggage set or your Palladium and Centurion Cards are the standard-bearers, but trust me: time is the true sign of wealth.
PART 5: YEMEN — INDIA — SRI LANKA — SINGAPORE — THAILAND — MYANMAR — CAMBODIA — VIETNAM — HONG KONG — CHINA — PHILIPPINES — JAPAN — AUSTRALIA — WESTERN SAMOA
East of Suez, on the shipping route from Europe to Asia, we searched in vain for the remains of the great hotels in Port Said and Suez itself. In Aden, the Crescent stands as an icon of a distant past, left by the British in 1967.
After Esfahan and Karachi, we reach Mumbai's Gate of India, where the majestic Taj Mahal hotel welcomes us. From here we travel inland to the capital of the sub-continent. We move to the new capital, "New" Delhi. Here we spend considerable time at the Imperial.
The leather bound cover of the French edition of our book Hotel Imperial New Delhi.
The Imperial in New Delhi sports a strict art-deco architecture. It is here that Muhammad Ali Jinnah founded Pakistan. Since its total renovation, it became the haunt of all discerning travellers and represents a true luxury hotel of international standards. As the owners decided to exhibit their vast collection of over 2,000 prints, paintings, illustrations and artifacts, they employed a dedicated manager of art and history. It may be the only hotel, which also functions as a museum. Our book about it is available at the hotel, of course.
What do you get when one of the most important Indian constructors of the new city of Delhi meets one of the most ambitious social ladies of the British colonial empire?
The answer is simple: The Imperial.
This book takes you from George V’s surprising 1911 announcement that made Delhi the new capital of India beyond the last years of the Raj, when the Viceroy’s wife, Lady Willingdon, convinced the eminent constructor of New Delhi, Narain Singh, to build a splendid hotel.
We accompany the new hotel, opened in 1936, through the following decades. It hosted lavish colonial parties and served ‘subversive’ Indian nationalists as their base to restore India’s independence after centuries of British rule.
Pandit Nehru made the hotel his personal headquarters. Muhammad Jinnah drew up his plans for an independent Pakistan there.
The Imperial became the hub of Indian society, from Delhi’s businessmen to Bollywood’s stars, the home for discerning international travellers and the nerve centre of global enterprises. Its unique museum concept makes it the most sought after hotel in India.
Make the acquaintance of the famous guests who made The Imperial their home. Meet the wonderful staff providing the necessary ambience. Read about the thrilling moments leading to the creation of Pakistan at the Royal Ballroom and enjoy golden memories of the good old Tavern.
Some miles away – in (old) Delhi – slumbers the good old Maidens Hotel. In Calcutta, we list The Grand (1890). We have taken note of the palaces, which were only recently converted, into hotels, namely the Rambagh, Umaid Bhawan and Lake Palace.
The Sarkies brothers were not trained but talented hoteliers, with a sense for great locations and big names: "Raffles", "Eastern and Oriental Hotel", "The Strand", to name but few of their hotels, all founded in Asia; an enduring legacy. With their Raffles Hotel in Singapore, The Sarkies brothers brought a standard to Asia that earned the hotel the moniker, 'The Savoy of the East'.
South of the sub-continent is the ‘tear of India’, Sri Lanka, the former Ceylon. From the charming Mount Lavinia to the very privately owned Hill Club, the garden island offers a full assortment of historic lodging places. The Galle Face offers a brand new wing. I recall the late Cyril Gardiner, whose son Sanjeev today is at the helm of the legendary hotel. He used to reprimand us to walk the stairs rather than to use the lift. Was he concerned about our health and fitness or about his ancient lift?
It all started at The Raffles in Singapore, where I lived from 1986–1989. Here I wrote my first couple of books, two about Raffles. I can say that I was part of the Raffles renovation project, because I unearthed the original plans of the hotel in a small Singaporean archive. They were commissioned by the Sarkies brothers, from 1887, hidden in a blue box for over 100 years. I vividly recall the moment. It was very exciting. The Straits Times made it a cover story. Over night the hotel was declared a National Monument, and the plans of some directors to bring it down and replace it by a modern shopping complex were once and for all history.
The Eastern & Orient Express leaves for Bangkok, and we make it our duty to stop over in Penang in Malaysia where we enjoy the view from the terrace of The Eastern & Oriental Hotel, another of the Sarkies enterprises.
On the way to Bangkok, we pay a visit to one of Thailand's seaside resorts, Hua Hin, and its newly restored Railway Hotel.
In Bangkok we spend a few days at The Oriental (1876) – for many, simply the best hotel in the world. My book about its history is updated almost every year, which brings us back to the City of Angels every season. Here we established the art collections of the hotel's Royal and Ambassador Suites, as well as the Authors' Lounge photographs collection and the various lounges dedicated to James Michener, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Joseph Conrad and to the long serving member of the hotel, Khun Ankana.
Andreas Augustin on The Oriental in Bangkok: Since 1986 – from edition to edition – this book has grown into the richest collection of historical material ever published about The Oriental in Bangkok.
"When Thailand was still Siam – in the mid of the 19th century – a rest house for foreign seafarers was established on the banks of the Menam river. It was to become one of the greatest hotels in the world: The Oriental. Jim Thompson, the silk king, owned it; the late Peter Ustinov loved it, Barbara Cartland has a suite named in her honour; Michael Jackson hid from the press there.
The Oriental – so many stories, so many tales. What’s the secret behind this composition? This book tells it all. From famous guests to PR strategies and management tactics. From Joseph Conrad, the captain with only one sea-going command in his life, who drank in the bar to Nijinsky who danced in the ballroom. Somerset Maugham suffered from malaria while in Bangkok. He noted: ‘I was almost evicted from The Oriental because the manager did not want me to ruin her business by dying in one of her rooms.’ Noël Coward treasured the memories of his favourite cocktail venue: ‘There is a terrace overlooking the swift river where we have drinks every evening.’ "
At The Strand in Yangon, we complete the visit of this former chain of hotels all built by the Sarkies Brothers between 1884 and 1901 (Raffles, E&O, Strand).My book Strand Yangon is a result of a prolonged stay there in the early 2000s.
A short detour takes us to Siem Reap, where the former Grand Hotel is today managed by the Raffles chain. It is practically located close to the famous temples of Angkor Wat and seems to be there for that purpose only.
In Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City to be precise, we visit The Continental and The Majestic and continue our journey to Hanoi, where The Metropole – another of Graham Greene's haunts – has proudly stood since 1901. At the Metropole, we established not only the history of the house (manifested in a book), but also uncovered a fine exhibition, visited by thousands of guests each year.
Hong Kong's oldest hotel is relatively young (The Peninsula, 1928), but is undoubtedly on top, and so are you! – in particular when you disembark from your helicopter onto its roof. My book about the history of it is a constant seller since 1987! I fondly remember Urs Aeby asking me to write it, and Max Bieger, the grand and elegant hotelier, to support us. I had the pleasure of meeting both senior Kadoories, one the father, the other the uncle of Michael Kadoorie, todays chairman.
"Anyone who comes to Hong Kong should stay at the Peninsula at least once!" said James Clavell, when author Andreas Augustin called him at his home in Switzerland.
He shared this point of view with many celebrities:
"Know what I do first thing after arriving in Hong Kong? I take a front room at The Peninsula, open the curtains and watch the ships in the harbour passing by."
This was the second book in the FAMOUS HOTELS series - we still have a few collectors copies left. This book is the first official biography of The "Pen". After all, The Peninsula is the grand old lady of Hong Kong. She has seen the colony through all imaginable ups and downs. All the great names of the past come alive again. Famous figures parade through this book. Celebrated characters formed The Pen‘s history created legends and became eventually legends themselves.
In Beijing, we visit the Grand Hotel (des Wagons-Lits), and in Shanghai we fox-trot to the sounds of the jazz band at The Peace Hotel.
In 1900, the new Grand Hôtel de Pékin opened for business in China.
Today no tour of China is complete without a visit to Xi'an, the first imperial capital of united China. There, we see the unearthed Terracotta Army of the first Emperor and stay at The People's Grand Hotel, a comparatively young Select Member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. Originally opened in 1951, it was closed for renovations until recently reopening its doors as a Sofitel Legend and, with 72 suites and exclusive butler service, is more glamorous than ever. So appears our book about it. Bill Lorenz took the photographs.
About the book The People's Grand Hotel Xi'an: The finest hotel in North West China, a Select Member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. Opened in 1953 it was the official hotel to accommodate foreigners. It welcome heads of states and famous artists. It has been reopened in 2014, after extensive renovations, reducing the number of 300 rooms to 72 exclusive suites. Its personal butler service and elegant style makes it ‘the’ haunt of every discerning traveller. This is its story.
Further on we go to the Philippines’ Manila Hotel, (1911), and in Tokyo we pay our respects to the all time classic Imperial (the original hotel was opened in 1890). By 1923, the hotel had a spectacular new building added, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which survived the devastating earthquake on its opening day. The hotel was removed, today a modern Imperial stands in its place.
A detour to Australia takes us to The Windsor in Melbourne (1883), Australia's only hotel of historical importance.
In the Pacific, the Aggie Gray’s on Western Samoa is also part of the collection.
PART 6: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA — CANADA — BAHAMAS — CUBA — BRAZIL — ARGENTINA — CHILE — JAMAICA — IRELAND
* Andreas Augustin is a writer and traveler. With The Most Famous Hotels in the World he has founded an organisation to safeguard the history and cultural heritage of all legendary hotels around the world.
Hotels are listed independently, following the strict regulations of The Most Famous Hotels in the World. They were chosen by the honorable jury, regardless of their geographical location, their political environment and their commercial success.