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Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Georgetown - Penang

Ware typical in south-east Asia from Chiangmai to Bali, one that also reminds me of water storage, preserving fruits and keeping stuff.

There are abodes for the historical  traveller, the adventurer, the tourist, the resort seeker.  Places of maintained elegance that hark back to another time and cultural ambiance. Residences that offer alternatives to current commercial offerings.  Hotels that have a proud past. Rooms that were occupied by celebrities of every shade, whether artistic, political or business. You can find such gems in most corners of the world, in the Caribbean, New England, Italy, India, Japan or Spain. In south-east Asia, a long period of colonial rule by various European powers has planted an outstanding such establishment in various cities, offering a key respite from the harsh climate, the ordinary masses and to recollect and recover in a world full of competition, fast paced trading and violent skirmishes. These institutional abodes do survive and prosper today, although under different owners and each facing varied socio-cultural trends and pressures.  On Penang Island, it is the all suite Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

A snapshot selection of the raw seafood offered at the daily buffet on the ground floor.

A visitor to early 20th century E & O would still familiar and comfortable many of the amenities and features available today in the 21st century version of the same place.  Tiled floors pamper your feet as you stroll along its indoor passage ways to your room or its several function facility venues.  The waterfront, looking out at the Straits of Penang to the mainland and the hillock known as Bukit Mertajam and also the higher point of Kedah Peak,  has solid parapets to form a fence against any surging tides (and which encountered the dissipated spill over from the Aceh tsunami back drift).

The swim pool is petite but good enough for those who just want to soak in the sun between conferences and business talks.  The palm trees are still there, remaining friendly and constant sentinels even if the city and nation has gradually changes.  The new Victory Annexe wing built recently gently sweeps in to the original parts of the hotel (the Heritage Wing) without a battered eyelid.  Many a function is held there in the tradition of yesteryears - weddings, club gatherings, expats hanging together late in the happy hours afternoon and family get togethers.

Sauces and condiments are essential to fully appreciate the potential of the local cuisine. 

The E & O could have been viewed as a refuge for European styled cooking in the past, especially to cater for Englishmen, their families and cohorts who have obviously been away for a long time from home, due to the then realities of long and arduous travel just to get back to the motherland.  These days the political and commercial powers and influences have changed significantly, with more island locals patronising such hotels for weekend gatherings or as suitable weekday venues to negotiate and do deals with the Malay Muslims from Kuala Lumpur, Singaporean investors, Middle Eastern stakeholders and China interests.

E & O survived the tribulations of the wold wars from the last century, endured Japanese military occupation and adapted to the changing socio-political landscape of an independent nation.  It was closed down in 1996 and suffered the indignity of decay and disorder for a certain period. The founders, the Armenian Sarkis Brothers, would have approved the transformation that has emerged from such times - and so would its more well known guests like Lee Kuan Yew, Michael Jackson, Charlie Chaplin, Sun Yet-Sun, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks and Herman Hesse.  British writer Somerset Maugham did reflect on life in colonial Malaya in his books and may have written some lines inside this very hotel itself.

A shoe shine box and polish options are made available in the washroom for gentlemen.

The surroundings on the boundary of the E & O are not your movie stereotype, falling out to busy street markets, huddled dwellings or jam packed traffic, but to more benign seafront with cooling breezes, similarly constructed buildings and a continuing theme of colonial settings.  This is  a terrific base from which to commence the heritage walking trail which may take anywhere up to four hours in the Old Quarter of Georgetown.   It is also a naturally chosen base to return to in the afternoon for a quiet refuge after surviving the humidity and heat of such an outdoor trail.  The seaside breezes from the harbour do circulate better past its walls and through its windows.

As the Malaysian Ringgit devalued much in recent years, the suite charges at E & O have moved on to  four figures per night.  Most are studio suites but you can also ask for the corner versions.  It is most enjoyable relaxing on your own balcony looking out at the placid waters of the Harbour on a lazy afternoon.  The corporate entity that owns and manages this hotel is indeed a diversified business that has also constructed residential and commercial buildings.  The inspiration and image they have adapted from this anchor hotel arm of the business is infused into their other projects.  A twenty minute car drive to the north-west brings you to the Straits Quay, developed and owned by the same owners as the E & O.

The diversity of food and drinks at the E & O can range from an Brit styled pub to tearooms, ballroom fine dining and buffet meals.

The character of the main foyer says it all - immaculately presented, lovingly detailed, spacious as the guest rooms with airy high ceilings and over seen by attentive staff.

A simple test of the integrity of the services with any establishment is to sample the fruits served at the end of a meal.

The washroom is graced with Victorian era lampshades, purposefully provided with low lighting and sinks that remind one of  Britannia at its political height.

Influences of Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia are acknowledged in traditional styled panels.

Penang Island's iconic street food, the char koay teow, is stir fried to your personal order and came out tasty, even without the use of pork lard, often utilised at street stalls and food courts to enhance the flavour and kick.


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