Distant and exotic, Asia retains its mysterious allure and the capacity to surprise those who venture into its lands. Palaces and ancient temples are intertwined with nature, giving rise to some of the world’s most captivating scenery. For centuries, conquerors, travelers and explorers went East to discover the riches of the largest continent on Earth, and started building veritable architectural gems in the most exquisite landscapes.
Today, a number of exclusive properties with the lineage of their colonial splendor offer unique travel experiences. In them, Asian mysticism harmonizes with all the comforts of modernity thanks to the painstaking restoration work carried out by Secret Retreats, a firm specialized in sumptuous accommodations, which focuses on the exquisite details that make Asia such a coveted destination.
“The glory of that golden age is seen in the halls of these colonial homes, where the sound of the footsteps of archaeologists, travelers, heads of state, princes and kings that dwelt there can still be heard. Most countries in Asia have been under European influence, and these properties are witnesses of that colonial past, reflected in the aesthetics of its interiors, the architecture and the art of their furniture,” says Stephane Junca, Managing Director of Secret Retreats.
In the heart of Luan Prabang, Laos, you will find the idyllic Satri House. Currently converted into a cozy boutique hotel, the original residence belonged to Prince Soupha Nouvong, who, in 1975, became the first president of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos. Its luxurious rooms are a journey through history. The polished terracotta floors and beautiful terraces overlooking the tropical garden and pool are the source of meditative contemplation. In the simple and elegant decoration, a collection of vintage objects are visible, and the rooms and suites with four-poster beds are adorned with fine silk curtains that filter the sun.
Talabgaon Castle, with nearly 200 years of history, is set in a small town of India’s Rajasthan. Recently restored and turned into an exclusive resort, the palace has 26 rooms, and its own polo field and stables. The restaurant specializes in typical regional dishes that can be served in the dining room, by the pool or in the garden.
Qing Wang Fu Mansion
This historic property was built in 1922 as a private home for the last chief eunuch of the Forbidden City. It was renamed Qing Wang Fu— or home of Prince Qing— after the mansion changed hands and became home to the fourth ruler of the Qing Dynasty. It has 16 spacious suites with private patios and terraces, elegant dining rooms, studios, and luxurious bathrooms. The balance between the Eastern and Western world is impeccable. Much appreciated are the hand carved doors and windows and the polished wood floor, all restored to their original glory.
Samar Villas & Spa
Located in Siem Reap, close to the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, the boutique hotel Samar Villas & Spa is a combination of traditional Khmer architecture and contemporary design. A discreet entrance reveals one of the most beautiful Angkor traditional houses. This charming resort, designed with subtlety and without ostentation, consists of two villas, an apartment and five suites overlooking a pool and a lush garden.
In the magical island of Java, Tugu Malang evokes Indonesia’s colonial past, displaying a selection of fine silks and hand painted batiks. With magnificent views of a beautiful lotus pond from all rooms and suites, the colorful atmosphere of the hotel is enhanced by a collection of Indonesian art, ancient statues, enigmatic masks and leather puppets.
In the center of Bangkok, capital of Thailand, we found the Cabochon Hotel, located in an exclusive four-story Walpole building reminiscent of the Parisian or Viennese styles that defined the art deco elegance of the 1920s. Its spacious and exclusive suites and apartments have tiled floors, high ceilings and balconies with black and white checkerboard floor. A wide polished marble staircase leads to a pool that offers panoramic views of the city. A space of absolute calm.
Along the Chao Phraya River in the heart of old Bangkok, the Chakrabongse Villas, remind us of the splendor of the local nobility. Built in 1908 by Prince Chakrabongse, the majestic building has been the scene of royal ceremonies, grand feasts, and river trips. To stay in any of its six suites overlooking the river and its tropical garden is to share the dreams of ancient Thai dynasties while enjoying all the modern amenities.
A nod to the legendary journeys of colonial travelers through the East, this ship boasts beautiful wrought iron balustrades and Ionian arches. The Jahan Criss crosses the Mekong River that links Vietnam and Cambodia while guests revel in the magnificence of the scenery. The vessel has 26 cabins and suites with balconies decorated with the colonial spirit, dark wood floors and colorful fabrics that create a dream environment. To venture on a trip to the East, and discover these exquisite and almost secret places, is a treasure for the senses and an unforgettable experience.