I’m sad few places are “off the beaten path” and most countries are now well-equipped for travelers. It kind of takes the adventure out of travel.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Take the old grandes dames. I blogged about these hotels several months ago. At one time these gems (mostly in the British empire) stood tall and proud. Famous authors and actors graced their halls and held court in their bars.
And then WWII ended, the Empire broke apart, and the hotels suffered. The Eastern & Oriental in Penang was one of these. In this postcard from 1920, the E&O graces the Strait of Malacca. But three decades later, the hotel went into a downward spiral until it closed in 1996 for massive renovations. Today it costs and arm and a leg to stay there.
In 1991, my mom and I traveled to Penang. Her one request–to stay at the E&O. A stubborn and frugal college student, I only wanted to pay for a room in a youth hostel. So my mom and I compromised: we’d room together at the E&O and I’d pay the difference between a single and a double.
After almost 20 years, I recently read through my journal from then:
The E&O is nice, but old. There hasn’t been remodeling as far as I can tell. But outside in the back is really nice. It is right on the water and there is a small pool and tables and chairs. The view is very nice.
We swam at the pool and ate breakfast outside on the verandah. On our last night at the E&O, I wrote:
We were going to go to the night market, but it was raining. The hotel had an international buffet, so we decided to see if it was worth going there. Actually, most of the food was Malaysian, so we decided to stay there. We met a British man from New Zealand who sat with us.
It’s amazing to think I dined in the same room where a slew of famous folks once sat: Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Sun Yat-sen, Charlie Chaplin, and Lee Kwan Yew, the father of modern Singapore.
So now when travelers reach Penang, they have to shell out a ton of money to stay at the E&O. I feel lucky I had a chance to stay there, even if it was during its decline.