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PENANG PANACHE

Looking for some old world charm in a vibrant, enchanting setting? Look no further.

BILL WATT discovers the magic of Penang's legendary rival to Singapore's Raffles - the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town.

For nearly 40 years I have longed to stay at the famed Raffles Hotel. Sure, my wife and I once enjoyed a Singapore Sling cocktail at the Singapore establishment, but staying there has always been out of reach because of ridiculously expensive rates.

But, fear not, I discovered how to avoid a life forever stained by unfulfilled iconic hotel envy ... I found a hotel with the same colonial heritage, classic architecture with a dazzling history, for a mere fraction of the price.

Admittedly, the hotel I opted for was more than 700km from Singapore, but who cares when you're talking about the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town on the Malaysian island of Penang.


And, the E&O, as it is known to everyone on Penang, actually has stunning views that Raffles' wealthy clientele can only dream about.

Nestled on the shores of the Andaman Sea, the E&O was established at the height of the British Colonial era in 1884 by the Sarkies Brothers, the founders of (yep, you guessed it) Raffles several years later.

Since then it has reportedly hosted a plethora of famous (and infamous) guests including actors Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, writers Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham, dictator Kim Il Sung, Emperor Hirohito and genocidal communist Pol Pot.

But, all of these characters were far from our minds, when my wife Marie and I checked into the hotel after a rather hectic taxi journey from Penang International Airport.

As we entered our "suite", complete with a stunning view overlooking the Andaman Sea, Marie was almost overwhelmed by the apparent opulence of our new digs.

"How much did you spend on this room?" she gasped in a rather accusatory way. My answer ended her worries that we would need to remortgage our home to pay for the holiday. In fact, five days at the E&O cost us far less than a single night would have cost us at Raffles.

Over the next five days we explored impressive George Town and other beautiful parts of the fabulous tropical island that is Penang, but the real winner for us was the E&O.

Not only was our suite spacious with a great view, it was also beautifully furnished in a classic colonial style. The bed was huge and comfortable, which ranks as highly as almost anything else I require in a hotel room.

The infinity pool was one of the best I have seen. What a place to cool down and enjoy a cocktail and a snack. That's living!

Now, George Town is one of the foodie capitals of the world, but as good as it is, when a member of your travelling group has special dietary needs it is really important to be confident that what you are eating is safe as well as delicious.

No problem, if you are staying at the E&O.

As part of our package we had breakfast included ... and what a breakfast it was.

Each morning we demolished a mountain of food (well I did, anyway) from the buffet breakfast which was beautifully stocked with every possible need for travellers from anywhere in the world. I loved the Malaysian coconut pancakes as well as the fry-up (even the turkey bacon was OK). Marie also found plenty to satisfy her despite her gluten-free/lactose free requirements.

On our first night we indulged ourselves with a visit to the buffet dinner at the hotel's Sarkies restaurant. OMG! How much did I eat? And, all of it awesomely tasty. I even found room for dessert. Good but bad all at the same time.

We also enjoyed some wonderful Malaysian and Indian-style meals at the hotel's Palm Court restaurant. Fabulous beef rendang and lamb varuval were favourites. Our waitress delighted in ensuring Marie's dietary concerns were taken car of, which was a real bonus.

So, what can I say - after five wonderful nights at the E&O, I called up my online bucket list and deleted the Raffles entry. As far as I'm concerned, how could it be any better than our George Town experience.

PS Our stay at the E&O cost us $1249 for five nights with breakfast included. I just checked, and a night at Raffles (left) could set you back $2000!











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