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OCTOBER 16, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 15

Check Into the Past at One of Asia's Grand Hotels

Hotels have come a long way in the past 20 years, not to mention the previous 300. Most 17th century inns, if you can believe it, didn't offer much in the way of broadband access. But there's something to be said about a hotel that perfectly captures a bygone era, while providing modern creature comforts. Though wars and development have taken their toll on Asia's fine hotels, there are more than enough heirloom properties to satisfy travelers looking to turn back the clock. Here is a sampling of some of Asia's finest old inns:

• The Pousada de Sao Tiago, Macau. Originally a fortress built by the Portuguese in the early 17th century to defend against attack, this granite stone hotel is one of the oldest structures in the former colony. While the hotel can feel a bit damp during the April-June rainy season, its age is mostly a plus. Mahogany four-poster beds, marble bathrooms and custom-made chandeliers and lamps imported from Portugal combine to create a calm environment. The efficient (if slightly forgetful) service helps to recreate the most authentic Old World experience available in Asia. Room rates start at around $200 a night, plus 15% tax. Tel: (853) 378-111.

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• Sofitel Dalat Palace, Dalat, Vietnam. Completed in 1922, the Palace Hotel, as it was then known, was the height of French colonial style. Built in the town of Dalat, which was established in 1912 as a high country retreat for Europeans looking to escape the swelter of the Mekong Delta, the hotel has one of the finest botanical gardens in Vietnam. The rooms are large with high ceilings and casement windows that look out upon Xuan Huoung Lake. During the Vietnam War, the combatants left the hotel out of the conflict and, unlike so much of the country, it came through unscathed. Even the most elegant lady needs a makeover now and again, and in 1995 Sofitel—the present managers—renovated the place to its former glory. The 43-room property is a four-hour drive (or 40-minute flight) from Ho Chi Minh City. Singles start at $169. Tel: (84-63) 825-444.

• Carcosa Sri Negara, Malaysia. Hidden away in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, this hotel is one of Asia's best kept secrets. Set amid a 16-hectare forest, the 13-suite boutique hotel has played host to Queen Elizabeth as well as a long list of ambassadors, lesser royalty and celebrities. Divided between two colonial mansions—the Carcosa and the Negara—the place sports an air of genuine gentility, especially since each suite comes with a butler. The hotel exudes British country charm, right down to the floral prints and slightly shabby furnishings. The only real weakness is the kitchen, which has yet to meet modern British culinary standards. At $298 a night, you might just choose to visit for high tea on the veranda, which is a reasonable $12. Tel: (60-3) 2282-1888.

• Hotel Fujiya, Nag-ano, Japan. Since 1776 this hotel has offered an alluring home on the road for discerning travelers. While not the oldest or most luxurious of Japan's ryokan, the Fujiya provides an easygoing hospitality that is hard to rival. The floorboards creak and the stairways are dark, but the rooms offer simple comfort with cozy futons, slightly frayed robes and fluffy comforters. The hotel's faCade, a three-story stone edifice with Art Deco touches, was attached in the 1920s to the original, centuries-old building at the rear. As an extra bonus, staff members speak excellent English. Prices start at about $100 a person per night, including two meals, with communal bath and taxes extra. Tel: (81-262) 321-241.

• Settha Palace Hotel, Vientiane, Laos. Built in 1932, this hotel was nothing more than a glorious ruin in the early 1990s. Billy Theodas, a French citizen whose parents once managed the hotel, leased the property in 1994 and has completely renovated the building and grounds. He also added a pool and a French restaurant, La Belle Epoque, featuring legendary Laotian chef Sayasouk Southakakoumar, who formerly worked at a Michelin-rated restaurant in France. Rooms start at around $75. Tel: (856-21) 217-5812.

• Grand Hotel d'Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Only 8 km from the remains of Angkor Wat, the refurbished hotel was once a ruin itself. The 75-year-old French-colonial property was refurbished by Raffles International, and the hotel's facilities are completely modern. While purists say the new touches make it less authentic, others counter that 75 years ago the hotel provided everything a guest could want, so why not today? Standard rooms start at $300, but specials are available. Tel: (855-63) 963-888.

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