Having not been to Penang for a while, I left the choice of hotel to friends whom I was travelling with. We ended up with Eastern & Oriental, or better known as The E&O, one of Penang’s finest luxury hotels. A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that this is a combination of not one, but two remarkable properties (Eastern Hotel & Oriental Hotel, hence its current name), founded by the Sarkies Brothers in 1884.
So who are the Sarkies Brothers and what’s the deal with them? They were Armenians who settled in Southeast Asia and became famous hoteliers of the 1880s, having built several luxury properties across Asia, including Singapore’s very own Raffles Hotel.
Location, location, location
The E&O is located in the heart of George Town, along Lebuh Farquhar right by the sea. The closest landmark is Fort Cornwallis, while the famous food streets are either within a 15-minute walk away. For reference, Lebuh Armenian, where most of Penang’s famous murals are, is about a kilometre away.
Gurney drive is also a short drive away, with Paragon and Gurney Plaza a 10-minute drive away, depending on traffic.
The hotel is divided into two wings – the Heritage Wing which was where the original front wing was, and the Victory Annexe, the newer wing which was reconstructed and reopened in 2013.
So what’s the difference between the two wings?
The Victory Annexe is modelled after a business hotel, with two room types – Studio and Corner suites – both more than spacious. All Victory Annexe guests also have access to the Planter Lounge for evening cocktails daily.
Heritage Wing houses some of the hotel’s grander suites, with its two largest suites – the Pinang Suite and the E&O Suite – located within. The Wing provides a highly private service, with a personal butler handling your check-in, and also a 24-hour butler service.
Based on several online reviews, travellers who prefer the Heritage Wing often liked it for its old-world décor and more spacious suites that resembles a mini apartment rather than a hotel room. For guests who are particular about service, the Heritage Wing is also a plus.
Both wings are very well equipped, each with its own set of restaurants as well as facilities such as a spa, fitness centre and swimming pool. All rooms come with a complimentary breakfast and guests in the Victory Annexe also enjoy evening cocktails at the Planters Lounge. Both buildings also have a library, where guests can browse or borrow books from.
For this stay, I stayed in the Studio Suite (55sqm), the smallest room type across the entire hotel. The Victory Annexe boasts of high ceiling across all floors, making the rooms feel roomier.
Upon entering the room, I was immediately taken in by the size of the room. Every room comes with a small balcony overlooking the sea, fantastic for a glass of wine while gazing out.
An armchair and side table adorns the corner of the room, great for those lazy mornings with a cup of coffee and your favourite e-magazines or Kindle.
The bathroom was even more amazing. Taking up almost of the room space, the bathroom boasts of two wash basins, and a wardrobe for each occupant. There was an opulent standalone bathtub as well as a separate shower stall, a reason good enough for some people to choose this hotel.
The room also comes with complimentary newspapers and non-alcoholic beverages in the fridge, which are restocked daily.
If you have a group of friends or two couples travelling together, do note that instead of connecting rooms, they could arrange for you to have adjacent rooms which share a same private doorway leading to your rooms. There is a common door that can be closed, and you can leave your room doors opened to have the same effect as connecting rooms.
However, the light switches were extremely confusing. There is a master switch beside the bed that needs to be switched on before anything else can be toggled. Likewise, be sure not to turn that off if you want to charge your devices when you go to bed – the power sockets are controlled by that master switch too.
The Planters Lounge, spa, fitness room and swimming pool are all located on level five of the Annexe. All guests are invited to the Planters Lounge daily from 5-7pm for complimentary cocktails and refreshments; outside of these hours only coffee and tea are free, while everything else is billable.
Given that the privilege is extended to the entire hotel rather than just the executive club level rooms as with most other hotels, I was prepared for the quality of offers to be less than what I expect from some other properties. Sure enough, the wines were crappy so I settled for Gordon’s gin with tonic. Choice of hot food were often deep fried items, with finger sandwiches or sweet pastries.
On the beverage side, apart from the terrible wines, they offered a selection of spirits as well as Anchor beer and soft drinks. If you prefer a non-sugary drink, they do offer Schweppes soda water or you can request for Coke light, which they will bring out for you. But hey, alcohol is not expensive in Penang, so you might be better off checking out the bars in town.
While the lounge food may not be all that awesome, the view is to die for. With a clear view of the Malacca Straits off the west coast of Malaysia, it makes for a pretty picture of the horizon, especially on a clear day. The infinity pool adjacent to the lounge shares the same view, making for a dip anytime of the day very lovely and serene.
For breakfast, guests at the Victory Annexe have the option of going to Planters Lounge at level 5 for a quieter experience, or Sarkies at the ground floor. I chose to check out the reputation Sarkies for breakfast. True to great Malaysian hotels, I was duly impressed with the vast selection of food. Apart from the usual offerings of cooked western options and egg station, there was also a Japanese corner with miso soup and sushi, Indian selection of curries and rice, as well as Asian options such as congee and nasi lemak. What was truly impressive were the live cooking stations peddling wonderful local delights such as roti canai, soup noodles and char kuey teow!
A tip for you: sit at the outdoor patio, which is a lot quieter and breezy. Also, you get to enjoy a good sea view!
Staying at the E&O was definitely an exceptional value. With lead-in prices from RM644 nett (S$161) for the Studio Suite if you plan early and grab their early bird deal, this luxury property is definitely not a dream and affordable for a weekend away.
The few complaints that we have with the property comes with the age of the property – insufficient power sockets in the room, troublesome light switches and unreliable hot water in the shower. But these are minor issues, although I would expect a top league hotel to invest in solving these in order to keep the guests coming back.