A few months ago a friend of mine asked which hotel I’d recommend for her to stay at while in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Given this is the city of my childhood and a place that still somehow keeps pulling me back every couple of years, I was an obvious person to ask. And yet I didn’t really have a good answer. In a city of seven million people that’s overflowing with fancy 5-star properties and at pretty great prices too, how do you pick?
Then when my wife and I decided to honeymoon in Malaysia in October, I finally did a bit of research to see if there were any historic hotels that might be suitably honeymoon-tastic. I’d recently returned from India and having had a couple of nights at a brilliantly done, colonial-era recalling hotel in Fort Kochi called Brunton Boatyard, I thought I’d do some Googling to establish if there might be something similar in KL.
Typing in “luxury historic hotel Kuala Lumpur”, it wasn’t long before I stumbled on the Majestic Hotel. Built in 1932, this was the most opulent hotel in the city during the final years of British colonial rule in Malaya (as the country was then known). After a period of being hijacked by the Japanese in World War Two to be a transit camp for their government, the building subsequently returned to its initial use as a hotel.
But by the the 1980s, the rapid explosion of the Malaysian economy had seen competition from new hotels force a closure with the Majestic becoming an art gallery. When the gallery shut its doors in 1998, the property lay dormant for many years, before blessedly re-emerging, this time under the YTL chain of hotels.
What they did should be studied by Hotel & Tourism students the world over because not only did YTL refurbish the original wing back to it’s pre WW2 glory, but they somehow constructed a new (and connected) 15-storey tower that could easily fool casual observers into thinking it had always been there.
I was sold by about the second photo on the website. The Majestic looked like everything a luxury, historic hotel should be: beautiful, proudly evocative of a bygone era, full of stories and subtly modern. We booked for three nights of our honeymoon (check out the photos to see the welcome they gave us in the suite being we were newlyweds) there and ended up adding a fourth because we loved it so much.
How come? I guess beyond my wife thinking it was just about the coolest hotel she’d ever stayed at, it’s because I adore hotels that transport me somewhere. Even though we were in a Junior Suite on the 15th floor of the new wing, we felt like we were stepping back in time to the 1930s. Those modern subtleties were there in the form of swipe cards, high-speed lifts, flat screen bathroom TVs and multi-adaptor plug sockets, but even the 21st Century lifts looked appropriately old-world.
What is now the hotel’s main lobby – with its marble floors, oversized chandelier and Roman-style columns – fooled me. I thought it must’ve been a part of the original wing, but no. As for the view from our suite, it had almost everything to remind me of why I love this city so much. There was dense jungle, architectural marvels both new and old (including the former palace, now a museum), skyscrapers and even a heritage church. KL has always been a mash of different cultures, religions, styles and even environments and here it all was, as seen from the Majestic’s 15th floor.
From the window by the lifts we could also see the National Mosque, the famed domes of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and one of the finest mid-level skyscrapers of the 80s, the Dayabumi. With Merdeka Square just a 10-15 minute walk away and some of old KL’s most intriguing architecture (including the KL Railway Station) along the way, the Majestic Hotel really is in the perfect location for anyone who wants a taste of what high society in Kuala Lumpur used to be like.
The feeling of time traveling is completed by experiences like high tea in a room filled with orchids, dinner in the main restaurant with a jazz band and drinks and cigars in the basement bar with complimentary smoking jackets. There’s even a mini cinema. The hotel really is too much fun, especially when you add the uniforms of the doormen with their pleated shorts, helmets and knee-high socks.
So if you’re ever heading to Kuala Lumpur and you’re after more than just another very nice 5-star hotel, look no further than the place that once used to define luxury in this most cosmopolitan of Southeast Asian capitals. Because guess what? It still does.
Enjoy my photos and please visit majestickl.com for booking details.