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16 Boutique Hotels with Serious Style


Sometimes size matters. When you're searching for soul, smaller can be better. Smaller, authentic, comfortable and cool, that is. "People like to define themselves by their style and taste," says James Lohan, co-founder of hotel curator Mr & Mrs Smith. "Boutiques have the ability to be more creative in how they look and what they offer." On the following pages, we offer some of the best and brightest little guys across the region. You want to feel "of the place"? Check in to boutique hotels.

Published on Aug 16, 2017

 

SRI LANKA
BY ALESSANDRA GESUELLI

1. OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT
WHERE: THALPE
ROOMS: 17

The name comes from a quirky Edward Lear poem. The interior design comes from a life of travels. This fanciful hideaway just a short tuk-tuk ride from the historic Galle Fort has 17 rooms and suites, all with views of the Indian Ocean and individually designed by New York architect Uday Dhar. Co-owner Reita Gadkari draws aesthetic inspiration from India… Italy… Argentina, and has commissioned artists—both locals and foreigners from places including Turkey—to fill the property with colorful original works of the finest craftsmanship. There is a restaurant offering traditional Sri Lankan cuisine with Mediterranean accents, a bar and café, a relaxed beach shack and a swimming pool. On weekends the property sways to a jazz band show. Take home a bit of the kaleidoscope: shopping in the property's boutique supports a philanthropic fund for Sri Lankan artisans and a local orphanage. otphotel.com; doubles from US$240.

Owl and the Pussycat
A homey balcony at Owl and the Pussycat. Courtesy of Owl and the Pussycat.

2. FORT BAZAAR
WHERE: GALLE
ROOMS: 18

It took nine years to recreate this stunning 17th-century townhouse in the heart of Galle Fort. Fort Bazaar was once occupied by spice, tea and gem traders; unused since mid-1950s and in a state of near ruin until recently, it is now a charming 18-bedroom hotel around a private courtyard. The project, led by PWA Architects in Colombo and supported by the 65 workers and three dogs who lived on site during the renovation, has restored the building's original Dutch glory, and Sri Lankan welcoming heritage. Inside, Z Spa boasts chemical-free products made in Sri Lanka by Ophir; the blends are based on the therapeutic benefits of black, green, pink and red tea. The property overlooks busy Church Street, which lends its name to the hotel's restaurant and bar, Church Street Social. Here the menu reflects the history of the locale and its Arabic influencers, with elements of Moroccan, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. teardrop-hotels.com; doubles from US$130.

Fort Bazaar
Overlooking the Fort Bazaar courtyard. Courtesy of Fort Bazaar.

 

CAMBODIA
BY RACHNA SACHASINH

3. TEMPLATION
WHERE: SIEM REAP
ROOMS: 33

While getting up close to the iconic ruins of Angkor is exhilarating, leaving the tourist mobs can be equally satisfying. This new, super-green hotel— with enough solar panels to make the operation energy efficient and one of Cambodia's eco-friendliest—offers the easiest of outs. Taking up residence a mere 800 meters from the heritage site’s main gates, the place makes getting in and out a breeze. The architecture is mid-century Khmer, a vernacular style that leans heavily on breezeways and open ventilation to encourage airflow. Vertical water walls line stone walkways; small ponds keep the ambient temperature cool and refreshing; and old-growth trees with overarching canopies cast a welcome shade. The 33 suites and pool villas are among Siem Reap's most spacious, loosely dressed in muted greys, ecru and straw, and poured in cool, uncoated cement and porous laterite stone, similar to the ones used in Angkor's vast complex. All temples have an inner sanctum, and here the spa and pools jockey for the top position. After a dawn temple jaunt, slip into the scaled-up resort pool or one of the private, slate-lined plunge pools, or duck into the sleek, minimalist spa for purifying, organic treatments. templation.asia; pool suites from US$185 low season.

Templation
Pool villa bedroom. Courtesy of Templation.

4. PHUM BAITANG
WHERE: SIEM REAP
ROOMS: 45

Perhaps it's too bold to say Phum Baitang rivals Angkor's draw—but Angelina Jolie did sleep here. It's easy to see why A-listers looking for secluded luxury would choose the "green village," a rough translation of the property's Khmer name. Forty-five stilted wooden villas, nearly half with private plunge pools, are modeled after traditional Khmer dwellings, while the décor and mood are strictly French country chateau. Handsome divans, oversized beds draped in natural linens, and a cigar and cocktail lounge tucked in a century-old plantation house make for a gentile take on rustic chic. From the villa's terraces, watch fragrant lemongrass fields and rice paddies march up to the horizon. The aptly named Spa Temple, with its indigenous tonics and therapies, is just that: a communion with earthly and celestial pleasures. phumbaitang.com; doubles from US$415 low season.

Phum Baitang
The bedroom of Pool Villa offers a comfortable king size bed. Courtesy of Phum Baitang.

 

MALAYSIA
BY MARCO FERRARESE

5. JAWI PERANAKAN MANSION
WHERE: PENANG
ROOMS: 14

A bit removed from the Muntri/Love Lane/Chulia Street cluster of heritage boutique digs, Jawi Peranakan Mansion still perfectly conjures the opulent spirits of Penang's 19th-century Indian-Muslim millionaires. Tucked behind a heavy brass gate, the fourth jewel in heritage hotelier Chris Ong's crown celebrates Hutton Lane's past, an era of luxurious bungalows built by Muslim traders from Pakistan, Central Asia and the Middle East. Inside, intricately carved arches over room doors perfectly marry with antique furniture from India and bewitching Mughal motifs throughout the spacious common areas. The four Mansion Family rooms are particularly delightful, their wooden mezzanines concealing king-size beds and attractive way-back-when wooden writing desks—a clever hideaway for parents with children in tow. Regardless, with just 14 suites, an exclusive and intimate stay is guaranteed—among the charms of one of Penang's less-celebrated settlers. georgetownheritage.com; doubles from RM380.

Jawi Peranakan Mansion
Portal to the past at Jawi Peranakan Mansion. Kit Yeng Chan.

6. KINABATANGAN WETLANDS RESORT
WHERE: ABAI, BORNEO
ROOMS: 20

Secluded in the marshland of the Kinabatangan River, this resort was already a notch up from most stays in the Sabah jungles. In 2017, they're doubling the number of wooden-luxe chalets and adding a pool. Wildlife lovers, rejoice: the main activity is river cruising after wild proboscis monkeys, elusive orangutans, and rare tropical birds. As for crocodiles? Stick to the pool, for there's quite a bask wandering about in these murky waters. kwrborneo.com; two-day/one-night packages from RM1,080 inclusive of two cruises, all meals and a jungle night walk.

 

SINGAPORE
BY GRACE MA

7. THE WAREHOUSE HOTEL
ROOMS: 37

Hip history dominates at the intimate Warehouse, a contemporary industrial-chic rendition of a former godown that sat in a gritty neighborhood of illegal distilleries and secret societies. The off-color shenanigans are gone of course, but you can imagine them all through the artsy paraphernalia reminiscent of that period dotting the common spaces. The place is the very definition of proudly Singaporean: everything from the soft furnishings and bar snacks to its stylish heritage exterior and yesteryear recipe-inspired Po restaurant is a local collaboration. thewarehousehotel.com; doubles from S$295.

The Warehouse
Wake up on the river at The Warehouse. Courtesy of The Warehouse Hotel.

8. VILLA SAMADHI
ROOMS: 20

The island city's western corridor usually doesn't register so much as a blip on the tourist's radar, but minds may be changed soon with the opening of Villa Samadhi, ensconced as it is in such tropical tranquility. Housed in a restored colonial garrison for British army officials, this 20-room gem hibernates quietly at the verdant fringes of Labrador Nature Reserve, a treasure trove of mangrove flora and fauna complete with friendly walking trails. Pulling up the driveway and walking though the doors to attentive staff waiting with chilled towels, making your way along wood-paneled walkways to your room, passing the high ceiling and shuttered windows of the guests-only library… it feels like a grand invitation to a stately private home. A two-minute stroll down a jungle boardwalk leads to traditional Thai and Burmese cuisine made from heirloom recipes at the Tamarind Hill restaurant and house-infused gin tipples at the Chandelier Bar. The Malayan-styled rooms are spacious—from the 27-square-meter Cribs to the 56-square-meter Luxe Sarang (Malay for nest) suite—with private whirlpools included in the larger Sarang category. Best Zen moments? Lounging on the outdoor terrace of your room with views of towering canopies and the echoes of melodious twitters. The office can wait. villasamadhi.com.sg; doubles from S$395.

Villa Samadhi
The urban jungle, Villa Samadhi-style. Courtesy of Villa Samadhi.

 

THAILAND
BY RACHNA SACHASINH

9. BAAN NAI THE REMINISCENCE
WHERE: BANGKOK
ROOMS: 4

History favors feminine charm, and the women who ran the Baan Nai household had plenty of it. Since the early 1800s, the classic homestead produced a bevy of beauties—collectively known as "the Baan Nai ladies"—who bewitched old Bangkok with their impeccable grace and keen fashion sense. The colonial-style bungalow once anchored a vast estate belonging to a regent who served under King Rama V. Today, Bangkok's urban jungle has swallowed much of the land, but within Baan Nai's intimate complex, not far from Chatuchak market, a pocket of regal comportment thrives, thanks to the current lady of the house, Doungsawart Soonthornsratoon, an interior designer whose creative vintage flourishes lend grace and warmth at every turn. Old-fashioned Thai dishes are cooked in-house and served in a gorgeous garden full of grand old trees erupting with ochre and magenta blooms. With only four rooms, the inn fills up quickly. fb.com/baannaithereminiscence; doubles from Bt4,500.

10. VILLA MAHABHIROM
WHERE: CHIANG MAI
ROOMS: 14

Mahabhirom means "supreme pleasure" in Thai—and how do you attain this coveted state? It takes a village. Amid the winding lanes of a historic Chiang Mai enclave, 14 century-old stilted teak houses, or ruean Thai, form an idyllic hamlet. Rescued from near ruin in central Thailand, each ruean-cum-private suite's earthy interiors and tree-skimming verandas are drenched in nostalgia. Here, simplicity is the hallmark of luxury, though a few bold, unexpected touches keep things lively. The owners are Bangkok-based childhood friends who clearly possess an unrepentant love for classic Thai living, and all forms of art. Sprinkled throughout is an eclectic mix of Renaissance-inspired sculptures, French settees, antique glass chandeliers and gold enamel pieces from the Ayutthaya period. The country houses' pared-down aesthetic absorbs the flamboyance gracefully, and the result is nuanced and delightful. Krua Mahabhirom dishes up refined "mama recipes" in handsome dining nooks and terraces brimming with starlight, while locally inspired healing massages are delivered in charming, rustic teak chambers. villamahabhirom.com; doubles from Bt12,250.

Villa Mahabhirom
Eclectic art and style at Villa Mahabhirom. Courtesy of Villa Mahabhirom.

 

PHILIPPINES
BY STEPHANIE ZUBIRI

11. CLUB AGUTAYA
WHERE: PALAWAN
ROOMS: 38

Say "Palawan," and most people think of the prehistoric karst garden that is El Nido up north. But halfway down the island's west coast is an even less-traveled tropical Eden. Undeveloped San Vincente boasts the country's longest stretch of beach, and you can have it all to yourself. Indulge in your castaway wanderlust without the hassle of building your own hut and fishing for your dinner if you stay at Club Agutaya. Just past the lush jungle surrounding the main town, this brand-new eco-resort sits in the middle of 14.5-kilometer pristine, powdery Long Beach. Designed to respect the nature that envelops it (bamboo railings; seashell lamps), the resort generates its power by solar and wind and has a state-of-the-art sewage-treatment system, the first of its kind in the country, that recycles water. With just 38 rooms including prized ocean-view villas, in San Vic's only hotel, you'll be plenty secluded, but if you want to venture farther, the staff can arrange a visit to a private island. Back in your room you'll find solar-heated showers, plush bedding and free WiFi—so you can #humblebrag on Instagram about finally finding paradise. clubagutaya.net; doubles from P6,000.

Club Agutaya
Your own piece of Palawan, at Club Agutaya. Courtesy of Club Agutaya.

12. SIAMA
WHERE: SORSOGON
ROOMS: 30

Tucked away in the middle of swaying coconut groves in the underrated Bicol province of Sorsogon is this brainchild of furniture designer Milo Naval and his wife, Kat. With clean Midcentury lines and a plethora of natural local materials like bamboo and rattan, Siama has a vintage Palm Springs-meets-tropical beach bum vibe. The 30-bedroom resort is designed to be an escape from urban chaos with secluded pockets of greenery, a 25-meter forest pool and personalized service. The latter is reflected in their dining offerings, which are basically, whatever you want and whatever is freshest. From catching a wave at Rizal Beach to picnicking while floating downriver in a coconut hut raft to exploring colonial churches and homes, a visit to Siama is a one-stop whirlwind of Philippine highlights. Our favorite itinerary, however, is a relaxing massage in one of their outdoor spa rooms followed by a cocktail under a coconut tree. Also known as: doing absolutely nothing. siamahotel.com; doubles from P8,500.

 

TAIWAN
BY DUNCAN FORGAN

13. ROADERS
WHERE: TAIPEI
ROOMS: 68

Shades of arcane Americana color the concept at Roaders. A collage of American license plates enlivens the elevator area while the basement lobby—dubbed Roaders Saloon—features ephemera such as fake WANTED signs, giant wooden barrels and wagon wheels. Although elements of the design philosophy hark back to the days before the West was won, the hotel is largely a model of modernity. Situated right next to Ximen MRT station, it is ideally located for investigation of the Ximendeng area as well as Taipei's other highlights. But there's also reason to linger: the lobby has a broad selection of English-language magazines to browse as well as air hockey, foosball, free snacks and drinks, and a selection of beers and spirits. Rooms, meanwhile, are cozy and soundproofed from the hubbub outside, and feature cushions monogrammed with a moose-head design—another knowing touch that hits its mark. roadershotel.com; doubles from US$89 per night.

Roaders
Hints of the Old West in a Roaders guest room. Courtesy of Roaders.

14. SWIIO HOTEL
WHERE: TAIPEI
ROOMS: 50

Located in the heart of Ximending—the epicenter of Taipei's Japanese-inspired youth culture—the Swiio exudes hip energy. In fact, it has harnessed the talent of local creatives to promote a concept that is one part hotel, another part contemporary gallery. Works by Taiwanese artists, which range from graffiti and photography to graphic and abstract pieces, adorn rooms, hallways and other public areas. The funky, retro furniture was also designed and made locally. Ximending is often referred to as the Harajuku or Shibuya of Taiwan, and the Japanese influence can be detected in the hotel's bijou rooms. Despite their small size, all benefit from attractive trimmings including 32-inch flat-screen TVs and Bluetooth stereos. Service is exemplary and, while there are no dining facilities on-site, guests are minutes from some of the city's best street feasts. en.swiio.com; doubles from US$113 per night.

Swiio
Beyond hip in the Swiio lobby. Courtesy of Swiio Hotel.

 

AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND
BY JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN

15. HELENA BAY
WHERE: NORTHLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ROOMS: 5

With their estate-to-plate cuisine, wide open spaces and unpretentious-upscale hospitality, the Kiwis do lodges better than anyone, and this stunner at the top of the country is already heading best-hotel lists around the world. Taking its name from its lovely shoreline, Helena Bay courses with history, culture and natural beauty. It's all served on a silver platter, along with a daily menu of local fare, by a staff that outnumbers the max number of guests (10) five-to-one—and don't get us started on the arithmetic of the 1,000-label wine cellar. Each stand-alone villa has a waterfront deck and two have wood fireplaces. But since temperatures in the "winterless north" never dip below 14 degrees, you're always free to swim in the pool, picnic on the beach, or explore the grounds—five Pa sites (ancient Maori fortifications) are on the property. Book the whole place, gain access to five more bedrooms in the main house, and fly everyone in via the resort's private helicopter; it's just 45 minutes from Auckland. helenabay.com; doubles from NZ$1,550 low season, inclusive of breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and dinner.

Helena Bay
A waterfront  lodge. Courtesy of Helena Bay.

16. MACQ01
WHERE: HOBART, AUSTRALIA
ROOMS: 114

OK, so MACq01 is bit bigger than the rest, and it's not even open yet, but we are really psyched about this consummate boutique going up waterfront on the working docks of Australia's southermost city. The storytelling hotel takes as its jumping-off point the unique spirit of tough, far-flung Tasmania, hodgepodge of convicts, indigenous natives, explorers and inventors. Each room will elucidate the tale of a different Tasmanian who exemplifies one of five archetypes—colorful and quirky; hearty and resilient; curious and creative; grounded, yet exceptional; and fighting believer—which influences each space's aesthetic design. macq01.com.au.

 

 

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Subtropical climes invite swimming at Helena Bay. Courtesy of Helena Bay.
  • The lobby and bar at The Warehouse Hotel, Singapore. Courtesy of The Warehouse Hotel.
  • A-list hospitality at Phum Baitang. Courtesy of Phum Baitang.
  • Courtesy of Phum Baitang.
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