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As the first British trading post in the East, Penang was already well-established as a major emporium of trade with travellers and seafarers of every shade and description - merchants, missionaries, mercenaries, sailors and adventurers - converging upon her thriving port.

But it was not until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the arrival of the steamship that travels to Asia assumed unprecedented style and luxury.

From this mélange of cultures and colonial commerce, four Armenian brothers, the Sarkies, would emerge to establish some of the world's greatest hotels in the East, including The Raffles in Singapore and The Strand in Rangoon.

The first of these, in 1885, would be the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, once pronounced as "The Premier Hotel East of Suez", boasting more than 100 rooms, 40 of them with adjoining bathrooms, hot and cold running water, individual telephones and a 902-foot seafront, "the longest of any hotel in the world".

In its long and colourful history, the E&O Hotel has seen two World Wars, the wane of the British Empire as well as the birth of Malaysia. It has welcomed the glitterati of the literary and entertainment worlds including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Hermann Hesse.

Through the highs and lows of events around the world, the E&O has retained its charm and weathered the passage of time with character and grace. Today, more than a century since its establishment, it is still nigh on impossible for travellers to think of luxury travel in the East without also calling to mind the graceful elegance and storied colonial charm of the E&O, one of Asia's truly great hotels.

Find out more about the vibrant history of the E&O Hotel from the book The E&O Hotel: Pearl of Penang. The book celebrates the rich heritage of the E&O Hotel, from its beginnings in 1885 to the present day. Authored by Ilsa Sharp, it is available at the E&O Hotel Bombay Shop and leading bookstores. RP: RM188.50.