A colonial relic and outstanding value
Travelling Java can at times resemble an endurance test but a stay at the magnificent Hotel Majapahit makes it all worthwhile. If you’re going to break your budget just the once, this lovely and atmospheric property should be at the top of your list.
If you’re one to dabble in Southeast Asia’s classic colonial properties, you’ll be well familiar with the Sarkies brothers: Aviet, Arshak, Martin and Tigran, four Iranians who built a hospitality empire across Southeast Asia. Their properties include what is now the E&O in Georgetown, Penang (opened in 1885), the Raffles Hotel in Singapore (opened in 1887) and The Strand in Yangon (opening in 1901). Martin’s son, Lucas Marin Sarkies, opened the Oranje Hotel (named after the Dutch royal family), which was the original name of the Hotel Majapahit, in 1911.
As with the other properties, the Hotel Majapahit enjoyed a wealth of famous guests including Charlie Chaplin and members of Dutch royalty, but it also played an important role in Indonesia’s independence. During the Japanese occupation of World War II the hotel was renamed Hotel Yamato and two days after the Japanese surrender, Sukarno and Hatta declared the independence of Indonesia on 17 August, 1945. Amid an uncertain period when many groups vied for power and influence, a group of released Dutch internees, supported by Japanese, raised the Dutch flag in front of the Hotel Yamato (where the British had established an office in charge of the recolonialisation effort). Enraged nationalists then overran the Dutch, killing at least one, and tore off the blue section of the Dutch flag—creating a flag made of a horizontal red and white stripe (today's flag of Indonesia). The hotel was (fittingly) renamed Hotel Merdeka—it wasn't to take on the name Hotel Majapahit till 1969, a name that it adopted again (after a brief interlude with the Mandarin Group) in 2006.
Today the hotel is truly a colonial relic and while deciding to stay for a single stay was an absolute (but very, very welcome) splurge for us, it only took us five minutes strolling around the property to realise one night just wouldn’t be enough. We quickly booked a second night.
The hotel fronts onto very busy Jalan Tunjungan, leaving you just a short walk from both the glitzy modernity of the malls on Jalan Embong Malang and the down to earth street food and cafes of Jalan Genteng Beasar. Walking through the doors of the Art Deco foyer, you're swept into the past, and the racket of the street fades away as you’re greeted with the genuine smiles of the front desk staff.
Before we go any further, a word on the staff at Hotel Majapahit. We found them so helpful, so genuinely friendly and interested in what we were doing in Surabaya (eating mostly), that they really turned what was already a great stay into an excellent one. It is one thing to have staff remember your name off the bat (something we remain totally in awe of), but quite another to ask you at the end of the stay how you went wandering Chinatown and to make some (excellent) suggestions for where to eat, totally unbidden and yet in a very welcome and familiar way. We felt like return guests despite never having stepped into the hotel previously.
The hotel is deceptively large, with rooms spread across two floors with two smaller gardens and a larger garden at rear. We can’t imagine how you could have a room here without a garden view of some description—our upstairs room had a comfortably sized terrace overlooking the rear, larger, garden and sitting here, looking over the garden in a torrential rainstorm was pretty special. The gardens, dotted with shade trees and traveller palms include seating in the shade and beside small fountains and other water features. They’re amazingly quiet and ideal for a few slow hours with a book (there is WiFi throughout for those who prefer online reading).
There is a mid-sized pool off to one side of the hotel, you need to walk through the spa area to reach it, and it was probably the only aspect of the hotel which left us underwhelmed. If a large pool is more important to you than the colonial charm, perhaps consider the Elmi Hotel.
Our air-conditioned room was over-sized, with wooden floors, a delightful bed with bedside lighting which we struggled to get out of (in a good way) come the morning. The room also had a lounge setting, where we snacked and drank coffee, and a desk and chair, ideal for working, with blinds and curtains to manage the light flooding into the room. The bathroom was fitted out with a marble topped basin, a tub with gold-coloured fittings (which gave us a bit of a chuckle) and a great hot water shower.
The hotel has a couple of restaurants, including Sarkies Seafood, which came highly recommended, but we didn’t have time to try it, and a roof top cafe, where breakfast is served. The lobby also has an attached lounge bar.
Hotel Majapahit offers tremendous value—our two nights came in at around the US$100 a night mark, but we booked at the last minute. Booking in advance online can reap considerable discounts—we’ve seen rates as low as $60—and that alone is reason enough to go to Surabaya. Rates vary by the day and significant discounts can be found online.
Address: 65 Jalan Tunjungan, Surabaya
T: (031) 545 4333; F: (031) 545 4111
Coordinates (for GPS): 112º44'22.9" E, 7º15'36.32" S
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Room rates: 1,000,000 to 2,500,000 Rp
What we were quoted as a walk-in.
|Superior double room||953,601 rupiah||1,157,600 rupiah|
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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