I’M standing in Bill Clinton’s bathroom. No, this isn’t a stalker moment that will land my name on a Secret Service watch list; I’m loitering beside the marble bath in the string of rooms the former US president occupied at the palatial Empire Hotel & Country Club in Brunei more than a decade ago.
And by rooms I mean extravagant Emperor Suite, which stretches across a whole wing on the hotel’s top floor and boasts a living area with grand piano, indoor swimming pool, master bedroom with canopy bed, and more rococo flourishes than a Viennese palace.
Bill Clinton was the first person to occupy The Empire’s most expensive chamber while visiting our northern neighbour to attend the 2000 APEC conference. The Emperor Suite went on to win the best presidential apartment at the World Travel Awards that year and again in 2001.
Prince Charles stayed eight years later, while visiting Borneo on a conservation campaign.
I’m staying at the Empire Hotel during an overnight stop in Bandar Seri Begawan – Brunei’s capital and Royal Brunei Airline’s hub where flights depart for Melbourne, London, Dubai and cities around Asia – but I’m enjoying Bill’s presidential abode for only a quick tour.
With a night in the Emperor Suite billed at almost A$17,000, I must satisfy myself with a studio. But two king-single beds with fine Egyptian cotton sheets, a bathroom bigger than my first apartment, lots of regal red in the carpets and curtains, a private balcony that catches the evening breeze, and a big fruit basket left as a welcome gift still makes me feel like a VIP.
Rumours suggest this ostentatious property was designed as a royal family palace but converted to a hotel to boost the destination’s tourism industry. Fifteen minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from the CBD, it’s now one of a few world-class hotels offering superior accommodation in Brunei.
It’s not hard to see the regal foundations with Swarovski chandeliers hanging in the lobby, wall-to-wall marble in every bathroom, semiprecious stones set into gold-plated balustrades, and a young prince’s new Ferrari parked at the front door of the Country Club when I visit for a private round of afternoon tenpin bowling.
I take a golf-cart tour of the estate following some of the 22km of roads winding through 180ha of tropical gardens, and see yet more wings accommodating everything from garden-view guestrooms to secluded villas where minor members of the royal family are vacationing.
There’s time for a swim in one of The Empire’s nine swimming pools before a pre-departure lunch in a restaurant where the army of waiters anticipate my every whim. And, as I walk through the grand front door for the last time this visit, it strikes me that a single night in a hotel built for royalty just isn’t enough.
The writer was a guest of Royal Brunei Airlines.
GO2 – BRUNEI
Royal Brunei Airlines offers a daily service between Melbourne and Bandar Seri Begawan — new Boeing 787 Dreamliners featuring business and economy cabins fly the route — with connections to 11 Asian destinations and London via Dubai. See flyroyalbrunei.com
The Empire Hotel & Country Club has 522 guest suites and villas of various sizes, a selection of restaurants and cafes, indoor and outdoor sports courts, a championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, kids’ club, and day spa. See theempirehotel.com
HOTELS FIT FOR ROYALTY
The Empire Hotel & Country Club
This grand accommodation in Brunei isn’t the only hotel boasting a link to royalty, with inns from the African jungle to the Arctic Circle offering an experience good enough for the most important of VIP guests.
The Goring Hotel, London
Not only did Catherine Middleton spend the night before her wedding to Prince William in a suite at The Goring Hotel — the 105-year-old address is a couple of blocks from Buckingham Palace — but Queen Elizabeth enjoyed Sunday breakfast with her sister and parents in the dining room during World War II.
Craig’s Royal Hotel, Ballarat
Dame Nellie Melba and Mark Twain stayed at Craig’s Royal Hotel, the grand Ballarat building which was constructed during the boom days of the city’s gold rush in 1853 and still welcomes guests to stay in period rooms. Its noble patrons include Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred in 1867 as well as Prince Albert and his brother George in 1881.
Arctic Hotel, Ilulissat
Treetops Hotel, Kenya
Queen Elizabeth was at Treetops Hotel in Kenya’s Aberdare National Park when her father King George died. Her bodyguard Jim Corbett noted in the property’s log “for the first time in the history of the world a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and … climbed down from the tree next day a Queen’’.
The Carlyle, New York City
Not only has this Big Apple hotel welcomed every American president since Harry Truman slept over in 1948 but Princess Diana stayed twice, Charles and Camilla were guests in 2005, and royalty from Spain to Sweden have made a base in this “art-deco jewel’’.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ESCAPE ON SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2015