Admit it. There are thousands of European palaces, castles, chateaus and even country houses that can easily be rented. In fact, they are so numerous that they eventually at some point, all tend to look the same, with one proving to be interchangeable to the other. But how about Asian palaces and castles? In the first place, is there such a thing as Asian palaces to speak off in the first place?
Fortunately, there are, and they come in much more variety and degrees of exoticism and opulence. The Indian subcontinent for instance has a number of palaces, castles and forts that can rival its European counterparts. Less well-known perhaps are East Asian. South Asian and Southeast Asian castles and palaces that are willing enough to open their doors to the paying public.
This is understandable of course, as most of the Southeast Asian and East Asian palaces and castles are actually still in use, with only a handful being turned into museums to keep them current and open to the public. Examples of these include the palaces of Malaysian and Indonesian royalty, the latter in particular include the palace complexes in that fabled island, Bali. Even the decidedly non-royal fixated Philippines has palatial structures that can be considered substitutes for royal houses—at least in terms of opulence, grandeur and most importantly history.
But can they be rented? Technically, are not. As mentioned, most of these palaces are still in use (royals may still be living in them), while others are semi-open to the public as largely functional ceremonial areas (the Indonesian kratongs come to mind) and even functioning museums.
However, most of these structures have adjoining hotels and accommodations that can be rented and that can provide access to these structures during off hours when the public and the tourists are scarce. Here are a few honest-to-goodness East/Southeast Asian palaces and castles, that can, even if for a short time, make you feel like you are living like crazy rich Asian.
Plus! As a nod to the surge in interest in the British Monarchy after the wedding of Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, we added three properties from the House of Windsor that are still actively used by the royals, but which are also rented-out by them, and no, don’t expect them to be listed by apps specializing in house rentals.
If Japanese castle complexes are your thing, nothing beats this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also known as the White Heron Castle, the structure has recently undergone a major restoration effort to enable it to survive a couple of more centures (it was built in 1333) before the next round of restoration work. Anyway, it’s almost always the view and the historicity that makes Japanese castles work. After all, they were really built as defensive structures similar to the earliest examples of European castles. Fortunately, being located in a largely prosperous region of Japan, accommodations can be had at the equally tony and decidedly opulent Ritz Carlton in equally historic Kyoto (the operative word I suppose is “ritz” as in ritz-y).
Why the distance, it seems that Kyoto being a major rail terminus provides ease in convenience. Also, the fact that it has a modern train station (as in modern) doesn’t hurt and provides additional chances to sight-see.
If Himeji Castle is white, the Matsumoto Castle is the opposite as it is black. Because of its color, the castle looks quite forbidding—exactly the effect its builders wanted it to have. Starting its life as a castle-fortress in 1504, Matsumoto reached its peak in the late 16th century, thus acquiring its present look and title as the “Crow Castle” (a crow or a raven is usually black, get it?)
What’s unique with the Matsumoto Castle is that despite its martial background, the structure itself remained near-original and was neglected only during the time of the Meiji Era when castles were stripped of much of their weaponry (as they were deemed obsolete) and owners forbidden to make repairs. Fortunately, much of the structure remained and with restoration work in the 20th century, achieved renewed fame in countless movies and anime as a favored locale for epic battles.
Like Himeji, the castle is open as a living museum and although no accommodations are attached it does provide space for parties—especially the famed Moon Viewing Party, where non-royals can admire the different aspects of the moon.
For rich folks who want to experience Matsumoto Castle, the best bet is to get accommodations in the nearby city of Takayama that provide day trips to and fro the famed castle.
The Rambagh Palace is found in Jaipur in Rajasthan (The Land of the Rajahs). As its location suggests, this palace was once the opulent home of the Maharaja of Jaipur. However, the Maharaja seems to have downsized or at least, relocated to another residence, as the opulent Palace has now been turned into an equally opulent hotel—with an honest-to-goodness royal provenance.
The palace has experienced quite a number of changes, with each succeeding change being better than the previous one. This may suggest that its recent incarnation is in line with the palace’s history and as such may provide the palace with modern-day amenities that will enable it to leap properly into the 21st century. Changes aside, however, the palace remains an opulent reminder of a storied past that rich Asians can now experience—complete with manicured gardens.
Another enticement into staying at the Rambagh Palace is that it is just a short trip away to another equally lauded royal residence, the Amber Palace. Although this time, the latter residence is open the public as the City of Amer’s most popular tourist attraction.
ROYAL PALACE OF LUANG PRABANG
Luang Prabang in Laos remains a top destination for backpackers worldwide. Like most royal residences in Indochina, the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang is now a museum, with no plans as yet to turn it into a stunning palace fit for accommodations.
What’s unique about the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang though, is its unique architecture which fuses both Lao traditional architecture and a distinctly French Beaux Arts Style and the French’s love for symmetry. Another attraction is its riverside location that enables visitors to disembark at the palace like the royal visitors of yore.
What’s most interesting, however, are the intricate examples of Lao art that includes fine sculptures, screens, furnishings and the like that can be found throughout the palace’s numerous rooms and halls. One of its most prized possessions is the Phra Bang—a Buddha cast of gold, silver and bronze alloy that figures prominently in Lao history. Other equally important Buddha statues can be found in the palace. Another trivia: The palace houses a “moon stone” gifted by the United States from the Apollo missions—one of the most valuable “stones” indeed!
Unfortunately, although the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang is open to the public, it still remains closed for accommodations. Visitors who might want to experience living in an exotic palace may find hotels and inns in the city of Luang Prabang.
BRITISH ROYAL PALACES & ESTATES
With the recent surge in interest in the British Monarchy due to the marriage of Prince Harry (the sixth and soon to be seventh heir to the British throne) and Meghan Markle (nee Duchess of Sussex), it’s of interest to note that the British royals actually allow interested individuals to rent some royal palaces and estates when not in use. Among these are the Castle of Mey in Scottland, Osborne House in the Isle of Wight and Llwynywermod Estate in Wales.
The Catle of Mey was bought by the late Queen Mother (the Great Grandmother of Prince Harry) in 1952 after the death of King George VI. The Castle is noted for the care lavished by the Queen Mother on the restoration of the structure and the adjoining gardens. The castle also gives commanding views of the Scottish countryside.
Osborne House on the Island of Wight is best known as the family retreat of Queen Victoria and
Prince Albert. Unlike the other English castles and estates, it is modestly called a house despite its palatial dimensions; and is notable for its Italian style in architecture. It was known as the Queen’s favorite residence for the numerous happy memories it was witness to.
Lastly, the tongue-twisting Llwynywermod Estate is another “modest” residence, that this time is owned by Prince Charles and his second wife, the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla. As befits the Prince of Wales’ title bestowed on Charles, the residence is found in Wales. It was purchased by the Prince twelve years ago and to this day remains a favored residence. The prince recently authorized several barn conversions on the estate, most likely to accommodate the increasing number of his family and staff.
Just a point of clarification though, considering that the British Royal Family remains one of the most influential and visible royal families, most of their residences are in active use. As such, the actual areas most often rented to outsiders are those so-called cottages or free-standing structures found within the estate. Don’t think though that these cottages are small modest affairs. Most have first-rate appointments with lavish dimensions. In short, they are sizable structures despite their “cottage”-like description.
Of course, living and touring these opulent residences will surely tax even the most fit of travelers. Our suggestion? Take a bottle of Cosme Cee Vitamin C supplement for the extra energy needed in walking through those countless halls and football-size rooms that are the hallmarks of most palaces and castles (and yes, even the so-called cottages). That way, you will be able to enjoy your trip and stay in stylish digs effortlessly.