During British colonial days before World War II and for a brief period in the 1950s, Burma was one of the greatest exotic luxury destinations on earth. And no wonder, with writers and poets like Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell helping to set traveler's imaginations alight through their writing. It is also home to the legendary Strand hotel, which is said to be one of the most luxurious in the entire British Empire, almost a destination in itself.
These days however, following a half century lost in time under the rule of military malcontents, Yangon as a luxury destination seems to have been largely forgotten. In fact, it's one of the least-searched on the internet according to Google Keyword Planner, this despite the sharp increase in overall travel to The Golden Land over the last few years.
Yangon is not Dubai, Shanghai or even Bangkok; it is very much Old World. As of today, there are no ultra-modern 21st century hotels in the area. Once hailed as the Garden City of the East, Yangon is one of the friendliest major cities in the world. Its major architecture is both massive and British colonial, with Burmese accents. Half the city is still crumbling from decades of neglect under tropical skies, while the other half is quickly getting up to speed.
This process, with some exceptions, includes hotel staff that are not always trained up to high-end property standards. However, the Myanmar luxury experience isn’t about perfection, it’s about immersing oneself in a cultural uniqueness that expresses its hospitality naturally, and is as earnest, gracious and charming as the Burmese themselves. As Kipling famously wrote in Letters from the East, "This is Burma, and it is unlike any land you know about.” More than a century later, these words still hold true. For those of you who are excited about the road-less-traveled, Myanmar might just be the place for your next vacation. Here are four of Yangon’s best luxury hotels perfect for discerning travelers:
Photo Credit: The Strand
Although it may be cliché to say, The Strand experience is akin to stepping into a bygone era, it's also true in many regards. The 33-room hotel is British colonial with Burmese touches, which translates to a grand white Victorian mansion on the Yangon River. The hotel was built in 1901 by the Sarkies brothers, the same men responsible for the iconic Raffles hotel in Singapore.
Many writers have spent time within its walls including Kipling who worked on one of his most famous poems, Mandalay, and on his novel The Jungle Book at the Writers Bar. Other notable guests have included authors Somerset Maugham (The Gentleman in the Parlour), George Orwell (Burmese Days), Noel Coward (Mad Dogs & Englishmen), singer Mick Jagger and David Rockefeller.
The all-suite hotel is an oasis in the bustle of Yangon, with rooms starting at about $300 per night. The service is perhaps the best in Yangon, and the dining is first class, whether at The Strand Café for Burmese delights, or fine dining at The Strand Grill. The property has a business center with professional secretarial services available, and when the work is done, The Strand Spa Suite is just the ticket. There is nothing like a Burmese massage!
Photo Credit: Sule Shangri-La
Formerly Traders, the newly renamed Sule Shangri-La is for many, the best hotel in the city. Owned and operated by Singapore's Shangri-La group, it is first rate in almost every aspect, from its prime location in the heart of Yangon to offering the best breakfast and Sunday Brunch in the country. Plus it is home to beautiful rooms, many of which boast Shwedagon Pagoda views. The 1,354-square-foot, one-bedroom Club Suite is one of their finest accommodations, with a separate living and dining room, and access to the exclusive Horizon Club Lounge. An added bonus, Wi-Fi is complimentary. While the property doesn’t have a spa, they do offer a beauty center inclusive of a steam room and sauna, along with a fitness center, Jacuzzi and swimming pool. Standard rooms start at about $150 a night.
Photo Credit: Belmond Governor's Residence
Belmond Governor's Residence
The Governor’s Residence was built in the 1920s in the verdant embassy district of Rangoon and was indeed the part-time residence of the Governor of Southern Burma. It was converted into a boutique luxury hotel in 1990, and recently purchased by the Belmond group. The entrance through the gardens across the expansive pool makes for a beautiful first impression. Guestrooms are housed in two areas: the original structure and the hotel’s new addition sitting behind the former. From the outside, the newer building looks like a small 1970's American apartment complex. Inside the rooms are teak with massive flat-screen TVs and very comfortable beds. The service is also stellar, with all the charm you can expect from the Burmese. Nothing is stuffy here, and yet you’ll most likely feel like royalty. Rooms start at over $610, making it easily the most exclusive hotel in the city.
Photo Credit: Kandawgyi Palace
Kandawgyi Palace Hotel was treated to a multi-million dollar refurbishment just a few years ago, which returned it to its former glory and more. The five-star Burmese architectural icon on the posh Royal Lake, is situated north of downtown and offers stunning views Shwedagon Pagoda.
Guestrooms are well appointed (even if the draperies tend to hearken back to the 1960s), and Wi-Fi is complimentary. Inside the Royal Bungalows situated on the lake are canopy beds, vaulted ceilings, a private swimming pool and outdoor garden showers. In terms of service, the front desk staff is superb and the concierge is decent, and the wait staff is generally charming and efficient. The food in its various restaurants however, is just above average. The Sunday Brunch is highly regarded, perhaps more to do with its freely flowing of Champagne and setting more than the food itself. For those awesome Shwedagon Pagoda views at night, try dining on the outdoor deck at the fine dining French restaurant Agnes. Rooms range from $340 in high season, to a variety of suites starting at $375, and going all the up to $2,000 per night.