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The Strand Hotel -Yangon. Twice was nice

The Strand Hotel -Yangon. Twice was niceScore 95%Score 95%

I just ordered morning coffee and before I could finish the sentence: ’I’d like a big pot of coffee…’ the butler said ‘with a pot of hot skimmed milk…’.  So I said ‘you remember…’ and he laughed.

From a three time Strand guest and colleague of mine.

Introduction

You know those lists – ‘Places to stay before you die‘, ‘Top Ten Colonial Hotels‘, ‘Hotels to spend your Honeymoon in‘ and ‘Re-born hotels‘ – well the Strand should be listed in all of them.

This is an extraordinary hotel. It gets the facilities right, but way more importantly, it gets the service right. Your ‘butler’ always welcomes you back to your floor and brings you something refreshing to drink in your room on your return. They will get you a cup of tea, oganise a porter, iron your shirt for tonight, and most impressively acknowledge you by name, and a big smile every time they see you.

This really is one of the Leading Hotels of the World. They make this feel like home, except with invisible staff.

Our floor, with the butlers’ desk in the background

Location and Arrival

Since this was a birthday celebration for one of our friends, the itinerary was very much controlled by them. We got our travel agent to package up essentially the same itinerary but with a different supplier. Our transfer from the airport was included. For details, read the trip introduction.

For a third world country there sure were a lot of rollers at the airport arrivals curb.

Unfortunately our ride – organised by our on-ground Myanmar tour company was of a lesser breed, although still perfectly comfortable.

Our first glimpse of central Yangon, including gold-covered pagoda

First impressions

Well, these count. I’d seen images of the hotel’s port cochere on-line when our travel agent had suggested staying here. However, you know what those shots are like – taken from the perfect angle, staged, tweaked, colour corrected, saturated, idealised.

The reality was not quite as good. The road was busy, the road not perfectly clean, and across the street, a tall two-metre high fence covered in advertising.

Fortunately, that was the end of the bad impression.

We were greeted by the doorman, and our bags handled deftly by a small posse of bellboys. We were expected, our name was checked rather than discovered.

We were a little wrecked despite our overnight in Bangkok, and eager to get to our room, unpack, freshen-up, and then get a little light therapy to help our jet lag.

Check-in

Check-in is a little old-fashioned – in a good way. There are two desks in the vast central foyer/reception room. Both are used as check-in areas and allow you to be seated. It’s old-fashioned because there is something instantly welcoming about being seated while the formalities are completed. It forces you to relax. That’s a good thing, because passports and visa’s need to be photocopied and checked, and forms filled in. Remember this is a former British colony, so bureaucracy is an artform.

Far from a chore – this is a charming process with the staff conversing in perfect English, and using it as an opportunity to get to know you – and by get-to-know-you, I mean work out how they might help you, and what you might be expecting from your stay.

Central lounge at reception with one of the check-in desks to the left. The hotel’s fine diner entrance to the right

‘Then, we were offered a tour of the hotel, or the opportunity to go straight to your room. We opted for going directly to our room. So, up to the first floor in one of the two very small lifts, and into our room, centre front – in fact opening onto the roof of the Porte Cochere. Our luggage arrived almost immediately.

History

The hotel first opened in 1901, It was built by the British entrepreneur John Darwood but later acquired by the famous Sarkies brothers.

As a centre of colonial Rangoon, there are many tales of colonial excess and restraint.

“The finest hostelry East of Suez”

John Murray in his 1911 ‘Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma and Ceylon’

The hotel has had several owners over its more than a century of existence, including occupation by the Japanese during WW2.

It has had significant renovations in 1937, 1941, 1989 and most recently in 2016.

Our first-floor suite was Room 106

Suites – all suites

This is an all suites hotel, ranging in size from 55m2 (Superior), 60m2 (Deluxe), 65m2 (Executive) through to the Strand Suite at 200m2. We were booked into Deluxe rooms (Rm 106 for our first stay) for both stays, but for the 2nd stay our room (117) seemed much bigger – or at least a different configuration. I think it may have been an Executive Suite.

View from the door: bathroom, bedroom and lounge, and dressing room

Our Floor butler opened the room – not with a key card – just an old-fashioned key with a rather large brass tag. Fortunately, you will never have to hold on to it. One of your floor butlers will take care of it each time you leave your room. On return they will leap to their feet, key in hand, open your door (assisting with any bags or packages), and leave the key on the bar dresser in your room, before returning with a life-restoring refreshment.

We declined an offer of assistance to unpack and our butler returned with the aforesaid life-restoring non-alcoholic beverage made with pineapple juice. It’s a little thing, but in this heat and humidity – much appreciated.

Three of the four zones, bed, office and sitting room.

The room itself has four zones: bed, bar, office, and sitting room, as well as separate bathroom and dressing room.

View from the room towards the entrance, with a dressing room on the left, and bathroom on the right.

Bathrooms – updated colonial

The bathrooms vary in shape according to room, and although elegant and functional, are not the most spacious or the best designed – spacially. They all have baths, but the showers are a little on the small size. The basins and mirrors are wonderful with their hint of deco design.

The ubiquitous toilet phone

Take a note of those floor tiles – you will see the design repeated in the carpet of the room, but in a different palette.

Shower – suitable for purpose – but watch your elbows.

The bath is good and deep, but a little short. I loved the hand held shower.

Bath with ‘colonial’ fittings

Ammenities are L’Occitane – a brand I like, and suitable to the hotel.

Lacquerware – a feature of Myanmar is showcased in the bathroom amenities, such as the black and gold canister with the hotel’s ‘Lion’ logo and the black incised tray on which it sits. Not to mention the tissue box cover.

I’m a sucker for fresh flowers in a hotel room, so that single white rose wins the prize for me. The rest of the bathroom is a combination of square tiles, feature maroon borders, patterned tile, mahogony finished wood, and pink/brown granite.

Is it just me, but do you find tissue box covers slightly creepy?

Separate basins, separate mirrors, and a shaving mirror for the man (pity there are two of us), bottled water, hand towels, soap, power outlet – everything a hotel should provide in a bathroom.

‘Hers’ and ‘His’ basins and mirrors, pity its for ‘His’ and ‘His’ guests.

Bedrooms

The bedroom in both our rooms was huge – you could park several cars in it, and probably stack them 2 or 3 high, given the roughly 3 metre ceilings. These are rooms on a grand scale.

In Cambodia this would be a sculpture of an Apsara Dancer

Each room had a room divider to help define the spaces of ‘bedroom’ and ‘sitting room’. The divider featured a range of wood carvings, green lacquerware offering bowls, and books.

Green laquerware offering boxes grace the room divider. Green is one of the most expensive lacquer colours.

The beds were insanely comfortable, with a soft topper. Down/feather pillows came as standard, and were heavenly. The doona/comforter/duvet was also feather, and was light as befits the tropics.

The Bedroom

Hats off to the interior designer. The combination of subtle green walls, dark wood, yellow accents, and the repitition of the bathroom tile pattern in the rugs made for a very soothing palette without being bland. You can see some further detail in the gallery below

Living Rooms

On the other side of the divider from the bedroom lay the sitting room, featuring a 2.5 person lounge (sofa), two tub chairs, a coffee table and some side tables. Accents were provided by blue cushions and striped fabric, providing an excellent contrast to the yellow accents of the bedroom. This was a great place for just sitting and chatting, or sharing a drink. You could see the TV from the couch, but it wasn’t the best viewing position. I loved the bowl of fruit and photographs of old Rangoon.

The Lounge area – somewhere to sit, read, have a drink.
Adjacent to the lounge area – a ‘study’.

Study

I spent a bit of time opposite the lounge area at the desk in the study. I work and travel and travel and work, so there are always emails and bits and pieces to catch up on, not to mention keeping up this blog.

The Desk with its welcome letter, daily events, notepad, promo for the Hotel’s history book, and that brass key and tag – which fortunately you never had to carry much past your door.

The desk was vast, and littered with the usual compendium, writing paper etc. Unusually, there was also a promotion for the hotels written history, and a hotel recipe book, as well as ‘Strand Newspaper’.

Ok – its a promotion for the hotels facilities, but its a cute way of delivery this information rather than tent cards in every nook and cranny of the room.

The welcome letter summarised the facilities of the hotel including Sarkies Bar, The Strand Restaurant, The Strand Cafe – and the most recent addition, the Pool with associated Spa and Gymnasium, which has only been added in the most recent renovation.

Bar

That’s the Bar in the room, not Sarkies Bar . . .

The Bar – with the TV picture framed above it, and my sadly lost Panama, now somewhere in Noumea, New Caledonia.

The bar was well stocked and complimentary. Everything you needed to make a decent Gin and Tonic, including the limes, cutting board and knife. This is a hotel that knows what its guests want – including a cocktail shaker.

Complimentary – and with the ice topped up every evening, tonic in the fridge, and fresh limes, with cutting board and a knife. Brilliant! We didn’t even have to open the duty free!

Dressing Room

On the left of the entrance corridor – or on our second stay – as a vestibule to the bathroom, was a walk in wardrobe, or dressing room, with hanging space and room to place your suitecases at a convenient height for packing and unpacking. The butler offered to do this for us – but call me old fashioned – I don’t want anyone but me going through my smalls!

The dressing room as lobby to the bathroom – room on our 2nd stay.

Swimming Pool

The hotel has a fantastic swimming pool, cabana, and cafe complex out the back. It also incorporates a spa (not visited) and a gym, which is adequate and better than many, with modern equipment – although not a lot of it.

Myanmar (Burma) is really hot in April – like really hot – 34C or 100F, so the cabana’s and pool were fantastic. I think the hotel is still bedding down the service. A couple of times we had to go find someone – but then we were quite often alone at the pool. I think maybe they need a full time pool attendant who can alert catering staff when the pool is being patronised, and when service might be required. Teething problems. The staff are incredibly well-meaning and friendly, so these little oversights can easily be forgiven.

Bar and Restaurants

I’m going to give this a separate entry. Given that it was Thingyan (Water Festival) and most restaurants outside the hotel were closed – we ate in quite a lot. It made us feel like we were staying in our own private club – which is a tribute to the management and staff.

Afternoon Tea anyone?

2PAXfly advice

This is one of the great hotels of the world. It’s small, intimate, friendly, gorgeous. The floor butler concept is a triumph and would probably only work in such a small and intimate hotel. The huge, beautifully decorated, and well-provisioned rooms and the extremely generous staff are the major assets. You are missing a big hunk of this country’s hospitality if you don’t stay here on your visit to Yangon.

One of our party has visited another three times since our stay, and the staff remember his preferences, and welcome him openly as ‘very important guest’. That’s the kind of hotel I like.

Review

95%

One of the great small hotels in the world. Small, intimate, friendly, gorgeous.
95%

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