Hidden away in corners of Yangon, Myanmar, are memories of the often unwelcome presence of occupying nations. Nevertheless they offer stylish refuges from the modern bustle and clutter of this busy city.
Yangon like so many Asian cities is growing faster than it can accommodate in terms of cleanliness, clutter and noise. It’s not one of the most attractive cities we’ve been to, being an amalgam of pagodas, power-lines and pollution but that said, there are the occasional oases of calm and cleanliness that are worth the time.
If you’re spending time travelling throughout Myanmar then you’ll find plenty of temples, shrines and pagodas to satisfy your needs without spending too much time in seeking them out in Yangon.
The one exception is the gaudy and gargantuan Buddhist Shwedagon Pagoda that simply defies the senses in terms of its gold plated ostentation, scale and kitsch glitter that seems to fly in the face of the principles of the faith. Nevertheless it’s an experience that’s worth dedicating an hour or so to.
We’ve arrived in Yangon after about 24hrs of travelling so our take on the city might be marred by being somewhat jaded. That said, our brief time out in two of the more relaxing establishments is all the more welcome.
The Strand Hotel
To settle into the soft comfort of the peacock chairs in the reception of the Strand is to know that you’ve arrived in a haven of peace and quality.
Known since opening in 1901 as the ‘finest hostelry east of the Suez’, ‘patronised by royalty, nobility and distinguished personages’ the hotel went through several ownership and occupation trials, including use as a Japanese troop billet in WW2 before being taken over and faithfully refurbished in its original all-suite opulent style – reopening in 1993.
We’re immediately taken by the lovely furniture, decoration and teak and marble floors – there’s no denying that The Strand (named after the road it sits on) is a wonderful place to rest your head after the rigours of a city tour.
Even the frenetic activity of the people and traffic that plies the Yangon River and market opposite, fails to penetrate the calm of the dining area, smart Sarkies Bar (named after the one-time brother owners of Raffles fame) or the stylish bedrooms.
You instinctively know that you’re paying top-dollar for the five-star refuge The Strand offers but somehow it seems well worth it. Even the simple rattan chairs and furnishings of the coffee shop ooze quality, with service suitably friendly but deferential as one would expect of a top class hotel.
Having rested from our extended travelling we seek out a lively café-come-restaurant in the old colonial quarter of the city, not a mile from The Strand.
Rangoon Tea House
This busy place is filled with local business people, the young of Yangon and occasional tourists keen to enjoy the social interaction and open airy atmosphere away from the cloying humidity of the city.
Tea Shop culture has been very much part of the fabric of Burma/Myanmar society over generations and it’s still alive and kicking today.
Rangoon Tea House is over two floors but we feel that the ground floor has more of the buzzy tea-shop feel to it whereas the top floor is for more salubrious and secluded assignations.
It’s easy to get food envy here and all of the dishes that are brought to adjacent tables seem better than the last. We spend some time looking through the menu with indecision before spying a culinary masterpiece on an adjacent table.
We point our waiter towards it and he writes the dish’s name down on his pad.
A steaming pot of pastry-capped whole chicken biryani, is served at our table with a flourish as the pastry topping is removed to reveal the aromatic delight beneath. The meal is every bit as tasty and plentiful as its presentation promises and we eat steadily with little time for conversation.
We’ve already managed to nibble through Bacon & Cheese Samosas to start with – a ‘British Burma throwback fantasy’ of Shan potatoes, green peas, cheese and smoked bacon, before diving into the biryani. A bottle of Myanmar beer seems to complement the feast well.
The service is quick, efficient and friendly and our overall experience is one we’d love to repeat.
We finish off with tea chosen from a bewildering shade chart of options that blend, condensed, evaporated and ordinary milk with sweet black tea to your preference.
We’ve chosen Yangon as the most convenient international gateway to enter Myanmar but on reflection would have used Mandalay and perhaps given Yangon a miss all together.
If you’re touring the country, we think you could better spend your time in other more attractive areas of Myanmar but if you’re obliged to visit the city then it’s well worth seeking out our two choices above.
We’ll cover some of the distractions of Yangon in a later post but in the meantime why not think about your own tour of this intriguing and immensely friendly country that has yet to be overrun by the tourist dollar.
If you’d like to combine Myanmar with your own adventure to anywhere in Southeast Asia, then why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel – to immerse yourself in the wonders of this world?
Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request