The Strand Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

For decades, the once elegant white stucco turn–of- the-century building, The Strand Hotel in Yangon Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma), had rats skulking through the shabby, down-at-the-mouth building. During the years that the English occupied the country, it was at The Strand that the elite would meet- a place where gentle folk would enjoy good conversation, drink in hand, and have an acceptable meal.

Fast forward and suddenly the hotel situation in Yangon has changed dramatically. The Strand, which was gutted and reopened in 1993, is now a vision of its old self- no expense spared. Only in the past few years has the Myanmar Government opened its doors to tourism and the opportunity to see this beautiful ( but arguably still politically strained) country hence updating accommodations was a no brainer. And it was the Government of Myanmar and an International group of investors who undertook this massive renovation program.

Copious notes on five star hotels must have been taken since nothing is missing. Luxury abounds.

Since the early 1990s, the mosquito-infested rooms have given way to a snappy and expensive renovation in a city where there were no obvious comfortable lodgings . But the skyline is changing and high buildings are mushrooming creating a new skyscape.

Even before you step into this rare teak wood detailed building structure built in 1901, there’s a definite look of British colonial grandeur from times past. The lobby is swarming with helpful staff members, unusual and colourful flowers tumble out of large Burmese lacquered vases. If there was any downside, it was that there just wasn’t enough time to linger in my huge high ceiling room decorated with Burmese flair featuring Burmese artifacts, a reading area, two poster bed, polished teak floors, ceiling fan that quietly moved the air, large tiled bathroom with the most up to the minute everything (some of the taps left me confused) and a valet at your service with just the press of a button (he helped unconfuse me). It’s on the sofa near the window where I reflected as I was served tea on a silver tray, how colonial life must have been.

There are only 32 suites, each almost identical and walking out of your room there’s the always present butler who takes your key and vice versa when you return to unlock your door.

Of course, the blinders comes off once you go outside and see some of the old English Raj mansions with moss growing out of the peeling stucco. The streets are filled with two, three and four wheeled vehicles, smiling and curious street vendors, stall keepers but no touts or beggars.

The Strand would be an oasis in any city in the world. The Strand Bar, still with the original pool table, has a full range of drinks when in the recent past, Mandalay beer was likely to be the only the drink available. And these days, there’s even a two piece jazz band every Friday. One of Yangon’s most elegant dining rooms is The Strand Grill with large black lacquer prints from Bagan, the city where lacquerware products are a finely developed art form. The vaulted ceiling, the skylight and the prominent chandeliers and a diverse menu are where east meets west.

Among those who patronized this hotel in the early 1900s were the Grand Duke Cyril of Russia, U.S. President William Taft, and the list goes on with royalty and distinguished personages.

Each morning I could have chosen to have breakfast served in my large suite, however The Strand Café beckoned. The inlaid wood floors, the colonial-style rattan chairs and ceiling fan give the room a timeless charm As the light came in from the big teak framed windows, I could look out onto the busy Strand Road and know that the renowned Yangon River is just the other side of a small green park.. It’s also, a grand place for a still available English tea. But remember US dollars is the preferred currency. Other attractions is that it’s a short walk from The Strand to the Sule pagoda