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TPG Contributor Lucy Kafanov recently returned from a trip to Myanmar, where she spent time exploring Yangon and getting to know the culture and people of this once closed-off nation.
For more than half a century, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was cut off from the rest of the world by a military dictatorship — a country whose leaders were brutal and secretive, its people oppressed and desperately poor. But recent years have brought remarkable change to this exotic destination, making it an exciting time to visit as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy prepares to take over the government following its historic electoral victory last November.
Myanmar remains relatively untouched by the Western world — there is still no McDonalds in sight and you’ll have to do without your morning Starbucks latte — but it’s worth considering a trip before commercialization destroys the spirit and charm of yesteryear for good.
Formerly called Rangoon by the British, Yangon maintains its old world appeal with wide tree-lined boulevards, glistening Buddhist Pagodas, tranquil lakes and gorgeous (but often crumbling) colonial-era buildings. Luckily, there are now a number of luxurious accommodations available so you don’t have to sacrifice comfort while exploring this exotic city. A previous TPG post covered some practical tips for planning your visit — here’s a list of five high-end hotels you’ll want to consider when booking your trip (listed below in no particular order).
1. Belmond Governor’s Residence
Set in lush tropical gardens dotted with lotus pools, this spectacular two-story Burmese teak mansion is a quiet colonial oasis in the center of Yangon’s bustling downtown. Built by the British during the 1920s to house visiting dignitaries from Myanmar’s eastern Kayah State, the Belmond Governor’s Residence is now a luxury five-star hotel that evokes the nostalgic charm of a bygone era.
Enjoy a book and a glass of wine on the fan-cooled verandas or take a dip in the swimming pool, a welcome relief after sightseeing around the dusty city in the sweltering heat. Delicious Western and Burmese meals are served by lantern-light in an open-air restaurant while the Kipling Bar, named after the great chronicler of the British Empire, offers a selection of fine wines, coffees and teas.
Arranged in newer low-rise buildings in the large garden, the hotel’s 49 rooms and suites are decorated with teak wood furniture and equipped with large terrazzo stone bathtubs. Rates start at about $330 per night in April.
2. The Strand Hotel
The Strand Hotel, which opened its doors in 1901, was once regarded as the most luxurious hotel in the entire British Empire — a home away from home for literary heavyweights like George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling. Located on Yangon’s chaotic riverfront boulevard, the three-story Victorian mansion was built in 1901 by the Sarkies brothers, who founded a chain of luxury hotels in the region.
The property was neglected virtually to the point of collapse under government control but restored to its former glory in the 1990s as an all-suite boutique hotel. There is no swimming pool since the restoration remained true to its architectural past, but the hotel does offer 24-hour personal butler service and a day spa.
Each of the 31 suites are elegant and spacious, featuring teak wood floors, hand-carved wooden bed frames and tall windows to allow for plenty of natural light. If you want to up the experience, try to snag the spacious Strand Suite with its own veranda overlooking the river. Curl up with a copy of Orwell’s Burmese Days as you enjoy afternoon tea or grab a cocktail at the famous Strand Bar. Rates for a Superior Suite start at about $290 per night (the Strand Suite from $555 per night) in April.
3. Sule Shangri-La Yangon
Situated in the heart of Yangon’s central business and shopping district, the Sule Shangri-La is just a few blocks from the famous 2,000-year-old golden Sule Pagoda (pictured at the top of this post) and about a five-minute walk from Bogyoke Market, a major attraction and bargain-hunter’s paradise.
Formerly known as Traders Hotel, the property received a luxury makeover as part of the Shangri-La brand, offering 484 elegant and contemporary rooms and suites. The property features a tranquil outdoor pool as well as a fitness center and sauna — not to mention the fastest Wi-Fi connection in town. Enjoy a selection of Asian, Indian and local Burmese dishes at Café Sule or high-end Cantonese cuisine at the Summer Palace restaurant. The hotel’s staff have been trained to meet international expectations while its contemporary rooms offer five-star amenities and feature unique works by local Burmese artists. Rates start at about $180 per night in April.
4. Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon
The magnificent Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon was designed to be an urban resort catering to both business and leisure travelers — Hillary Clinton stayed here when she visited as Secretary of State in 2012. Whichever direction your room faces, you’re guaranteed a spectacular view of either the Royal Lake or the shimmering Shwedagon Pagoda, which is a ten-minute drive away — take advantage of the hotel’s free shuttle buses to Bogyoke Market, City Hall and the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda, since this hotel is not as close to the downtown area as some of the other options. Yangon traffic can be atrocious, too, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing.
The property is surrounded by an impressively landscaped garden and features a palm-fringed pool with plenty of sun-beds. You’ll find 303 elegant rooms, 37 suites and an executive floor, representing a good range in prices and amenities. Three restaurants and two bars offer plenty of dining options, including some of the most authentic Japanese food in town at the Kohaku Japanese Restaurant. Rates start at about $147 per night in April.
5. Novotel Yangon Max
As one of the newest additions to Yangon’s upper-scale hotel scene, the Novotel Yangon Max, doesn’t disappoint with its modern glass façade and sleek minimalist furnishings. The 366-room property is situated between Yangon International Airport and downtown, though it should be noted that the Novotel is a little further away from major tourist attractions than the other properties on this list.
The rooms are contemporary and spacious, featuring perks like work spaces for business travelers. Visitors who prefer to unplug and unwind can do so by the the rooftop swimming pool, which offers gorgeous views of the Shwedagon Pagoda as well as an excellent cocktail bar — the hotel also has a gym, tennis courts and a sauna. Wine lovers should take advantage of the Le Cellier Wine Bar & Restaurant on the 14th floor, which features an impressive walk-in wine cellar as well as delicious fine dining. You may not get the historical charm of Old Rangoon, but if you’re looking for familiarity and modern comforts then the Novotel should do the trick. Rates start at about $150 per night in April — this hotel is also part of Accor Hotels, so sign up to earn LeClub loyalty points for your stay.
Although these hotels are not connected to the usual hotel loyalty programs, you can still technically earn points on these purchases by booking with a credit card like Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi Prestige, which offer 3x back on hotel stays, or Chase Sapphire Preferred, which gives you 2x the points on all travel purchases. I hope you enjoy your trip to Yangon as much as I did!
Have you ever been to Myanmar? What was your experience like? Sound off below!
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