The soothing sound from the pattalar, a traditional Burmese musical instrument, filled the luxurious lobby of The Strand Hotel in Yangon. Its bamboo keys were expertly played by a lady garbed in a light yellow blouse and a local wrap called longyi. From time to time she would shift between the pattalar to the saung, a 16-stringed arched harp. The music coming from both instruments added a rustic elegance to the place.
For a few minutes I thought I was transported to the year that The Strand officially opened. Originally built by John Darwood in 1901, this hotel was acquired later on by Aviet and Tigran, two of the Sarkies brothers who once also owned the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang. At that time, this three-storey Victorian-styled hotel was regarded as among the luxurious properties not only in the Far East but also in the entire British Empire.
Since then, The Strand has changed a lot of masters through the years – from the time that it served as a quarter during the Japanese occupation of Burma, the long neglect that it has suffered afterwards and its multi-million dollar restoration during the early 90s. Suffice to say that it has been a mute witness to Myanmar’s history for more than one hundred years.
The world-famous Strand Sour
I was also trying to shake off the Strand Sour, the hotel’s iconic drink, that I enjoyed just a few minutes ago. I was wishing then that the genius of the writers, such as William Sommerset Maugham, George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling, who may have spent time at The Strand Bar would somehow rub off on me.
I imagine that they, along with the many nobilities and royalties that stayed at this hotel, probably enjoyed a few drinks here, watched the Yangon river right across it or just do what they have to do to make the humid afternoons much more bearable.
The Strand of today however is now fully air-conditioned. I’ve been told that it’s one of the first establishments in Myanmar that accepts credit card payments. When my good buddy and I stayed here, we could attest that theirs was the fastest Wi-Fi in the entire country. All these welcome modern conveniences indeed complement the hotel’s rich heritage.
Elegantly appointed suites
I went back to our room to change into my most comfortable pair of shorts. My itinerary for the rest of the day was just to walk around the neighborhood. The hotel’s helpful front desk staff gave me a map that showed where downtown Yangon’s many colonial buildings are located. There are still a considerable number of them that stand there to this day.
We stayed by the way at the hotel’s Superior Suite, the teak-framed high windows of which allowed for more dramatic natural light to come in. Most of the furnishings – from the beds, to the walk-in closet and the dresser are all made of hardwood. It’s probably teak, just like the floor planks that gently creaked in each of our step.
Each floor was also serviced by a team of butlers that look after their guests’ comfort and needs, 24 hours a day. I was honestly not used to the attention but we happily obliged with it when we requested for tea and coffee to jumpstart our day.
Breakfast at The Strand Cafe
The following morning, we took our complimentary breakfast at The Strand Cafe. In lieu of long buffet tables, the hotel guests are given a curated menu where they get to choose their preferred morning fix and maybe request for a second helping (or more) for the ones that they can’t get enough of.
In our case, it was their freshly baked heavenly croissants. It was so good that we even brazenly requested that our leftover pieces be unceremoniously packed for takeaway.
While The Strand Fluffy Pancakes or the Eggs Benedict on Brioche were very tempting, I went with something more local. Since I have previously tried the Mohinga, Myanmar’s unofficial national dish, I went with the Ohn no khao swe, a kind of thick chicken stew in light coconut gravy, noodles, boiled egg, shallots and fresh lime. It was homey and a very filling bowl.
I didn’t realize it yet at that time, that this was our last breakfast during our Myanmar trip. It was a week-long journey that allowed us to visit a handful of ancient Buddhist temples and experience the generosity of the many Burmese people we met along the way.
Since my friend has to meet some of his old friends that morning, I was left to check out of the hotel on my own. I just lingered for a few hours at my cushy bed before I decided to finally head downstairs.
I then waited for my cab driver at the lobby lounge, listening to the same soothing melodies from the pattalar and the saung. During that time, a couple settled their bill and left with their signature luggage in tow. There were also a few curious tourists who dropped by The Strand for a quick look-around.
While The Strand is a luxurious 5-star hotel in Yangon and caters to a specific, discerning clientele, I’d like to think that its doors are always open to those who can appreciate colonial architecture and heritage. If you won’t spend the night here, it’s still worth dropping by, if only for that iconic Strand Sour.
But if you do stay here, then The Strand Yangon would definitely make your ‘Burmese days’ very, very memorable.
92 Strand Road, Yangon, Myanmar
T +95 124 3377 – 92
F +95 124 3393
Disclosure: The blogger would like to thank The Strand Yangon for the complimentary stay. Even so, he maintains full editorial control of this hotel review.