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Mingalabar! All this week we've been focusing on one of the fastest changing hotel scenes on the globe: Burma, or Myanmar. (For Burma or Myanmar, see here - as fence-sitters, we'll be using the two interchangeably throughout the week.) We’ve already covered your hotel basics, and looked at Yangon: its most expensive hotel, its most historic hotel and its weirdest. Today, we're moving north, on the road to Mandalay.
This looks like a river, but it isn’t just any river. This is the Irrawaddy River, one of the most evocative names in the world (the Mississippi, the Danube, the Nile, the Irrawaddy, etc etc) thanks to the likes of Rudyard Kipling, who referred to it as the Road to Mandalay.
This is the view from the rooftop bar and restaurant at the Ayarwaddy River View Hotel in Mandalay, Burma (the river bisects the country; Ayarwaddy is the current government's spelling). Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay is far more frenetic and modern than Yangon. Stay in the city center, as we did our first night, and you’ll probably wish you hadn’t come. Staying on the Irrawaddy, however, is like sleeping in a different city.
From the rooftop – and from the river-facing rooms – you can see fishing boats, trawlers, and the little cruisers going up and down to Bagan. You can see people washing in the mornings, and the sun setting over the hills in the afternoon. In the evening, look out the other side at the city – there’s a lively temple right behind the hotel.
This is an instance when you’re really paying for location – our entry level room was $100, with a city view (a river view would have been $20 more). The room itself was basic, three star standard – definitely not on a par with other $100 we stayed at in Myanmar. But the location was everything, and hey, they throw in a free ‘traditional’ puppet show on the roof every evening.
Burma Week / Myanmar Week / Yangon Hotels / Burma Hotels / Myanmar Hotels / Boutique Hotels / Boat Hotels / Botels / → All Tags
Mingalabar! All this week we'll be focusing on one of the fastest changing hotel scenes on the globe: Burma, or Myanmar. (For Burma or Myanmar, see here - as fence-sitters, we'll be using the two interchangeably throughout the week.) We’ve already covered your hotel basics, and looked at Yangon’s most expensive hotel and its most historic. Today, let’s check in at its weirdest property.
You thought you had seen themed hotels. You thought you’d seen retro hotels. You even thought you’d seen boat hotels. Promise, you’ve seen none of these things until you see the Luxury Vintage Yacht Hotel in Yangon. It is the delicious trifecta of all the things above.
We discovered the LVYH by chance, looking for a same-day room on Agoda. Most of the four and five star hotels ranged from $200-500 that night. But there was one that was significantly cheaper: the Luxury Vintage Yacht Hotel was offering a room with balcony for $112.
Boat hotels are something that always intrigue us but rarely satisfy us, and we assumed this would be small, a bit grimy or past its prime. But the reviews were good and the price was unbeatable for its category, so we booked. And that’s how we arrived at the weirdest, most genius hotel we’ve ever stayed in.
The Luxury Vintage Yacht Hotel opened this summer, the first of a few planned for Botahtaung Jetty, on the Yangon River, just round the corner from the spectacular Botahtaung Pagoda. It’s a modern ship that came from Northern Europe, but it’s been styled as a total immersion 1920s experience. “Would you like to be a King… Sir…!” (sic) says the website. “Time Travel Yacht Will take you back to year 1920 in 30 seconds & Be a King…”
We’ll show you the public areas and talk about the full experience in another post, but for now, look at the photos of our room: 302, a standard room with balcony overlooking the river.
This is no poky cruise ship room – the bathroom is small, if perfectly comfortable, but the bedroom is relatively large. The beds are insanely comfortable memory foam, adjustable ones – you know, like the Tempurpedic hospital beds, that can form Z shapes, or raise your head or your legs, without you moving. Each has a remote control on the bedside table.
Burma Week / Myanmar Week / Yangon Hotels / Leading Hotels of the World / Myanmar Hotels / Burma Hotels / → All Tags
Mingalabar! All this week we'll be focusing on one of the fastest changing hotel scenes on the globe: Burma, or Myanmar. (For Burma or Myanmar, see here - as fence-sitters, we'll be using the two interchangeably throughout the week.) We’ve already covered your hotel basics, and looked at Yangon’s most expensive hotel. Today, we’re sticking with Yangon, but checking in at one of Burma’s most historic properties.
Call it the pulling power of Belmond, but most tourists visiting Yangon have Governor’s Residence in mind as the landmark hotel here – whereas, actually, sitting quietly in the middle of town, is The Strand: a stately neoclassical building that opened in 1901 and has, over the years, hosted the likes of George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, and Noel Coward (or for those of you who like your celebrities of a more modern bent: Mick Jagger, David Rockefeller, Chelsea Clinton and the King of Tonga).
The Strand has a fascinating history: initially billed as “the finest hostelry east of Suez” and once owned by the Sarkies Brothers (of Raffles Singapore fame – in fact it looks a bit like Raffles), it fell into disrepair in the 1960s before reopening in 1993 as an all-suite, five star hotel with just 31 rooms. These days, it’s a member of Leading Hotels of the World (their only property in Myanmar). But with a renovation that has remained true to the original – no new wings, no swimming pool, no fitness center added – does it cut the mustard?
As we said yesterday, that probably depends on your requirements.
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Mingalabar! All this week we'll be focusing on one of the fastest changing hotel scenes on the globe: Burma, or Myanmar. (For Burma or Myanmar, see here - as fence-sitters, we'll be using the two interchangeably throughout the week.) Yesterday, we talked the basics about the hotel scene. Today, we're going in depth with a visit to one of the most famous - and expensive - hotels in the country.
It’s the perennial traveling question for those of us who can’t afford nice things all the time. Is splashing out on a fancy hotel really worth it? How about when it’s not just fancy, but the fanciest hotel in the city, if not the country?
Belmond Governor’s Residence is definitely fancy. It’s the most expensive hotel in Yangon, and possibly (though we can’t be certain - Ngapali and Inle Lake are crazy expensive too) in the whole of Burma. Where you can quite easily pick up a five star hotel in central Yangon for around the $300 mark, the Governor's Residence, out in the leafy Embassy quarter, regularly charges $500 and upwards. But are people railing against its inaffordability?
No. They are falling over each other to stay there. It’s topped the TripAdvisor list for as long as we’ve been stalking it. Nobody comes back from a trip complaining that it cost four times the price of all the other hotels they stayed at. It’s not even an old, grande dame – it opened in 1995, a conversion of the 1920s teak mansion of the Governor of Kaya State. So what is its secret?
When we checked in three weeks ago, we actually started out a little underwhelmed. Sure, the check in staff spoke fabulous English, proffered cooling towels and delicious juice, and banged a welcome gong, before escorting us down a teak walkway across a giant, fan-shaped pool, through the main building (the 1920s mansion), and to the pretty gardens, which the rooms are draped around. But the gardens are small – more embellished lawns than anything else. And the historic mansion is only the restaurant and bar area - the rooms were newly built in 1995. Our room was simple rather than out and out lavish. The internet was too slow to use.
Turns out, first impressions can be deceptive. Because by the end of the first night, we loved it. What we’d initially found unnerving quiet (having come from Bangkok) became heavenly calm. The simplicity of the room set the tone of the whole hotel – understated, but serious quality. Here's what you'll find.
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Belmond Governor's Residence in Yangon, where every American wants to stay
Mingalabar! All this week we'll be focusing on one of the fastest changing hotel scenes on the globe: Burma, or Myanmar. (For Burma or Myanmar, see here - as fence-sitters, we'll be using the two interchangeably throughout the week.) Coming up, we'll take detailed looks at some of the country's standout hotels, but for today, let's talk basics.
There are lots of Myanmar myths. Take dollars, not local currency! Book months ahead! Hotels are overpriced! There are hourly blackouts! Some of these are wrong, some are right. Here's what you need to know before you go:
· Take cash – most hotels don’t take credit cards (only 3 of the 10 we stayed at did, and those that didn't included four star hotels). Unless you’ve paid in advance on Agoda (see below), you should be prepared to pay for your entire bill in cash, either in USD or kyat, the local currency ($1 = 1000 kyat). Since hotel bills are pretty large, most hotels will quote you USD. Oh, and take pristine dollar bills. One tiny crease and they’re not accepted.
· Plan for no, or next to no, WiFi. Outages were common during our 10 days there, and sloooooow speeds – as in, not even enough to check email – were even more so. Think (as we did) that picking a fancier hotel will help? You’re wrong. One of the worst speeds we experienced was at Belmond’s Governor’s Residence, the most expensive hotel in Yangon. Speeds changed from hour to hour every day in every hotel - the problem is the country, not the hotel. The moral? Expect no internet, and be pleasantly surprised if you get some.
· The same thing goes for electricity blackouts. They are, apparently, par for the course, though we only experienced them at one hotel during our stay (Zfreeti in Bagan). Most hotels have backup generators, so unless you’re going really budget (which we didn’t), it’s unlikely to be a major issue.
· Adjust your expectations, service-wise. As in: be prepared to be followed round the breakfast buffet, having each dish pointed out to you, yet to have to ask for a second cup of coffee. As in: expect to be phoned during the middle of the night to ask what time you’re checking out, and woken up early in the morning by the housekeepers talking loudly outside your room before they walk in on you, ignoring the Do Not Disturb sign. As in: don’t be alarmed if you open your bedroom door on check out to find three members of staff waiting outside, ready to burst in, check the minibar and carry your stuff out. Basically, expect zero privacy throughout, and bizarre over-attentiveness when you don’t want it, but under-attentiveness when you do.
· Related: try asking for a late check out and report back how it went. We asked at one hotel and it was as if we’d asked for the moon on a stick.
Located in the capital city, Nay Pyi Taw, the newly built hotel is surrounded by a tropical garden overlooking a tranquil lake. Guests are greeted at the hotel entrance by three imposing bells, reminiscent of the Great Bell of Mingun (thought to be the second largest bell in the world) and the inspiration behind the hotel's logo and theme. The giant bell is also home to one of the hotel's three restaurants featuring regional cuisine, from local Myanmar to its neighboring dishes.
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¡Mira! There is so much hotel news flying around this week, we just don't have enough time to focus on all the new hotels news. So here's a quick rundown to get you up to speed on the latest.
· KONNICHIWA ANDAZ TOKYO: The newest Andaz Hotel, Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, is now officially open! Check out the room shot above. Swoon. Hopefully, we'll more from inside the property for you to see next week.
· HILTON HOTELS TAKING OVER MYANMAR: Only a few years after opening its country to tourism, Myanmar has been prepping for some major growth. And now it needs to brace itself for the onslaught of Hilton Hotels. The hotel chain has partnered up with the Eden Group Company to rebrand two of the Group's recently opened properties in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and on Ngapali beach in Rakhine State. Those hotels will now be known as Hilton Nay Pyi Taw and Hilton Ngapali Beach Resort. Hilton is also planning three more hotels in the next three years, namely: Hilton Bagan and Hilton Inle Lake in 2016 and the Hilton Mandalay which will open in 2017.
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As our bro Jaunted noted last week in his coverage of the state of Southeast Asian tourism, Myanmar is growing at an incredible rate after opening its doors to tourists a few years ago. Seven million tourists are expected in 2020, up from only 300,000 in 2010. In 2013, the number of visitors went up an astonishing 93%, from 1.3 million in 2012 to 2.4 in 2013.
That is absolutely incredible growth, but a question quickly arises: Does the infrastructure exist to support all those visitors? The answer currently is no, but the country is working to ensure they have enough beds.
Last week, Peninsula Hotels struck a deal to build a new luxury hotel out of the former Burma Railway Building in Yangon, close to the famous Scott's Market (a "major" tourist attraction.)
Specifics of the hotel, such as how many floors, guest rooms and even when it will open have yet to be determined, but the hotel will open as part of a mixed use development. Since the building's original architecture was created in an elegant colonial style (way back when the British called the country, Burma), Peninsula isn't going to mess with it too much.
Below, you can see a photo of how it looks today as well as a future rendering above.
This is a major hotel development for Myanmar, located in Southeast Asia and bordered by China, Thailand, India, Laos and Bangladesh. That's because up until 2011, the country had been under harsh military rule and its people severely oppressed.
Trade sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union were only recently lifted, thanks to the presence of a new civilian government, yet there have been some new incidents between the country's Buddhist and Muslim populations.
Now that Myanmar's iron-fisted miltary dictatorship has decided to free a few political prisoners and re-open its doors to foreigners, let the luxury hotel invasion begin!
First up at bat? Southeast Asia's Apple Tree Group, whose international hotel portfolio includes a colonial-era steamship, a villa built by the grandson of a Laotian king, and a thatched roof ecolodge along the Mekong in Vietnam, is shooting for an April 15th opening of its "highly anticipated tented luxury lodge" on the shores of the Irawaddy River in Bagan, called… wait for it…Bagan Lodge.