< MYANMAR | YANGON: The Strand
The Strand Hotel opened its doors in 1901 at the height of the colonial period and very soon became renowned internationally as ‘the finest hostelry east of Suez.’ It was envisioned by the renowned hoteliers, the Sarkies brothers, who set their sights on Myanmar in 1892, identifying Yangon (then known as Rangoon) as the perfect location for the latest addition to their luxury hotel portfolio, which at that time included the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang and Raffles in Singapore. At that time, Yangon was the third largest harbour the Indian Empire and a regular port of call for steamers. Aviet and Tigran Sarkies drew up plans to build the first hotel in Rangoon to meet the needs of the growing number of international travellers coming to South East Asia.
Determined to find the perfect location, the brothers began their 10-year search for the perfect property, dreaming of acquiring a plot on Strand Road, close to the harbour. A 12-room wooden boarding
house with a fine view of the river and with direct tram access caught their eye, only for them to initially learn that the property wasn’t for sale. It took nine years of negotiations, but eventually
in 1901 the brothers entered into an agreement with the owner to acquire and refurbish the boarding house.
The new 60-room Strand Hotel stood tall at three stories, with each floor surrounded by a lofty verandah to keep the interior guest rooms cool. The Strand Hotel soon gained a reputation as ‘the finest hostelry East of Suez’, and played host to international royalty, ambassadors and notables of the era such as George Orwell, Sir Noël Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Earl Mountbatten, who all exchanged tales of adventure over a Strand Sour in the bar.
In 1905 after a brief stay at the Strand, the writer and painter, R. Talbot Kelly was heard to remark, ”half-an-hour after landing found me very comfortably installed in the Strand Hotel, a roomy bedroom with bathroom attached having been allotted to me. While its large enclosed verandah which practically formed a sitting room, gave me ample breathing space; and making allowance for the latitude, the table d’hôte was excellent and varied.”
During World War II, occupying Japanese military authorities requested the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, which was the leading hotel brand in Japan, take over management of The Strand Hotel, in a similar situation to The Oriental, Bangkok. From 1942 until the end of the war, the hotel was renamed the Yamato Hotel. The Strand Hotel has had a colourful past, often described as one of riches to rags to struggle and back to riches, but it has always remained at the heart of Rangoon society and an integral part of Myanmar’s story.
After the war in 1949, the land that the hotel stood on was sold to Messrs Steel Bros & Co. for Rs 10, 500,000. The hotel’s new owners injected much needed money into the Strand and the hotel was again renovated. Between 1958 and 1963, The Strand Hotel has been the venue for the yearly Rose Ball, a charity event organized by Lady Gore Booth. “The ballroom was filled with the most beautiful roses”, stated by Aunt Monica Mia Maung, a British lady who had married the son of Burmese judge back in 1937.
In 1989, Burma officially changed its name to Myanmar and the capital, Rangoon was renamed Yangon. After decades of neglect, The Strand was also for sale. The renowned hotelier, Adrian Zecha fell in love with The Strand Hotel, its service and staff. When the opportunity arose, he came to the rescue and bought the hotel together with Burmese businessman, Bernard Pe-Win, and the government of Myanmar. The hotel was renovated from top to bottom. Then Myanmar Hotels International (MHI) was formed to operate a 50/50 joint venture between the government, Strand Hotel International, a group of foreign investors with its chairman, the late Anthony Gaw, at the helm. Today his son, Kenneth Gaw, is chairman of the company. After extensive renovations and a total investment of US$10.5 million, The Strand reopened on 4th November 1993, restored to its original splendour.
Over a century later, Yangon’s finest heritage hotel is still at the forefront of luxury hospitality in South East Asia. The hotel is currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment project that will return the award-winning heritage hotel to its former glory. The hotel will retain its heritage architectural details, such as marble and teak wood flooring, chandeliers, lacquer wood furniture, Burmese antiques, and signature service elements. The Strand’s dining outlets will all be fully renovated and refreshed, under the eye of new operations manager, Mark Murraybrown, and new executive chef, Christian Martena.
During its long history, The Strand was patronised by royalty, nobility, explorers, adventurers, artists, authors and other distinguished personages, arriving in Myanmar (Burma). Hotel's guest book count names of: George Orwell, Sir Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Edward, Prince of Wales - future Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom, George Tupou V, King of Tonga, Edward Norton, Doris Geddes, Sir Mick Jagger, Anthony Bourdain, Maria Ludwika Paleta, Baz Luhrmann, Jimmy Carter – 39th President of the United States of America and many more...
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