A Hotel in History: The Strand – Yangon, Myanmar
One of Asia’s longest-running hotels and a Burmese institution since the early days of Empire, The Strand has reopened in Yangon, Myanmar, after major renovations. Here we chart its riches-to-rags and back-to-riches story…
Yangon (then called Rangoon) is developed as the capital of British Burma. Work begins on the structures of the Empire: Government House, the law courts and the building that would become The Strand, offering a place for officers, adventurers and traders to meet and unwind.
Under the Sarkies brothers (left), hoteliers who also founded the Raffles in Singapore, the 60-room, three-storey Strand hotel officially opens its doors and becomes known as ‘the finest hostelry east of Suez’, with lofty verandahs to keep guests cool and Strand Sours to keep them well lubricated.
The hotel becomes the epicentre of social life in colonial Yangon. Notable guests include Orson Welles and Noel Coward (above), who went on to pen the famous lyrics, ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.’
During World War II, the hotel is used to stable the horses of the Japanese cavalry. A bomb plunges through the roof, but, fortunately, fails to explode, leaving the décor largely intact.
As Burma closes itself to the outside world, the hotel is nationalised and falls into disrepair. Staying in the 1970s, Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler wrote in the first edition guidebook, “By 11pm, you are likely to be feeling pretty lonely in the lounge, just the occasional Strand rat scampering across the floor to keep you company.”
After a major facelift at the end of the 1980s, The Strand, in the following decades, welcomes a trickle of famous international visitors, including Baz Luhrmann and Mick Jagger (above).
The Strand is restored to its full former glory, with inlaid marble flooring, lacquer ceiling fans and antique Burmese furniture. The bar, with its teakwood panelling and leather seating, is renamed The Sarkies, in honour of the hotel’s founding brothers.