Belmond Governor’s Residence Yangon is exactly as its name implies, namely the conversion of a magnificent 1920s private house, in beautiful gardens in the embassy area of town. Now owned by the Myanmar Government it is leased to Belmond, at least for the next 50 years. Stay at this luxury hotel for an oasis of calm, and an insight into the history of colonial life here. When the Governor returned home, wonders the gal, was he too welcomed with three bangs of a big hanging gong, as happens now? Did he too have a jasmine garland put round his neck? He certainly would not have seen an ATM machine immediately to his right. As he walked forward, however, he would have seen the curvilinear pool to his left, and a decorative pool, with geese, and nearby peacock, to his right.
There are only 49 rooms here, in three-floor blocks, and expect a haven of cream walls with framed botanical prints, and oodles of teak, for flooring, furniture, doors to minibar and safe, and the head of the very comfy bed, with a mosquito net – decorative, not a necessity – hanging from the ceiling. Expect also about the best connectivity in the country. You will also, like me, undoubtedly have heard about the dinner-only Curry Table, a restaurant that takes over the whole of the open-sided upper floor of the two-floor main block. It is brilliant. At least seven stations, some formed from white-legged tables, some real canoes, one a delivery bicycle, offer a myriad of noodles, soups, salads, and curries, namely four meat, four fish and two vegetarian, in pots kept warm by red-hot charcoal underneath. Everything is exactly labelled. My favourites were a bamboo salad, and the no-sauce fish curry, with papaya chutney.
And what a surprise to find really palatable local wines – I recommend Myanmar 1st Vineyard Estate’s Aythaya 2014 Reserve, as seen on top of room 501’s minibar. One of the many other surprises here was to find that yes, I could take a bike, as soon as it was daylight, and cycle one of the two suggested bicycle routes. The bikes are in excellent condition (perhaps not surprising since the hotel GM, Thomas Henseler, is a would-be mechanic). Pa Pa, wearing a peacock feather in her hair for good luck, had the bike ready, and off I went, north for three blocks, and east to Shwedagon Pagoda, originally built about 2,500 years ago. Stopping in People’s Park on the way back I saw a meditation class. DON’T interrupt, I remembered. Although there is lots of traffic, it was not too hair-raising as drivers are always on the alert for some fool or other.
Back home, I showered. Another meal awaited. Breakfast takes up the lower floor of the main block. Most sit outside, on terraces overlooking the pools. A man in a longyi full-length wrapped skirt plays a local harp, shaped like a boat. Air-conditioned rooms, including Kipling’s Bar (which has a good library) have displays of local cheeses, yoghurts and Parma hams, and, complementing a Champenoise, juices that do good things like help weight loss. Coffee and Swiss jams, and eggs cooked on a hawker-style cart, and reading today’s Straits Times made me realise that this is a luxury hotel that understands what today’s experiential traveller wants. I am only sorry I had no space in my Rimowa wheelie for any of the really covetable fabric clutches, jackets and skirts, and superb necklaces, in the hotel’s boutique – an adjacent gourmet store, by the way, sells a good range of local and imported wines, and local German sausage, and snacks to take on trips. Yes, most people here seem to be going on trips, to Bagan and Mandalay, or on Belmond‘s own river-boats. They might also do the circular train trip, going round and round the periphery of this unique city.