Burma is a beautiful country which has long been off the map for tourists to come and go as they please. However, in recent years Burma has become much more accessible and the tourist trade has grown with it to a point where it can now offer luxurious accommodation to rival its Asian neighbours. Here are ten of our favourites spots to relax in splendour whilst enjoying this marvellous land…
The Governor’s Residence is a stunning colonial style hotel and one of our favourite city hotels. It exudes elegance and history, capturing the idealistic romance that was once associated to Burma. Tucked away in the Embassy Quarter and just a stone’s throw away from Burma’s iconic landmark, the Shwedagon Pagoda, this hotel is perfectly located. As the name suggests it was once the home of a colonial governor, but now it has been beautifully restored it encapsulates a fine combination of being both a luxury boutique hotel and a stylish heritage building in its own right. The spacious teak framed rooms are decorated with dark Burmese antiques and traditional artworks, and the open sided restaurant is reminiscent of a traditional colonial cigar room. A stay at this hotel will compel your thoughts to turn to a bygone era as you swill a cocktail in the Kipling bar, relax by the fan shaped pool or enjoy a candle lit dinner overlooking the lily pond.
Nestled on the eastern shores of the lake, this peaceful and charming Burmese owned hotel is the perfect base to explore the magnificent Inle Lake, and in my opinion is the best hotel in the area. The wooden chalets have been designed in a traditional Shan style, and are surrounded by manicured gardens, lily strewn ponds and lush paddy fields. Each equipped with private balconies, outdoor showers, cosy log burners and beds with mattresses to die for, make this hotel an appealing option. But what I love most about this hotel, and what makes it so special, is that it is completely sustainable and eco-friendly; the herbs and vegetables are freshly grown in their private garden, the building materials are locally sourced, the traditional Burmese textiles are handmade on site by local craftsmen and the majority of employees come from neighbouring villages. The hotel has that sense of familiarity and security, the service is warm and heartfelt, and every small detail has been considered for your own comfort and experience. And the lakefront restaurant is the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring the lake, where you can enjoy the magnificent views whilst sipping a cocktail before tucking into the sumptuous Shan menu.
RV The Road to Mandalay, Bagan to Mandalay
There is no better way to experience Burma’s legendary Irrawaddy River than to hop aboard a luxury river vessel, the most comfortable and opulent of which is The Road to Mandalay, and float along in unsurpassed style. As you cruise down Burma’s cultural artery which flows through the heart of the country, you will be able to explore the fascinating sights and sounds of rural villages and drift leisurely past the iconic stupas of Bagan’s eminent plains. Equipped with a spa, gym, piano lounge and sun deck with a swimming pool, this stylish boat effortlessly combines contemporary luxuries with a heartfelt emphasis on traditional comforts.
My ethos has always been to work with either the best hotel or the most charming, and sometimes the best is the most charming. The Amara Mountain Resort, located just outside of Kalaw, is absolutely the most charming hotel, and a personal favourite. You’d be forgiven for thinking you had taken a wrong turning and ended up at a National Trust property in the Home Counties, but as it is a former British colonial hill station dating from 1909, you can understand where the architectural inspiration has originated from. The hotel is divided into two separate cottages which are set in the midst of traditional English style country gardens, with an organic vegetable patch, leafy fruit orchards, green velvet lawns and colourful flower beds. Inside the rooms have cosy wooden floorboards, working open fireplaces and unique homely details – no two rooms are the same. This charming hotel will be sure to capture your soul and a stay here will certainly not disappoint.
A two mile stretch of pristine white sands, lapped by the warm gin-clear waters of the Bay of Bengal, fringed with leafy coconut palms… this is the setting for the ultra-luxurious beachside bolthole, the Sandoway Resort. Scattered throughout six acres of lush tropical gardens, the hotel consists of beach cottages and villas, a spa, large swimming pool with, a library and a restaurant serving sumptuous fresh seafood with an unbeatable panoramic view of the sea. The traditional villas are completely private and have been constructed using local materials such as teak wood, stone carvings and marble. Whether you soak up the sun’s rays by the pool whilst enjoying glorious views over the bay, watch the sun disappear behind the horizon from the restaurant deck or paddle in the bath temperature waters of the sea, the Sandoway Resort will offer that much needed sanctuary to ‘get away from it all’.
Scattered like gems in the glittering Andaman Sea lies the Mergui Archipelago, a collection of 800 uninhabited, remote and sparsely populated islands. Given the lack of solid tourism infrastructure in the area, there are no luxury hotels and therefore the best way to see them is by luxury sailing yacht. The classic and chic yacht Meta IV offers a unique experience for any luxury explorer wanting to discover this stunning part of the world. This intimate yacht comprises of four en-suite cabins, a kitchen and dining room, an open deck and various toys for the yacht, including snorkelling equipment, a canoe and stand-up paddle board. The staff aboard these boats have an acute attention to detail, a deep routed passion of sailing and a knowledge of the area which is second to none. It is also worth mentioning that the food is absolutely to die for! Whether you choose to relax on deck, dive into the surrounding cerulean waters or fuel your passion for sailing, there’s one thing for sure; you can sail for days without meeting another soul, and with only a handful of visitors to the area each month, this stunning archipelago remains one of Earth’s most unspoilt destinations.
A highly ambitious new hotel, the Inle Sanctum Resort has recently opened on the eastern shore of Inle Lake. A serene and monastic style hotel with a hint of European inspiration, this is where Eastern traditions meet Western design. The hotel’s ethos is ‘simplicity is the essence of elegance’ and this certainly rings true as you wander through the hotel and observe the pared back and minimal décor. The stylish hotel is light and airy throughout, with a classic central cloister, exposed wooden beams, large Roman windows and looping Spanish arches. The restaurant produces local delicacies and traditional Shan cuisine, and the open roofed bar is an ideal place to contemplate the magnificent views of the lake. With such a strong European influence, this hotel is unlike anything else you will find on the lake, and is likely to make even the most cynical contemplate their spiritual side.
The Strand Hotel. The name alone musters up thoughts of colonial times gone past. Yangon’s oldest hotel, this property is absolutely stunning and is without a doubt, the city’s most iconic and luxurious. Built on the banks of Yangon River in 1901, just minutes away from the crumbling buildings in colonial district, the hotel was recently restored to its former glory. The hotel is not the sprawling structure you might expect, it is fairly intimate with just 32 suites spread over two floors, and they all combine the charms of the 1920s and ’30s with smart contemporary amenities. Each suite also comes with its own dedicated butler service who is on hand for total 24 hour service should you need it. The lobby is a fantastic example of colonial architectural grandeur, soaring high ceilings, expertly polished tile floors and classical pillars topped off with Burmese lacquerware detailing. The Strand’s highly acclaimed high tea is served in The Strand Café on starched white table cloths and rattan furniture under the whir of the overhead fans, and the chic Strand Grill is an elegant dining option for dinner. And sitting in The Stand Bar will give you a true sense of how Kipling, Somerset or Orwell would have experienced this magnificent place it its heyday.
Initially constructed as a private residence, the Rupar Mandalar has a unique blend of contemporary comforts and traditional Burmese culture, and is a delightful member of the Mandalay hotel scene. Mandalay has romantic connotations originating from Kipling’s poem, but today it is a bustling and commercial city with an American style grid road layout. The hotel is situated on the outskirts of the city, away from the frenetic street and provides a much needed respite after a day of sightseeing. The spacious guestrooms offer everything you would expect, and due to the hotel’s popularity they have recently opened a further twenty or so newly renovated rooms, which are equally as spacious and have a light contemporary feel to them. However, the real appeal of this hotel is its facilities; a large swimming pool (rumoured to be the largest in Mandalay), an inviting spa, a gym, sauna and steam rooms, an outdoor bar and entertainment area, a number of dining options inside and out, ranging from Burmese and Asian to Western cuisine. In other words, every need you could possibly imagine is catered for! Team this with the incredible service you are guaranteed to receive from the staff, and a stay here is second to none.
Sleek and contemporary, the Sanctuary Ananda is an all-suite luxury river vessel which cruises the majestic Irrawaddy River. This stylish boat was custom built especially by local craftsmen for Burma’s rivers, using traditional materials and local arts and crafts, and every modern day comfort has been considered and catered for. The boat comprises of just 20 spacious suites across three decks, an outdoor swimming pool, a gym and spa and three various dining options. As you embark on a voyage of discovery along Burma’s rivers, you will have the opportunity to explore the temples and pagodas of Bagan, the palaces and monasteries of Mandalay and the untracked and verdant jungles of the north, which conceal forgotten villages and ancient towns.
James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel.