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Monday, 9th May 2016

The history of Yangon's Strand Hotel

As the historic Strand Hotel in Yangon closes its doors for refurbishment, it represents a good opportunity to look back at this iconic building. The hotel, which is one of the strongest symbols of colonialism in Burma, will not receive guests for the following six months, as major renovations are undertaken.

Olivier Trinquand, vice president of the Strand, said: “We will not build new structures. We will just make interior renovations, to keep the soul of the hotel. We’ll make it feel like the hotel has been reborn. When we renovate, we will mainly stick to Burmese architectural style.”

The work will be the first time the hotel has been renovated since 1993, but its history goes back way further than that. Located on Yangon’s riverside, the Strand opened in 1901, making it the longest-running colonial hotel in the country.

Over the years, its five-star grandeur has led to the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Mick Jagger stay within its walls. The three-storey structure was built by two of the Sarkie brothers, who were famous for their hotel empire. It was named after its location at 92 Strand Road and was described by John Murray in his Handbook for Travellers at the beginning of the 20th century as the “finest hostelry east of Suez”.

Having gained a reputation for its luxury since opening, the Sarkie brothers sold the Strand in 1925 to Yangon restauranteurs Peter Bugalar Aratoon and Ae Amorevsie. They completed the first renovation of the property in 1937, ensuring it kept up with the changing style of the times.

During the Second World War, Burma was briefly occupied by Japan, which quartered some of its troops at the Strand. After the conflict ended, the Strand became owned by Imperial Hotel Tokyo and in 1945 it welcomed the native Burmese population as clientele for the first time.

In the years after Burma declared independence in 1948, post-colonial governments let the Strand fall into disrepair until it was purchased by the Burma Economic Development Corporation in 1963, although maintenance continued to be minimal.

The Strand was sold again in 1989 in the aftermath of the 1988 coup d’etat, but this time it was to a businessman with an interest in returning the hotel to its former glory. Bernard Pe-Win teamed up with Adrian Zecha and a number of investors who formed The Strand Hotel International.

Naturally, a full renovation was carried out and it wasn’t until 1993 that it reopened to the public, as a luxury boutique hotel. The original integrity of the building was retained, with no modern wings, swimming pools or tennis courts added. Instead, marble floors, mahogany furniture and ornate canopied beds only enhanced the grandeur of the traditional Burmese architecture.

It is now run by GCP Hospitality and is undergoing yet another renovation. The Strand is due to reopen its doors in November 2016, when it should look as shiny and polished as the day it welcomed its first guests in 1901.

Related news stories:
Pyin Oo Lwin: The former summer capital of the British in Burma (11th September 2015)
How to add a spot of luxury to your Burma itinerary (27th October 2015)
Guide to Hpa-An (7th January 2016)
A guide to Burmese festivals ? one for every month of the year (6th June 2016)