We had what can only be described as a ‘soft landing’ in Burma / Myanmar! And I don’t mean at the airport. I mean at our hotel – our home away from home for the first couple of nights. We didn’t stay at one of the large, rather impersonal hotels you can find in any big city centre anywhere in the world. No, we stayed out in the quiet, tree lined streets of the Embassy area. In fact we stayed where the British Governor lived when this country was a province of the British Empire, ‘The Governor’s Residence’. Thank you ‘Captain’s Choice Tours’ – this was a really good choice.
This imposing teak mansion, beautifully restored and set in a tropical garden, is a truly delightful, small hotel. There are no ‘plastic smiles’ here. This is a place where you are instantly made to feel at home, part of an extended family. Here we were introduced in a very special way to the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Burmese people. How lucky were we!
After a refreshing drink and warm welcome, David and I were taken to our room by a very friendly man called Thomas! Well he would be friendly with a name like that, wouldn’t he! It turned out that Thomas, a Belgian, is the Manager of the hotel, and an excellent hands-on Manager at that. He’s well respected and liked by all the Burmese staff and instantly liked by his guests. It did not take us long to learn what an excellent establishment he runs. Thank you Thomas.
Our room was nothing like the usual city hotel room… this one reflected the country we were in with teak walls and floors and Burmese carvings and decorations.
The bedside lighting was stunning. Soft lighting surrounded an abstract art work that represented the many Pagodas we were to see in this mainly Buddhist country.
The view through the balcony door was ‘abstracted’ by condensation – the cool inside air condensing the hot, humid outside air. Delightful – and so was the cool air after the heat outside.
All the room decorations were of Burmese origin, this one introducing us to the Burmese language script.
A lovely touch – in many Asian hotels, orchids feature in main room displays, but this was the first time we’d had a magnificent orchid like this in our bathroom!
In the bowl of fresh fruit in our room was this rather interesting one that neither of us had seen before. It comes from a very short stemmed Palm Tree, native to Brunei. The leaves of the tree are up to 6 m long. The unusual, scaly skinned fruit grow in clusters at the base of the stem. The flesh of the fruit is both sweet and acidic and, to our tastes, it’s not very nice.
One of the very special features of this boutique hotel is the lush tropical garden. We were able to meet some of the gardeners and thank them for their work. We got smiles all round when we greeted them with the words ‘Mingala ba’ which is the everyday general greeting meaning something like Hi or “Good-day!” We’d also learned the word for ‘thank you’ which we translated phonetically as “Cheese Zoo” . They all seemed to understand – and smile! They are very proud of their gardens and were delighted when we took so much time to inspect the plants and photograph some which were new or unusual to us. In fact, the garden was totally tropical, unlike ours in Canberra, so there was much to enjoy.
David deep in the garden looking at a ‘bat flower’ plant – something I had never seen before, nor had many of our group.
I was totally fascinated by this flower. There were many in the garden but this one shows all the various stages of the seed heads in one shot… new unopened ones, full heads with their clusters of seeds nestled in a ‘cup’, and some that have dropped their seeds and are finished, hanging down. And those ‘whiskers’ were a real delight – far longer than I could get into this photo. The plant is also called dracula-flower, but I think bat flower is more descriptive although, when we showed the plants to others in our group, they renamed it ‘cat flower’. It comes originally from Thailand.
In the lily pond below our room, was this water loving member of the ginger family. We don’t know what it’s name is but, apart from being a delightful vertical addition to the usual pond plants, it has the most amazing ‘fishing rod’ flowers.
It was difficult to get a good photo of this delicate, unusual flower with so much light behind it, but I tried!
I just love plants that hold drops of water and there were many of those in this hot, tropical garden. These water lettuce were growing on the top of water in a decorative pot of which there were several dotted throughout the garden.
Water pots are very important throughout this country. In the villages and some towns where water is not ‘on tap’, water is put into pots, the sediment allowed to settle to the bottom and the water on top is then used for drinking water. We were to visit some pot making families later in our trip. Here, the pots were decorated and used as garden ornamentation.
We were lucky to see flowers on this ginger – it had almost come to the end of its flowering period. A fascinating plant.
A popular place in the garden is the pool. It winds around the verandah and under the entrance bridge.
The intricate workmanship of these garden umbrellas is all hand made!
We saw them being made later in the trip.
These bamboo hats were available for those who wanted to sun bake.
Not for us in that force, hot sun! We chose the cool of the verandah.
And now, can I invite you all to have a refreshing lunch by the pool in the cool of the verandah of the main ‘residence’!
The food served in this hotel is exceptionally good – fresh and beautifully presented. This was David’s lunch. The head chef, Ian Murray, hails from Scotland and runs an excellent kitchen providing both Burmese and western food.
And the smiling lady in charge of the restaurants is Me Me. We had an instant rapport with this delightful, gentle Burmese lady. The way her name is repeated is common in Burma. Why? It’s more rhythmic and sounds better, she says. And the use of a surname is not common at all. Each person has their own name. (What a nightmare that would be for family historians trying to trace a family tree.)
From Me Me we began to learn something of the Burmese philosophy of life – grounded in Buddhism but developed into a daily way of life that emphasises ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ and that promotes good karma and well being between all people. She emphasised the need to suppress emotions such as hate, anger, revenge – to let them go, as they only hurt the person who harbours them rather than the person or persons targeted. This seems to have been the Burmese way of dealing with the hated junta and explains why, after so many terrible years of fear and repression, they can still smile and be so gentle and friendly. What a lady! We felt so privileged to meet her – and this hotel is fortunate to have her on its team.
The food provided at TGR is always fresh and varied. For breakfast you could choose from an incredible array of a the more usual ‘western fare’ or you could have, as David did, a Burmese breakfast cooked fresh right here beside a lily pond.
Very effective clay pot fires kept food hot at the omelette making table.
Another delightful lady we made special friends with at this hotel was Suzie – a PR person in the hotel. Suzie is a young lady I could cheerfully smuggle out of Burma and bring home with me. She speaks excellent English and has a well credentialed University degree in Physics. So why is she a PR lady in a fine hotel in Yangon? There are just no jobs for her in her chosen field here – yet! She did go to work in Abu Dhabi for two years but found life there too impersonal and empty after her close knit family and community life in Yangon. She couldn’t wait for her two year contract to be up so she could come home. And that’s lucky for TGR because she is a superb PR person.
To get to work from home, she could take three buses – one and a half hours each way. Having seen the buses, I’m so pleased that her brother brings her to work by car and comes again to pick her up after work. I just know that she’s a very cherished person in her family, and a very special part of the TGR Team.
As are all the members of ‘The Governor’s Residence’ team – an Orient Express Hotel, ably managed by Thomas. Our stay with them was a wonderful introduction to our ‘Captain’s Choice Tour’ on which we would see some very different facets of life. We both highly recommend TGR as a starting point for any journey to this country. It prepared us, in a very friendly, gentle way, for the long, hot days of exploration ahead and gave us a first hint of the wonderfully warm welcome that we were to experience everywhere we went in this country of Burma / Myanmar.
Jennie and David
All Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels