With the opening of Myanmar to western tourists, the country has struggled to keep up demand. That’s especially true in the capital of Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Home to a great number of attractions and the main international airport, it is a popular hub for visitors. While most will fly in and out of Yangon, they should also spend some time checking out its museums, temples, spas, markets and restaurants – and more temples.
Thankfully, even for travelers with moderate budgets, a stay at the Sule Shangri-La Yangon is within reach. It offers plenty for the kyat (the local currency). Yangon is big, really big, with a population of more than five million inhabitants. The Shangri-La is centrally located, close to attractions such as the Scott market, Sule Pagoda, Chinatown and colonial buildings, signs of prior British occupation, that are within walking distance.
Yangon is a busy place that operates at a frantic pace. It’s a wonderful feeling to walk into the lobby and feel like you’ve arrived at an oasis. The hotel’s elegance comes from its strong focus on Burmese arts and craft, from beautiful lacquerware to colorful silks. Like the city’s architecture, the colonial look permeates the property with public spaces like the Gallery Bar that would right at home as the setting of a period film set in late 1800s. Think dark wood, oversized fans, brass touches and Old World elegance.
My favorite part of our four-night stay was the buffet breakfast at Café Sule onsite. This was no muffin, yogurt and cereal set up. Each morning, they was a copious number of choices, including terrific Asian and Indian fare (like noodle dishes and dumplings) and international cuisine. Seek out the mohinga, the local rice noodle and fish soup. There’s also a coffee shop in the lobby so you can do the American thing and grab a coffee and go.
While the food’s terrific at the hotel, you’ll want to venture out. The Scott Market has fresh squeezed juices, noodle bars, fresh fruit, curries and anything else you’d want to sample in Myanmar. I found a street vendor who made the most delicious freshly fried potato chips. I became seriously hooked on them. If you venture to upstairs to some of the vendors, you may also stumble upon some spa places with $5 US pedicures. The facilities are minimal and simple, but clean. My partner and I returned on a couple of occasions for foot, neck and back massages.
If you’re also looking for souvenirs, this is a perfect place to nab inexpensive ones – from rosewood salad tongs to cheap and cheerful beaded jewelry. Be prepared to barter.
After a morning at the market, it’s wonderful to head back to the hotel for some chill time before the stifling heat of the afternoon sets in. The fifth-floor, open-air swimming pool doesn’t have much of a view, but it is a welcoming space with over-sized loungers, plus food and beverage service. You’ll want to relax here for a bit before returning to the din of the city come dinnertime.
The early evening is a good time to head to some of the popular temples, including the glittering golden Shwegadon Pagoda. It’s quieter at night and there are hundreds of candles lit, which give the entire complex a magical glow. The front desk staff speaks English without any issues so they can arrange cabs, tours and transfers upon request.
The rooms themselves at the Sule Shangri-La might not be as elegant as some regular Shangri-La customers may have experienced. They are nice and large, but look a bit dated and have décor that is less contemporary and more traditional. What the rooms lack in style, the service makes up for it. Like most of the Burmese people I met, they were incredibly kind and warm. They greet visitors readily with warm smiles. When I had trouble connecting to the Internet from my room, they addressed it quickly without any hassle.
It’s a large hotel with 484 rooms, spread out over 22 storeys, but it never feels like you’re lost among in the midst. There’s always a quiet corner, a spot by the pool, or in one of the lounges that allow you to catch your breath.
Michele stayed as a guest of Sule Shangri-La Yangon. As always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos courtesy of Michele Sponagle and Sule Shangri-La Yangon.