Former colonial merchant’s building bears new life as a luxury heritage hotel in downtown Yangon.
Located in the historical heart of the city, Yangon Excelsior occupies a building that once was headquarters of Steel Brothers & Co Ltd, a major trade company in Yangon –then known as Rangoon–operating from the late 19th century.
After Myanmar won independence, the building was used as the office of the Ministry of Trade until Naypyitaw was named the new official capital of Myanmar and the government ministries moved there in 2005.
As a building on the list of protected heritage buildings compiled by Yangon Heritage Trust and approved by the government, the renovation project was scrutinized and the appointed architecture firm, Architype, had to work closely with guidelines from the organisation.
Walking through the tall glass entrance doors – an original feature of the building – guests are greeted in a modest but well-designed reception area. The first taste of the hotel’s subtle quirkiness is here: an old typewriter sits in the middle of the seating area with a flutter of paper streaming upwards from it and flying towards the ceiling.
Taking a right into the Steel Brothers Wine & Grill restaurant, it is at once clear that though holding onto the heritage, designers have not forgone modern grandeur and stylish sweeps: a concoction of suede, stone, wood, metal and glass is an ode to the industrial soul of the building.
This restaurant, with open kitchen and a massive wall display of wine is set to be the formal dining room for the hotel where a menu of grilled dishes and wine will be served to a fine-dining standard.
Across the reception is The Newsroom, a more casual all-day bar and restaurant. Exposed brick and dim lighting make a relaxed atmosphere that is likely to become a good place to meet friends for coffee or colleagues for after-work drinks. The menu will serve comfort food options.
Before ascending the staircase or taking the original steel lift dating from the 1870s with modernized mechanics, guests will notice a small library room with striking steel beam forming the dividing wall. The architects have cleverly brought these functioning steel beams, which run right through the building, to us as beautiful and mighty features reminding us of the building’s rich legacy.
On the upper floors are 74 guest bedrooms of three categories –superior and superior executive; deluxe and deluxe executive; and junior suite. The hotel’s next quirky feature is here: ‘handwritten notes’ are posted on the doors of the hotel rooms and convey a feeling of being among travellers of colonial times passing through Rangoon. Using the colonial name of Moulmein for modern day’s Mawlamyine, the ‘note’ on room 213 reads:
“Is anyone departing for Moulmein this coming weekend? If so please let me know soonest.”
On entering the rooms, you immediately notice the high ceiling and natural light flowing in from the large original windows. All rooms are decorated in calming soft whites, blues and grays with plush soft furnishings, though the rooms not classed as ‘executive’ are rather modest in dimension. Rooms have strong sound proofing to counter the busy street noises from outside. Bathrooms of the superior executive and deluxe executive rooms are slightly larger in floor space and feature bathtubs while all rooms are stocked with environmentally kind toiletries and finished in marble tiling.
Yangon Excelsior has a small gym and spa with three treatment rooms and meeting facilities that can host 10 to 20 attendees.
Managing Director Ma Su Su Tin has a clear idea of what travellers to Yangon want and her knowledge is helped in no small way by another position she holds as MD of major travel and tour company Exo Travel. She recognizes that foreigners are especially interested in the downtown area:
“Travellers want this unique kind of atmosphere and they can explore downtown easily. But they also want great services and a good breakfast. We have mixed a little heritage and contemporary history but also added the modern comforts.”
Despite the current over-supply of hotel rooms in the Yangon hotel market, Ma Su Su Tin is sure that the future of tourist numbers in Myanmar is brighter and that in three years tourist arrivals will rise and there won’t be the same problem.
“Yangon is really the gateway of Myanmar and the city has the most colonial buildings in Southeast Asia. There is a rich living heritage here. [The hotel] is in the planned heritage zone proposed by Yangon Heritage Trust and with Yangon Excelsior, we can help by renovating this building and transforming it.”
With the first guests to be welcomed through the doors on July 1st, it remains to be seen whether the luxury heritage hotel tag can woo travellers passing through Yangon. What is certain though, is that Yangon Excelsior has done a fantastic job of bringing an at-risk heritage building into the modern day with class, luxury and an appreciation for Yangon’s rich history.