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Melaspas Bringing Buildings to Life Bali

Melaspas – Bringing Buildings to Life in Bali

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliAll buildings must be brought to life and purified before they can be occupied in a ceremony called melaspas.

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliThe wood, stone and thatch, cut down and killed for the construction, are, as it were, reincarnated.

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliAll parts are symbolically unified; posts and beams are ‘married’.

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliMelaspas – Bringing Buildings to Life in Bali requires many offerings  and there are animal sacrifices. If a ceremony is not carried out the house lacks luminosity. Evil forces can enter and cause sickness. The ceremony is nearly identical to the ritual required to bring a sacred wooden mask to life.

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliIn A House in Bali (1947) Colin McPhee recounts his conversation with the priest prior to his own house ceremony:

You need the great ritual, he began, the highest one, and it will take many offerings, and a month to prepare. For this you will slaughter one young bull, one goose, one goat, one dog with a three-coloured hide, one duck with similar markings, one young male pig, one chicken with feathers growing the wrong way, five hens of different colours, and twenty-five ducks. You will also need six hundred duck eggs, six hundred bananas, and five thousand Chinese cash. The offerings prepared in advance will include two roast pigs, ten roast chickens, ten roast ducks, five baskets of rice, flowers and cakes, and five skeins of thread in five colours.

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliNot quite as elaborate as that but a full day nevertheless and the new building at Murni’s Houses, complete with swimming pool, elevator and gallery was brought to life.  It is recommended that someone sleeps in the building the same night, and that was done too.

Melaspas - Bringing Buildings to Life in BaliThe new building with its luxury rooms facing the mountains of Bali is ready to take guests now.

Melaspas – Bringing Buildings to Life in Bali

It’s Cool to be a Jesuit – St Anthonys Church, Yogyakarta, Java

It’s Cool to be a Jesuit – St Anthonys Church, Yogyakarta, Java

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaPope Francis is a Jesuit and he’s cool. He’s the first Jesuit pope since  St Ignatius of Loyola and six other students from the University of Paris formed the Society of Jesus in 1534 nearly 500 years ago .

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaPope Paul III allowed them to become priests in 1537 and three years later he granted them the right to become their own order.

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaThen and now members of the Society of Jesus take three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience – and obedience to the Pope. So Pope Francis has vowed to obey himself. Isn’t that cool?

Ignatius dispatched his priests throughout Catholic Europe to set up schools, colleges and seminaries. By his death in 1556, the Jesuits had founded 74 colleges on three continents.

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaSt. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) expanded the Church’s presence in Asia, mostly in the Portuguese Empire.  He was the first Christian missionary in Japan, Borneo and the Moluccas.

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaThe Jesuits in Indonesia have developed a distinct identity.  In general, they are keen on high-quality education and being close to local and national elites.  There is a highly-regarded Jesuit university in Yogyakarta: Sanata Dharma University.

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaThe numbers were expanding so Father Xaverius Strates  arranged for a new large church to be built  in the Dutch colonial style surrounded by trees.  The Church of St Anthony of Padua,  better known as St Anthonys or Kota Baru Church, was finished on 26 September 1926. It can seat at least 2,000 people. Six new priests were ordained at St Anthonys  in July 2017.

St Anthonys Church, YogyakartaSt Anthonys is firmly on the tourist list for religious sites in Yogyakarta, along with mosques, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, 9th century Borobudur, and the most beautiful Hindu temple in the world, 10th century Prambanan.

St Anthonys Church-4Biblical paintings decorate the inside walls in the local style. Behind the altar under the gaze of a religious statue sits an impressive Indonesia gamelan orchestra. Outside the area has interesting old buildings and friendly people. There’s also one of Sanata Dharma University’s campuses.

For more photos, which are for sale, go to

For the book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World – go to

For the slideshow: It’s Cool to be a Jesuit – go to

 It’s Cool to be a Jesuit – St Anthonys Church, Yogyakarta, Java




What’s Melasti?

What’s Melasti?

What's Melasti?Bali has many unique traditions and one of the most colourful is Melasti, three days before the Balinese New Year, known as Nyepi. On this day, beginning in the morning, Balinese Hindus parade in Balinese dress down to the beaches, major rivers,  holy springs and lakes. One such beach is called Masceti.

What's Melasti?Melasti is a religious ritual to cleanse and purify temple objects and recharge the spiritual power within them. So, you see monstrous Barongs and tall Rangda statues, various god like masks and colourful umbrellas. High priests surrounded by worshippers on the ground say prayers, facing the ocean.

What's Melasti?The Balinese believe that the ocean’s waters have powerful healing properties and provide protection. Sand protects houses from black magic.

What's Melasti?Many years ago people travelled on foot, but now they go by car and motorbike and large trucks carry the sacred objects plus gamelan instruments plus people.

For more photos, which are for sale, go to

For the book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World – go to

For the slideshow Melasti, Masceti Beach, Bali 2018:


What’s Melasti?


Bali is The Top Destination in Asia

Bali is The Top Destination in Asia

Bali is The Top Destination in AsiaBali is The Top Destination in Asia – the Number 1 Travelers’ Choice by Trip Advisor 2018 – and the Number 4  Destination in the World after Paris, London and Rome.

Trip Advisor say “The artistic capital of Ubud is the perfect place to see a cultural dance performance, take a batik or silver-smithing workshop, or invigorate your mind and body in a yoga class.

There’s actually a lot more than that. For example we arrange the following for our guests: photography tours, helicopter tours, chocolate factory tours, cooking classes, Indonesian or Balinese language lessons, white water rafting, elephant safari park trip with a ride on an elephant, Bali Swing, Jungle Buggies, bicycle drive through the villages, climbing a volcano at sunrise, rice paddy trek, bird walks, herbal walk through rice paddies, tarot reading, Balinese dance classes, batik painting classes, making Balinese offerings, snorkeling or scuba diving or a boat trip to a deserted island.

For photos (including the one shown here), which are for sale, go to

For the book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World – go to

Bali is The Top Destination in Asia

Demons in Bali

Demons in Bali

Demons in Bali

Murni’s Houses, my boutique hotel in Ubud, hosted a gaggle (is that the right word?)  of excitable photographers from Austria, Australia and England last week, drawn by the prospect of huge, scary, colourful demons of Bali awaiting them on the streets in various stages of creation.

Demons in BaliThe ogoh-ogoh are inventive and frightening. There is always a black, hooded, faceless angel of death. There are usually dragon-like figures and mythical creatures. In the early days the artists were inspired by Balinese folklore but latterly Hollywood characters have come to the fore, some sporting Mohawk hairstyles.

Demons in Bali

The ogoh-ogoh are symbols of demonic spirits, made from wood and bamboo, covered with papier-mâché and Styrofoam, and painted with garish colours. They can reach 10 feet (3 metres) high and the same wide.

Demons in Bali

In the evening of Balinese New Year’s Eve, these huge grotesque statues, with lights aglow, accompanied by loud gamelan music, are paraded by their makers on wide bamboo platforms around the village. They are remarkably life like.

Demons in Bali

After the parade they are usually burned at the village crossroads, but recently, as they are really works of art, some have been kept for display in community halls, temples, hotels, and private houses, admired as works of art. The ‘tradition’ became popular in the 1980s.

For (better quality) photos, which are for sale, go to

For the book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World – go to

For 3 frightening slideshows of Ogoh-Ogoh in Bali:

Demons in Bali






The Photographer’s Workflow by Gavin Gough

The Photographer’s Workflow by Gavin Gough

I read this 130 page 10-step guide from ebook cover to ebook cover. Over the last few years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on – and there’s quite a lot to get your hands on – concerning Lightroom. I can easily say that this latest ebook, The Photographer’s Workflow by Gavin Gough is the best, in my opinion, by far. He writes in a very personal style; you have the feeling that he’s right there with you, telling you all he knows, as simply as possible, not holding anything back, and eager to pass on his knowledge.


He’s actually a wonderful photographer and teacher. Not just that, his background as a Systems Analyst, well versed in computers, enables him to explain just enough of the technical side that is necessary to know what you’re doing and why and fortunately not get bogged down with unnecessary detail.

Lightroom is a masterful program and Gavin goes through each step in the process extremely comprehensively and clearly. He leaves no stone unturned. It’s so easy to take hundreds, even thousands, of photographs a week, actually a day, even an hour, that we quickly become overwhelmed. It’s vital to have a well thought-out logical system that can be applied to every photograph from beginning to end. That’s what this book is about, and it’s not just the theory. Gavin generously explains his own personal workflow, honed over a decade of taking photographs for the likes of Lonely Planet and Getty Images, and gives us his own presets for each step, so that we can do exactly as he does. Whether we can take as good photographs at the outset is, of course, another matter. As he says, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

In addition to the text, there are clear video tutorials and photographic examples. The ebook is more or less divided into two parts – the first part deals with data management, the vital need to back up everything, and why, the naming of files and folders, Lightroom’s system of flags, ratings and labels, and colour management. He recommends software that helps – some of which is free. And he explains how to configure Lightroom so that it gives the best service. He describes his own gear and what he takes on an assignment – with a lot of helpful tips, such as carrying superglue and elastic hair bands. He even advises on which way up to  pack your camera.

Then he gets into what to do with the images once they have been taken, importing them into Lightroom, easing the chore of metadata, explaining smart collections (which I’ve never really understood properly and am looking forward to putting into practice), and, to me the best part, actually developing the images. Gavin has some very helpful – and wise – advice concerning lens corrections, perspective corrections and cropping before explaining the controls for exposure, white balance, contrast, hue, saturation, luminance, vignettes, tone curves, sharpening and noise reduction. He kindly provides presets for all of these, as well as several brush presets. Brush presets are used when you just want to alter part of the image and not the whole.

Finally, there is a chapter on exporting the image – which could be to a hard disk, CD, DVD, blog, Facebook, email, or web site. He explains what the appropriate image size and resolution should be.

I have no doubt that whether you are starting out with Lightroom or an experienced professional you will find this ebook highly useful. I wish it had been available when I started out myself using Lightroom. You will enjoy the really clear explanations and diagrams. At less than the price of a pub lunch, a mere US$30, it’s an incredible bargain. And who could not warm to a man who writes,  The time has come to get into the nitty gritty of data management, you lucky sausage.

To buy the ebook The Photographer’s Workflow by Gavin Gough and be reading it in under a minute:    Click here to visit Gavin Gough.

Grand Nikko Hotel, Nusa Dua, Bali

Grand Nikko Hotel, Nusa Dua, Bali.



Grand Nikko Hotel, Nusa Dua, Bali certainly has a ring to it. We had to go down to Nusa Dua for a wine-tasting and it was just too far, after all that wine, to drive back to Ubud, so we picked a hotel that had a grand sounding name.  Grand Nikko Hotel fitted the bill perfectly and is part of the worldwide Nikko Group of hotels. It’s the only one in the group called Grand. It’s also a grand place for families and kids.




We drove up to the entrance and were met by smiling staff. A nice Balinese man with glasses took our cases. First impressions are so important. We both felt good immediately and went through a smooth and efficient check in and were escorted to our room. There is a wide choice of rooms, suites and villas.




We had an Ocean View room. As you can see, it was spacious, clean and comfortable. I was pleased to see a traditional Kamasan painting hanging on the wall. There was a television with all the international channels, an electronic safe, which could fit a laptop, and complimentary water in the mini-bar.




We didn’t need a buggy, but if your villa is far away, they will actually take you by buggy, driven by a wonderful, smiling girl called Yeni. It’s almost worth booking a villa just for the fun of riding in the buggy.




It’s a big hotel with two wings, built on a 40-meter cliff. The central core of the hotel has an incredibly dramatic view of the Indian Ocean. My jaw just dropped gazing out at the view.




We immediately went down to explore. There’s a really imposing staircase from the entrance down to beach level. They also have elevators.




We saw a very impressive buffet being set up in the garden. They were getting ready for Balinese Night and we felt beautiful, soft breezes on our cheeks wafting off the Indian Ocean.




They had a sucking pig, babi guling, still untouched, but I’m sure not for long, as that’s one of the island’s most famous dishes. There was a vast array of food and there were drinks too.




I’ve got a small hotel in Ubud, Murni’s Houses, grand in its own way, and I know a good hotel when I see one. A good hotel has good energy and the Grand Nikko has lots of energy.




The staff are incredibly helpful – if you look lost, they come up to you and offer to bring you to where you are going. When you pass them in the corridor or meet them in the lift, they say hello and give you a big smile. How nice is that?




The hotel is large. I’m sure I haven’t seen it all, in fact, I know I haven’t seen it all. It has interesting statues and structures all over the place.




Balinese stonecarvers and sculptors are talented and I’m delighted that their works are on display. I particularly liked the three fishermen, back to back, with their shared catch on their heads. It was very appropriate for the ocean setting.




There are many comfortable places to sit and chill out. Tastefully decorated. Of course the whole place has wifi, which is vital these days.




There are eight restaurants, yes, eight, including a Japanese one called Benkay and one called Olooloos. Don’t ask me what that means! They serve Mediterranean food, but outside a Balinese couple welcome you in.




Breakfast is served in The Brasserie. It was very good indeed, regally and lovingly supervised by the charming Balinese sous-chef, Luh Sibang. She has worked there for eighteen years and is still loving it.




There are freshly baked breads, croissants, bagels, muffins, and doughnuts. Orange, tomato, watermelon, papaya and carrot juices. Scrambled, sunny side up, omelettes, poached and boiled eggs. Really whatever you want.




Western, Chinese and Japanese food. Indonesian fried rice, Indonesian fried noodles, chicken or pork congee and Soto Ayam (the famous spicy chicken broth). Unlimited smoked salmon too. Service was impeccable: lots of helpful staff helping you within seconds.




After breakfast there are a whole range of activities – the wonderful beach, of course, but also a fun jungle camp for children, a camel safari ride, fitness centre, tennis courts and sauna. There are probably even more things that I haven’t yet discovered.




There are four, maybe more than four, amazing inter-connected swimming pools, that just have to be seen to be believed, and a 30 metre water slide into one of them. One of them actually has sand coming up to it, which is a genius and safe way of keeping an eye on young childen at the beach.




Just wandering around I came across a wedding in the grounds. Not surprising as it’s a perfect place to get married with the well-kept beautiful lawns, pools and beach. I am sure that the wedding photographs were stunning. Grand Nikko has it all.




The Shore restaurant is ideally situated, yes, on the shore. We had lunch there and Komang, our kindly waitress, suggested that we join One Harmony for free and have 10% off all meals and future stays in the hotel group. We joined straightaway.




I love spas, and in fact, I have one in Ubud, Tamarind Spa at Murni’s Houses, so I am always keen to try them out. It was a real pleasure going to Mandara Spa. I had an excellent therapist, Oka Astini, and enjoyed the experience in a private villa immensely. I can certainty recommend it and have become a member of Mandara Spa.




The only bad thing was leaving, but, for sure I will return soon.


There are more photos in the Gallery.


Bali Photography Tours

Bali Photography Tours

Photo Tour-1


We’ve been talking to David about the possibility of offering Bali Photography Tours to guests of Murni’s Houses for over a decade and now it’s finally happened. It was worth the wait!


Photo Tour-22


He’s providing Half Day and Full Day tours – there are four different themes to choose from.


Photo Tour-35

I was lucky enough to be able to join three guests on the first Bali Photography Tours and the theme was Rural Traditional Balinese Life and attending Balinese Ceremonies. They keep the number of guests small – minimum two, but it can even be one, with a small additional fee.

It quickly became apparent that no two tours are alike and they adapt the day to what is happening on the ground, and in Bali what is happening on the ground is totally unpredictable and full of delicious surprises.


Photo Tour-23


They picked us up at Murni’s Houses at 5.30 am. Full marks for the early start as early light is the best light. Photography is really about painting with light and harsh midday sun makes for harsh photos. It is also delightfully cool.

We drove a short distance, about half an hour, to a nearby place in the countryside where there was the most dramatic view of Mount Agung, the largest volcano in Bali. It was still dark but the early morning rays were just beginning to peek out. Those of us who had tripods set them up.

David and his assistant Nyoman immediately started to guide us through the settings in our cameras. David is an expert on Nikons and Nyoman on Canons, but they can explain the settings on any camera. They encouraged us to get away from using AUTO and taught us how to create the shot that we saw in our heads.


Photo Tour-12


Then we wandered down the road, ricefields and trees on either side, which provided more photo opportunities, with people starting to go about their business.


Photo Tour-6


Very shortly we were down some steps at this amazing river. David had seen it before but hadn’t been down the steps. There was the most amazing light that any of us had seen.


Photo Tour-38


The first rays of the sun

Living the Rangoon Dream

Murni explains how the history of one of the World’s great hotels is inextricably bound up with Myanmar’s roller coaster history: Living the Rangoon Dream.

March 2015

The Strand, Yangon.


The four Armenian brothers, Martin, Arshak, Aviet and Tigran Sarkies, legendary hoteliers, were born in Isfahan, Persia and created outstanding, mind-blowing, Western but Asian-style, colonial hotels, any one of which would make one’s parents proud and be the crowning achievement to a lifetime’s career. Their legacy is our dream.



The Strand, Yangon.

It’s an almost impossible task to say which is the best, but, for my money, I love the Strand, for it’s in magical Rangoon, the capital of the World’s most enchanting country.  Today Rangoon is called Yangon, which means ‘end of strife’ but I can’t stop saying Rangoon, because, although it means nothing, it’s really evocative.


Increasing trade made Rangoon prosperous in the mid 19th century. Textile merchant at Bogyoke Market, Yangon.


The brothers became active in the 1860s when world trade was changing and increasing. Steam ships were sailing from Europe. The increased trade made the Indian and Southeast Asian ports prosperous and created a demand for accommodation. Only very basic rooms were available at that time.


Waiting for a haircut and shave in downtown Yangon.


The first place to attract the attention of the Sarkies brothers’ beady eyes was Penang, the first English settlement east of Calcutta, which was founded by Sir Francis Light in 1786. Martin Sarkies arrived in 1869 and promptly decided to create a luxury hotel that would rival the Ritz in Paris. The four brothers did just that and opened the Eastern Hotel in Georgetown, the capital of Penang, in 1884. The following year they acquired the next-door hotel, the Oriental, and merged the two hotels, the Eastern and the Oriental, and it became known as the E&O.


Yangon River.


Not content to rest on their laurels, the brothers travelled down to Singapore, rented a house, made it into a hotel and opened the Raffles in 1887. They now had two hotels but by 1891 they wanted more. It was time to expand and establish another hotel. Rangoon on the banks of the Yangon River, a tributary of the mighty Irrawaddy, looked like the ideal place. Burma was then a province and part of the British Raj and Rangoon was its capital. There were already banks and trade and foreigners looking for accommodation but there were no proper, comfortable, first-class hotels.


strand-hotel-yangon-6Lobby of the Strand Hotel


The majority of the Burmese population are Buddhist.

The Third Anglo-Burmese War resulted in all of Burma coming under British rule, a nice birthday present for Queen Victoria on 1 January 1886. It was an incredibly rich country, full of gems, rubies, rice, teak, natural resources and oil. As part of the British Empire Burma joined a global and political framework, the like of which had never been seen before, covering approximately a quarter of the globe.


strand-hotel-yangon-4Indian Temple in Yangon.

Under the British, Indians worked as soldiers, civil servants, merchants and moneylenders, but their numbers are now much reduced, about 2% of the population, living mainly in Yangon and Mandalay.


strand-hotel-yangon-10Downtown Rangoon.


Most of the buildings, many of which are architectural masterpieces, often painted green, in Yangon’s densely populated streets are in urgent need of repair, but funds to do it are scarce.

Wonderful, really large, substantial buildings were being constructed in the city’s well laid out grid system. Visitors from all over the World made a beeline for Rangoon to engage in business, attracted by good communications, the rule of law and religious freedom: Baghdadi Jews, Indians, Armenians Germans, French, and others.


Child wearing Tanaka.

Traditional Burmese life continues as it has done for centuries. Women and children still draw thanakha designs on their cheeks and foreheads. Thanakha is a sandalwood powder, ground on a stone, to protect the skin against the sun.

The brothers liked what they saw and bought an existing hotel on Merchant Street, the road behind Strand Road where the Strand now is, and called it Starkies Hotel, but it was a mid-range hotel and didn’t do well, so they sold it in 1896, and turned their attention to upgrading the Raffles in Singapore. The Raffles refurbishment was completed in November 1899.

strand-hotel-yangon-2A Burmese Buddhist nun inspects the local food in one of the numerous roadside restaurants in central Yangon.


Aviet had stayed on in Rangoon and heard in December 1899 that a small boarding house on Strand Road, facing the river, was available. It was where the brothers had stayed themselves on first arriving in Rangoon, just opposite the jetty where the steam ships moored and offloaded their passengers. The location was perfect. Their timing was impeccable: a new phenomenon called ‘tourism’ was just beginning. They opened the Strand’s doors in 1901, the year that Queen Victoria died.


strand-hotel-yangon-13The expanding railway system improved communications.


The expanding railway system improved communications. The country was opening up with an expanding railways system. Burma was moving into the 20th century with the introduction of post offices, trams, electric lamps, telephones, telegrams and cars. The British brought their games: cricket, rowing, hockey, football, billiards and boxing. Clubs, then bastions of European exclusivity, were set up all over Rangoon, strictly reserved for expats, and mainly male hangouts. There were ten times as many European men in Rangoon as women: solace frequently lay in alcohol. It still does.


strand-hotel-yangon-5Young Buddhist nuns collect alms.


Although everyone thinks of the Strand as a great British institution, it was actually Armenian from the start. By 1911, with the hotel doing really well, the Starkies brothers were getting itchy feet again. They built a new hotel in Calcutta, the Majestic Hotel, while Lucas Martin Sarkies opened the Oranje Hotel in Surabaya, East Java.


strand-hotel-yangon-1Distinguished British novelists, Somerset Maugham and George Orwell visited Burma in the early 20th century.


The history of the Strand mirrors the history of Burma itself.  It’s been a roller coaster of a ride. The First World War (1914-1918) put an end to tourism. Burma was not involved but Germans and Austrians were now the enemy of the British and detained and their businesses sold. In 1922 Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, who later abdicated the British throne to marry Mrs Simpson, an American divorcée and a commoner, visited Rangoon. Shortly afterwards, another Brit, Eric Blair, better known as the novelist George Orwell, joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years, stayed at the Strand and wrote Burmese Days: he was staunchly anti-imperialist.


Khaing Chin serves wonderful breakfasts in the Strand Café, The Strand, Yangon.

The Strand recovered after the war and was doing well, when in 1925 the Sarkies sold it to other Armenians, the Rangoon restaurateur Peter Bugalar Aratoon and his cousin Ae Amovsie. More literary dignitaries stayed and were enchanted by the temples and pagodas: Somerset Maugham, who described his trip in Gentleman in the Parlour and Noël Coward who wrote Mad Dogs and Englishmen,

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun,
They put their Scotch or Rye down, and lie down…
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

strand-hotel-yangon-8Buddhist monks having morning tea in one of the many roadside tea shops in central Yangon.

That roller coaster nosedived again when the Great Depression of 1929 devastated the World economy and tourism slumped. The E&O and Raffles hurt badly. The Raffles declared bankruptcy. The Strand, however, carried on and was saved by the introduction of air travel.  It took a month by steamer from London to Rangoon and now it only took eleven days by plane! Rangoon became an important hub from Europe to Southeast Asia. All went well until the outbreak of the Second World War, then another nosedive, literally.


strand-hotel-yangon-17French Toast and Honey at the Strand Café, The Strand, Yangon.


Over eighty Japanese planes bombed Rangoon on the first air raid of 23 December 1941 and killed more than 2,000 people. Rangoon was totally unprepared and didn’t even have a warning system. A bomb crashed through the roof of the hotel and badly damaged the lobby. Another fell on the general manager’s floor but didn’t explode. Rangoon was evacuated on 20 February 1942. Approximately 600,000 non-Burmese fled to India by land and sea, making it the then largest migration in history, 80,000 dying on the way.

The Japanese kept on bombing until Rangoon fell on 9 March 1942. The Japanese requisitioned the hotel, renamed it “The Yamato” and gave it to the Imperial Hotel Tokyo Company to manage. The officers kept their horses in the Strand bar. The whole place had to be completely renovated and deloused after the Japanese surrendered on 2 September 1945.


boy tannakaNe Win launched a military coup in 1962.

It was an optimistic time. Burma became independent in 1948 after 62 years of British rule. Burmese citizens were finally allowed to go into the hotel. The hotel was hosting receptions and ballroom dancing in 1950 and the first America to Rangoon flight landed in 1952. The hotel was often full and many events were held there. But you can’t control history and there was another nosedive and it was a long one: in 1962 the Burmese General Ne Win launched a military coup and introduced the Burmese Way to Socialism. It was more like the Burmese Way to Destruction. The Burma Economic Development Corporation bought the hotel in 1963 and the rot set in. The Burmese Way to Socialism continued until 1988 and turned one of the most prosperous countries in Asia into one of the World’s poorest.


strand-hotel-yangon-14The Strand Baby Grand.


The government owned the hotel, as it did nearly everything else. Industries were all nationalised. The manager, Peter Aratoon, the previous part-owner, did his best to maintain standards until he retired in 1971 but it was a losing battle. Burma became isolated from the rest of the World for half a century. Few people visited and the hotel declined rapidly. The fridges and plumbing ceased to work, water in the bathrooms hardly existed and bats and rats took over the lobby. But the Strand Hotel was a formidable woman and you can’t keep a good woman down.


lobby strand The Lobby Lounge, The Strand, Yangon.


The Strand’s fortunes were to be transformed and, hard though it was to believe in the 1970s and 1980s, the hotel was destined to become one of the grandest hotels in the World. It was in for a spectacular reincarnation when Bernard Pe-Win, the manager of American Express in Yangon (as Rangoon was now called), Adrian Zecha, the leading Asian hotelier, and other foreign investors entered into a 50/50 joint venture with the Burmese government in 1989.


spa strand The Spa, The Strand, Yangon.


They closed the hotel for three years and spent millions of dollars, going way over budget, creating thirty-two suites, where previously there were 100 rooms, renovating the hotel from top to bottom, training the staff, and opening on 4 November 1993.


kyaw yar zar tun strand Enthusiastic Kyaw Yar Zar Tun deals efficiently with check ins.


reception strand Kyaw Yar Zar Tun’s Check in Desk, The Strand, Yangon.


Now, you enter a magnificent, jaw-droppingly beautiful, well-proportioned, black and white marble-tiled lobby, full of flowers, potted plants and rattan furniture, where plentiful, smiling, Burmese-clad staff rush to fulfil your every need, while a Burmese musician plays traditional xylophone softly in the background. If you are lucky, Kyaw Yar Zar Tun will check you in.



butler strand suiteHein Htet Zaw, 24 hour Butler, Strand Suite, The Strand, Yangon.


The hotel has 110 tons of teak. The bathrooms are full of marble, old-fashioned taps and water pressure is impressive. The staircases are thickly carpeted in red and decorated with Burmese Kalaga tapestries. And, of course, there’s a Spa.


untitled-59The elegant Strand Suite, The Strand, Yangon.

The Bathroom, Strand Suite, The Strand, Yangon.

upper floor strand The Upper Floor, The Strand, Yangon.


The hotel is only three stories high and the bedrooms are on the upper two floors, each guest enjoying 24-hours a day butler service. The elegant Strand Suite on the upper floor, where Mick Jagger, Jimmy Carter and other celebrities have stayed, has its own hall, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, study, and separate staff entrance.


cafe strand The Strand Café, The Strand, Yangon.


To the left of the entrance is the Strand Café, which serves the best breakfasts in town. Try the wonderful varieties of freshly baked bread, the French toast with honey and the excellent Mohinga, Burma’s most famous dish, a lemongrass and ginger infused rich fish soup with rice noodles, fresh coriander, shallots, fresh lime, crushed dried chilli, crisp fried split chickpeas, spring onions and boiled egg.  Khaing Chin will take your order with a broad smile. The Strand Afternoon Tea is also a great treat.


bar strand The Strand Bar, The Strand, Yangon.

To the right is the popular Strand Bar, with its billiards table at the rear, and half-priced drinks all Friday evening, and not a Japanese horse in sight.


grill strand The Strand Grill Entrance, The Strand, Yangon.

 grill strand 2The Strand Grill, The Strand, Yangon emanates Victorian splendour.

At the far end is the formal restaurant, the Strand Grill, serving Western food and behind is the River Gallery, an interesting modern art gallery, jewelry and craft shops, where everything is mellow and there are no hard sells – and in this section there remains part of the old original hotel, closed for over a quarter of a century. It will shortly be renovated and brought back into the mainstream.


lift strandThe old Lift, The Strand, Yangon.


The old wrought iron lift is still there, no longer in use, but hopefully will be brought back into service as part of the renovation works.


shop strand The Strand Boutique, The Strand, Yangon.


I loved living the dream, but you don’t need to stay. Everyone is very welcome to visit. The smiling staff are, without exception, charming and helpful. Everything, including the internet, worked well. I have a small hotel in Ubud, Bali, and know how difficult it is to keep the show on the road with everything working seamlessly, smoothly and well, so I am very impressed, and am already looking forward to my next trip.


river gallery strandRiver Gallery, The Strand, Yangon.

lobby strand 2The Strand Lobby, Yangon.


The Strand is now over a century old, a highly respected grande dame rather than the formidable old woman of yore. It’s currently in the very safe and experienced hands of Philippe Delaloye, the Swiss General Manager. You will see him, tall, handsome and presiding lovingly over the whole affair in the lobby in the mornings, bringing that unbeatable combination of Western and Asian hospitality together in one magnificent creation and making the Strand one of the Great Hotels of the World.


© Text by Ni Wayan Murni, who founded and owns Murni’s Warung, the first international restaurant in Ubud, Bali and Murni’s Houses, Murni’s Warung Shop and Tamarind Spa. Her web site is and you can contact her on

© Photographs by Jonathan Copeland, who is a freelance photographer and writer. His photography web site is