Officially relaxed at Yangon's The Governor's Residence
Yangon governor's residence turned hotel is a haven of tropical tranquility, writes Graeme Green
There are parts of Yangon, Myanmar's largest and most industrialised city, that can feel noisy and hectic. That fades away, though, as my car turns onto a leafy backstreet in the embassy quarter of Dagon, where The Governor's Residence is located.
A walk across a wooden bridge brings me into the large colonial mansion, where waiters and other staff are milling about. There's a large pool to one side of the bridge and a peaceful green lawn to the other.
The mansion, with white paint contrasting with teak, was built in the 1920s. "It was the official residence of the British-appointed governor of Kaya state," the hostess, Mar Mar, says as she leads me past lily pad-covered ponds to my room.
My suite is spacious, clean and uncluttered, with a large bed, sofa and drinking cabinet. The bathroom has a shower and a huge modern tub big enough for two.
In the evening, I find it difficult to choose between the two restaurants.
Downstairs, Mandalay's menu of Eurasian fusion, looks good, including a good selection of fish and seafood. But the hostess recommends the curry buffet upstairs in the Mindon Lounge as "an opening to Myanmar".
A band performing with acoustic guitars and bongos play Western songs in the open-air restaurant.
The buffet starts with vegetable vermicelli leaf soup, then a fine selection of creative greens: tofu salad (with tamarind juice, sugar and fish sauce); a zingy ginger salad; potato and vermicelli; green papaya; and banana blossom. It's tough each time to move on to the next course.
The main banquet includes generous pots of soft-shell crab, large river prawns and various curries - tiger prawn; pork and mango; duck and pickled tea leaf.
A few dishes have been left standing too long, and are a little dry, but most are delicious. A chef is on hand at the buffet table to talk guests through the many small dishes and complex combinations of pickles, spices, herbs and sauces.
As Myanmar has opened up, there has been an increased interest in the country's cuisine. Much of it revolves around mixing and combining flavours. "Local food culture is based on sharing," Iain Murray, the executive chef, says. "Meals are based on several dishes being eaten with rice.
"There's an importance to the harmony of all the dishes, balancing the basic flavours of sweet, sour, salty, hot, bitter and creamy with the different textures: smooth, crispy, chewy, tender and crunchy.
"Myanmese food has been influenced by its five neighbours [Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand]. But it remains unique in its own right and has developed a personality of its own."
Finishing off an impressive meal is a pretty display of small puddings, finely layered delicate jelly, sweet semolina and sticky rice desserts.
In the morning a girl sits outside on the deck, plucking at a saung (traditional Myanmese harp) . The fans whir silently across the mansion. It feels like stepping back in time.
I imagine a lot of gin and tonics being sunk here on the decking during the colonial years. The hotel feels a little too conservative and Westernised for my tastes, but it's undeniably attractive.
Breakfast is another feast. There are cereals, fresh fruits, juices, cold meats, fish, cheese, omelettes, but also Asian-style dishes, such as butterfish curry, coconut noodle soup, lemon grass crème brûlée and coconut panna cotta.
After breakfast, I take a swim. The pool is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and the birds are in fine song. It's hard to believe there's a city out there.
The Governor's Residence
35 Taw Win Road, Dagon Township, Yangon, Myanmar
Tel: +95 (1) 229 860
Malaysia Airlines flies from Hong Kong to Yangon via Kuala Lumpur. Flights from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur take three hours and 50 minutes. Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Yangon take two hours, 40 minutes.
Prices from US$333 for a Deluxe Room to US$471 for a Junior Suite, including breakfast and taxes. Dinner costs about US$45.