The Governor’s Residence, Yangon

By Yvonne Horn

Governor’s Residence, an oasis of calm in busy Yangon.

Bon-n-n-n-g! A sonorous brass gong announced my arrival. 

It certainly made me feel important, and I’d not even come for an overnight stay at what may well be Yangon’s most luxurious hotel: The Governor’s Residence, an Orient-Express Hotels property. 

Nor was I a remnant from the past, when under British-colonial government rule the teak mansion was built to house officials traveling from the semiautonomous Karenni states. Bon-n-n-n-g! An important someone had arrived. 

My reason for visiting was to see the garden surrounding the Victorian-era villa, a place of leafy and quiet respite in the heart of tumultuous Yangon. 

During my days in the city, I’d found serenity and greenery in short supply. Yes, I had made my way to the extensive, park-like lawns and shaded areas surrounding Kandawgyi Lake. Its footpath, however, edges a traffic-impacted road. The street roar was impossible to ignore, even while caught up in the not-to-be-missed magic of Shwedagon Paya at sunset on the lake’s eastern edge, when the massive stupa’s mirror reflection turned from shimmering gold to crimson to orange in the last rays of the setting sun. 

Now, with the fragrance of frangipani and jasmine in the air, I was seated under whirring fans on the fretwork-embellished verandah of the Residence, sipping a tropical drink. Somerset Maugham stuff. Khin Khin Soe, Chief Gardener, would be along shortly to show me about, I was told. No hurry. I’d happily wait. 

Khin Khin Soe arrived, her gardener’s smock topped off by one of the woven-bamboo, conical-shaped hats worn throughout the country by all who spend their days outdoors. 

With a certificate in landscape architecture from the University of Yangon following a previous degree earned in mathematics, Khin Khin Soe had come to the Residence’s garden three years previously. Today, she oversees a staff of four that meticulously tends the garden completely by hand — sweeping leaves as they fall, and edging and mowing the lawns. It would not do to have mechanical gardening devices shatter guests’ calm. 

Khin Khin Soe with her horticulture book — Governor’s Residence, Yangon, Myanmar. Photos: Yvonne Horn

With her mastery of English minimal and my Burmese nonexistent, we set out to tour the 2-acre site, Khin Khin Soe with a book in hand on Southeast Asian horticulture, written in English. 

Over 100 different plants are represented in the garden. In answer to my “What’s that?,” Khin Khin Soe simply looked it up and handed its description over to me. 

My visit was in December 2012. Quickly I learned that, as beautiful as the garden was that day, it would be even more glorious come the January-through-March rainy season during which every flowering plant would burst into bloom. For example, but one long flower was dangling from the Amherstia nobilis, known as the Pride of Burma, the queen of flowering trees. Soon it would be a crimson extravaganza.

The Dracaena marginata I recognized as one of my houseplants. Here it was as tall as a tree. Passionflower and bougainvillea were certainly familiar, as was the orange-red spike of flowering ginger. 

Dendrobium orchids were well represented, planted in boxes hung along the covered walkway leading from the entrance road to the villa. 

Khin Khin Soe took me to her “nursery,” hidden behind dense foliage, where she tends plants awaiting their turns in the garden, including an array of orchids. Among others needing tender care at the moment was a rather straggly specimen labeled “Betel Nut.” So that’s what the plant looks like that provides the red teeth and the spitted, blood-like sidewalk blotches ubiquitous throughout the country!

We strolled past lily-filled ponds, with koi swimming lazily about, and water-filled clay pots in which frilly green “water lettuce” floated. On it went, with Khin Khin Soe intent on showing me every nook and cranny of the garden, opening her book to explanations along the way, until, dizzy with plant variations and descriptions, I began to long for the verandah. 

Finally, the gracious and knowledgeable Chief Gardener closed her book, allowing me to dip into my all-but-nonexistent Burmese to say, “Tze zu timba deh” — a ‘Thank you’ to Khin Khin Soe, along with a ‘Thank you’ to the historic Governor’s Residence for maintaining the oasis of greenery, blossoms and calm I’d enjoyed that day.

The Governor’s Residence

The Governor’s Residence (35 Taw Win Road, Dagon Township, Yangon, Myanmar; phone [+95 1] 229860, fax 228260) is located in Yangon’s Embassy Quarter. 

The hotel consists of 45 spacious rooms and 3 suites, with rates in low season beginning (depending on accommodation chosen) at $335 per night and escalating to $450, with high-season rates $550-$760. The months of November through February, during the dry season, are considered high season. The lowest of low-season rates are charged in May and June, the hottest and wettest months.

Two dining rooms, the elegant Mandalay Restaurant and the less formal Burmese Curry Table, open to the public, provide a distinctive Burmese dining experience. As a ‘Thank you’ for having to wait for Khin Khin Soe, I was allowed to choose my lunch from a lavish buffet (ordinarily about $12) in the open-air Mindon Lounge, enjoying it at a table set on the verandah overlooking the garden.