22 Nov Kalaw Heritage Hotel – Through the Eyes of its Last Living Original Resident
Kalaw Heritage is Myanmar’s second-oldest hotel, after the glorious Strand Hotel in Yangon. Built in 1903 by the esteemed Childers family, the hotel is a landmark in Myanmar’s history. The story goes that the family even paid for the railway line to be diverted to run right in front of the hotel as they loved hearing the ‘chugga chugga’ sound of trains passing by. Since its heydays, Kalaw Heritage has been refurbished, but there’s still an old-world feel to the lodge: it’s decked out with antique furniture, and old photographs of Kalaw are donning the walls. The hotel still boasts its own tennis court, as well as a cosy hotel bar serving up classy cocktails. It’s a place full of history and stories, and today, we’re meeting up with Mary, the last living person who has lived through them. As her mother was a housemaid to the owner of Kalaw Heritage, Mrs Childer, Mary called the hotel home the remainder of her childhood.
Mary remembers Kalaw’s golden days when there were frequent parties and lots of guests staying at Kalaw heritage hotel
Kalaw’s golden days
Mary has lived a colourful life in Kalaw. She’s not sure of her age but estimates she’s about 90 years old. Mary remembers Kalaw’s golden days when lots of guests stayed at Kalaw heritage hotel and parties were aplenty. She also remembers darker times, such as the Japanese bombings in World War II. Scattering a collection of black and white photos that are delicately wrapped in tissue paper, Mary recalls her favourite memories of living at Heritage Kalaw hotel.
“Christmas was my favourite time of the year. Mrs Childer would give us all presents. One year, I received a beautiful new sari.”
As we sit in the floor gingerly leafing through photos, Mary gives a running commentary of the moments caught on film. There are photos of Mary as a young girl, standing next to her mother and uncle, who was also working at the hotel as a manager. Many portraits feature Mrs Childer in the hotel garden. Mr Childer is also present in most photos, decked out in full army uniform with knee-high black boots and a sword swooped over his shoulder.
The dark years
The early 1940s were filled with moments of great fear. “I remember feeling so scared when the Japanese started bombing our country. I was particularly frightened for the Palaung people. They didn’t know about the war and were at the market when downtown Kalaw was bombed.”
Before the Japanese invasion, Kalaw was a peaceful town and Mary remembers wandering around the hotel’s garden and visiting friends in town. “I remember singing in church with Father Beroni at Christmas time. During Diwali, my Hindu friends and I would go to the festival in town. We were always invited to participate in festivals — it didn’t matter if you were part of that religion or not, you were welcome to join in.”
“During the war, there were many problems. When the Japanese invaded the country, they came to the hotel and arrested and tortured Mrs Childer. It was very frightening.” Other prisoners were held captive at the hotel under the Japanese invasion. Mrs Gladys Childer was held in an internment camp from 1942 to 1945. She survived and was evacuated to the United Kingdom. But as her heart had never left Kalaw she decided to move back to her beloved hill station. In these years, the hotel was used as a central meeting point for peace negotiations under the British Empire. Ms Childer lived in Kalaw until she passed away. As f today, the hotel is operated by the Acror group.
Refurbished Kalaw Heritage Hotel has kept the spirit of the place alive, you can still hear the sound of the train passing
Home is where Kalaw is
After the war, during the years of socialist rule in Myanmar, Mary and her mother worked in shops selling snacks. Mary was taught at the convent in Kalaw and took English classes from the niece of Agashi Razi, the owner of the Yadanar talkie cinema. “When I was growing up, everyone in the town knew everyone and helped each other”
Although many of her Indian friends left Kalaw during the years of nationalisation under the military regime, Mary wanted to stay in Kalaw.
“Kalaw will always be my home. Every time I come back here, I feel a very special feeling I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s the smell of the pines, the cold air and the nice manners all children have. Kalaw isn’t like any other place in Myanmar.”
Ready to visit the Kalaw Heritage Hotel and other hidden gems in Myanmar?
Explore Kalaw through the lens of locals with the iDiscover App&Map, created and designed by locals. Download our app (it’s free!) here, and here to get your free, beautifully illustrated map of Kalaw to complement our app. (P.S. We also have plenty of captivating stories on Yangon in our app and on our blog! Click here to read them.)
Our guides are created by locals, designed by locals and powered by locals… with a little help from iDiscover. Hear their stories, share their passion and learn what they love! Our Kalaw Neighbourhood App&Map are curated by Kalaw Tourism Organisation, illustrated by local artist Ko Wai Yan and proudly powered by The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ).
Words and photos by Libby Hogan
Libby is a freelance journalist who has documented the changes across Myanmar’s many ethnic states in the past three years, specifically after Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections. Her passion is looking at youth culture and stag leaping to isolated regions to hear untold stories from those who never had access to media or the opportunity to speak freely. Check out her website.
Interviews by Nang Phoo Pyi Mon
Phoo is a Shan girl. A lover of nature. She would not want to live anywhere else but in the Shan mountains. Phoo loves talking to people and people love talking to her. As a language graduate, she has a deep interest in psychology, culture and religions, in her country and far beyond.