I am not a beach person. I love traveling, love water, love being away from the city. But I am not a beach person. Yet one place has changed that for me- Gaw Yan Gyi. I had heard local friends talking about this destination in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy region but was never interested in seeing ‘another beach’ until I saw photos. Fed up with 13-hour work days, I requested a 3-day weekend, called a friend to join, found a driver familiar with the route and packed a bag.
Anticipating an 8-hour journey and wanting to maximize our 3-day beach break, my friend and I arranged to leave at 4 AM. The back seat of a ProBox can be surprisingly comfortable and we were both asleep within minutes.
We woke in Pathein and joined our driver and his mate for breakfast. Through broken Burmese and broken English we figured we had about 4 more hours to go and turned off to the south instead of continuing on the road toward Ngwe Saung. The road became increasingly worse but with very little traffic we felt as if we must be making good time.
At noon we stopped for lunch and a beer. We relaxed as our driver and his mate said we were ‘nearly’ there. Back in the car, an hour later we were still ‘nearly’ there. Another hour later, when the driver decided he needed a nap, we were told not to worry about the delay as we were ‘nearly’ there. At this point we were starting to wonder. We were seeing glimpses of the coast but 10 hours on it seemed like maybe we had made a wrong turn.
Eventually we descended down toward a palm tree-fringed village and found our accommodation, the G7 bungalows. The bamboo and wood buildings were simple yet comfortable, cool and even had a western-style toilet. But we had not traveled this far to stay in the rooms. We dropped our bags and headed straight to the water for a swim. The stress of the 12-hour working days and seemingly endless car journey disappeared the minute we stepped foot on the sand. Stretching for around 700 meters, the curved beach was empty with only a few sand crabs scattering about. Bliss.
EXPLORING GAW YAN GYI
We spent the next two days exploring the area on foot and motorbike. Our drive and his mate insisted on joining us everywhere which added entertainment value – as well as plenty of selfie time- to our excursions.
First up was the ‘island’ which is, in fact, not an island but a peninsula. Nuances aside, it is the most popular place to visit at Gaw Yan Gyi and on the weekends can be busy with local tourists who come from Yangon and Chaung Tha. We firstly climbed to the pagoda viewpoint from where we could see dozens of small, unspoiled beaches placed among the villages. As we wandered around the ‘island’ we were amazed at the contrasts in landscapes- from jagged rock outcroppings to barren, windswept fields to tranquil stretches of blue water. Near the top of the island, we found a small, white sand beach with a few chairs and umbrellas. We went for a swim, kicked back and enjoyed some freshly barbequed sea snails served by the couple who owned the land. We could have stayed all day but our peace was interrupted by a group of teenagers who seemed to think J-Me’s latest album being blasted at full volume was exactly the right soundtrack for a day by the sea.
After descending back down to the main part of Gaw Yan Gyi our friends convinced us it was time for sky beer, a cloudy alcoholic drink made from the juice of the toddy palm tree. We traversed through several villages before stopping in the middle of nowhere at a lone thatched hut amongst the palm trees. A lady appeared out of nowhere, took our order and returned with three bamboo jugs filled to the brim. As we were enjoying our drinks and chatting, it became evident that few- if any- foreigners ever come here as several locals gathered around us out of curiosity. And, inevitably, they requested selfies with us, a request to which we happily obliged.
The next day we were picked up on motorbikes to explore the other beaches of Gaw Yan Gyi. We drove along the shoreline getting stuck occasionally in the soft sand and stopped often to explore, swim and take photos. Each beach we saw seemed more and more beautiful with white sands, clear blue waters and intriguing rock outcroppings.
The day continued in the same rhythm: drive, photos, swim, drive, photos, swim. We never saw another person on the beach, just a few people in the villages and the occasional dog lazing in the shade of a palm tree. We returned to G7 in the late afternoon, took cold beers down to the beach to catch the last light of day then ventured to one of the small seaside restaurants for a dinner of fresh seafood.
Anticipating another 12-hour day, we woke early for one last swim and set off at 7. Whether due to shorter stops or due to our driver channeling his inner Ricky Bobby, we made it back to Yangon by 3.30pm.
In explaining our trip to friends over a few drinks that evening, it became clear that Gaw Yan Gyi is not the typical beach destination. If you find Ngwe Saung or Chaung Tha ‘too sleepy’ then consider Gaw Yan Gyi comatose. If the power cuts and internet connection of Yangon annoy you, then stay at home (at the time of our visit, only MPT had coverage in Gaw Yan Gyi and it was patchy). If you do not enjoy long road trips, do not even consider going. But if you want to get away from it all, the journey to Gaw Yan Gyi is worth every kyat.
We stayed at G7 Bungalows run by Yangon residents Aung and Sabrina. They can be reached on 09 858 1252 // https://www.facebook.com/7-Gaw-Yan-Gyi-by-Akk-and-Sabrina-1280706891956206/ They can also help to arrange a driver and car from Yangon.