Dominic Horner travels from Yangon to the far-flung Ma Gyi Zin for some sweet isolation. Photos by the writer.
There’s no shortage of remote beaches in Myanmar but Ma Gyi Zin’s up there with the remotest of them all. Located on the western coast south of Gwa, Ma Gyi Zin really does deliver the “middle of nowhere” vibe. There are plans to connect it up to Pathein Road at some point in 2018 but in the meantime getting there is pretty hard.
First of all you need to take the 7-8 hour bus from Yangon to Gwa where you’ll spend the night. Rest well, because the following morning you’ve still got plenty of journey ahead of you. For this part you’ll need either to rent a motorbike or find someone who’s prepared to ride one for you. To my knowledge a cab just isn’t an option. A boat’s probably possible but then it’s getting into pricey territory. If you can hack it, a motorbike’s your best bet.
From the harbor get the water taxi over the estuary to start your full on ride down to Ma Gyi Zin. Essentially none of the road is paved, sometimes it’s sandy, it’s often steep and it’s usually rocky. If you’re reasonably confident with a motorbike you’ll have no problem but it’s definitely not the place to get your training wheels.
Up to this point I’ve might have given you the impression that the whole thing is an arduous slog—it isn’t. The journey may be challenging in places but it’s also incredibly beautiful. You’ve got coastal villages, deserted (and I do mean deserted) beaches, rickety bridges, pagodas….the whole thing is a real rock ‘n’ roll travel experience and if you can spare the hours don’t rush it. On the way down we took our sweet time and it took us somewhere between 4-5 hours. On the way back, with a bus to catch, we gunned it a little bit and did it in just over two.
There’s only one hotel in Ma Gyi Zin so you’re staying there whether you like it or not. Luckily, it’s a good one. Mei’s Guesthouse is still a bit of a building site but the huts are decent, the staff are super welcoming (you’ll almost certainly be the only guest), and the food is surprisingly delicious. While we were there we had grilled fish, crab, watercress soup and some disarmingly good chips. The food will surpass expectations, guaranteed. On the downside the rooms are a little bit…wildlife-y, and if you want electricity you’ll sometimes have to get it by request. Neither of those facts should be particularly shocking considering how isolated it is but for those who demand a certain level of creature comfort it’s something to bear in mind.
The beach itself is pretty. Not the most beautiful beach in Myanmar but definitely pretty. Again, apart from some fisherman and maybe a handful of locals you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the place to yourself. Unsurprisingly there are no restaurants so if you want beach refreshments you’d better pack them.
Once you’re done with the beach there are a couple of other things to do: get a boat across the estuary, climb the hill to the pagoda and get a lovely romantic view of the bay. If you ask at Mei’s Guesthouse you can also get yourself on an island boat trip. We booked the trip, were onboard and happily setting sail when we were called back in and told that because of navy drills we couldn’t go anywhere and that was the end of that. Well, usually the option’s there.
All in all I’d say the Ma Gyi Zin experience is well worth it. It does require a bit of effort, so for those who just want a chillaxed beach holiday Ma Gyi Zin isn’t a smart option. But for those who want to get away from the crowds—and the rest of the world for that matter—enjoy the travel part of travel and don’t mind roughing it a bit, this is an absolute winner.
How long will it take?
Between 7-8 hours from Yangon to Gwa and a minimum of 2-3 hours down to Ma Gyi Zin.
How do I get there?
The bus leaves Yangon at 7am and 4pm and gets in to Gwa at around 2pm and 11pm respectively. Then next morning you’ll need to rent a motorbike to get to Ma Gyi Zin (ask at Royal Rose). If money’s not an issue you can probably get a boat. For the return journey there’s a midday and 7pm bus to Yangon.
Where do I stay?
The Royal Rose in Gwa for the first night (25-30,000 kyats). After that Mei’s Guesthouse in Ma Gyi Zin ($35-50,000k) is per night.
What do I do for fun?
Enjoy the ride down, eat delicious food, swim in the sea, climb the hill, do a boat trip.