People say that vitamin D is good for the body and mind and that it helps to bring you in an upbeat mood. Apparently, regular sun exposure is the most natural way to get enough vitamin D. As the dry season has started in Myanmar, it’s time to head out to the beach and get some extra vitamin D and luckily Myanmar is blessed with fantastic beaches; crystal clear water, sandy beaches and palm trees waving in the sun.
Much has been written about Myeik archipelago in the south with hundreds of islands and all Yangonites know the road driving to Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha beach during the long weekends so I won’t go deeper into these options. Southern Rakhine state beaches are starting to get more attention thanks to some new hotels and lodges opened recently. The area can be reached by road through the Rakhine Yoma (mountain range) and the road along the coast; one of the most scenic drives in Myanmar.
Remote beaches & small lodges
Last year’s opening of Arakan Nature Lodge (www.arakannaturelodge.com) has set a trend that focuses on sustainability, being closer to nature, and enjoying a huge empty beach – even ideal for people who want to bring their dog along – Quickly discovered by expatriates from Yangon, the lodge offers excellent food with a set menu prepared daily and the best bread you can imagine. 10 luxury bungalows from Wah Pyu Villa (www.wahphyuvilla.com) will open this November just south of Gwa, strictly speaking not Rakhine state but Ayeyarwaddy division. Its promising spacious villas built totally from locally sourced natural materials and the pictures on their websites are showing a dream beach. The sustainable Lalay Lodge (www.lalaylodge.com) offers an opportunity to experience and connect with an unspoiled beach and the sense of community that is at the core of daily life in Maung Shwe Lay village. Spacious rooms, service with a genuine smile of young people from the village starting their career in hospitality, run on solar energy and serving a daily changing set menu of traditional Rakhine food right in the beautiful Andrews Bay. It’s soft-opening is happening towards the end of November and the lodge can be reached overland or after an enjoyable 45 minutes boat ride from Ngapali beach. Kanthayar beach has been developing a bit more over the last years and some small guesthouses and restaurants have sprung up and more is to be expected in the coming years.
On the road to Ngapali
The road to Ngapali is an interesting and scenic one. If you want to avoid the traffic in busy Hlaingthayar, you can actually cross Yangon River on a boat ferry from a jetty near Chinatown and continue from Dala to Maubin. Then connect to Nyaungdon and get a good impression of the fertile Irrawaddy delta. Continue over the beautiful mountains of the Rakhine Yoma and arrive in Gwa. A few small guesthouses have opened at Gwa beach (just behind the abandoned airstrip). A turtle conservation project has been setup just north of Gwa and amongst the endangered species is the “Rakhine Turtle”. While driving north along the Rakhine coast notice the mountain range on the right which apparently is still home to sun bears, wild elephants and a wide range of other animals. The Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association (www.facebook.com/RCA.Arakan) does fantastic work for the conservation of the area – they were the ones who assisted the BBC’s documentary about the nature in Myanmar – and has documented information about flora and fauna in Southern Rakhine state, including sea turtles and dungeons. Drive further north and you arrive at Zalun monastery, famous for the two bodies of monks who were so pure that their bodies never decomposed after their death. Half an hour further brings you to Thandwe town and from here it’s a short 30 minutes’ drive to Ngapali beach. If you’re in for some adventure it is possible to do parts of this trip on foot through remote traditional Rakhine villagers that are literally not yet on a Google map.
When overseas tourists ask me what Ngapali Beach is about, I often tell them: “imagine the most beautiful beach in Thailand yet without the bars, souvenirs shops and tourist infrastructure and with beautiful boutique hotels in traditional architecture built below the palm tree line offering a view right on the beach”. I think that Ngapali beach should be compulsory twice a year for any expat living in Yangon to realize how peaceful and quiet Myanmar can be. It’s less than an hour flight from Yangon, or from Heho, and has plenty of hotels to choose from and for any budget, here are some:
The luxury Sandoway Resort (www.sandowayresort.com) has always been very consistent in service, food – excellent Italian chef! – and beautiful bungalows. Especially, at the beginning and the end of the season, their deluxe rooms offer excellent value for money. Their sister hotels Residence by Sandoway and The Art of Sand are very good as well. Another good hotel, especially for families with children, is the Bayview (www.bayview-myanmar.com) which is recently partly refurbished and offers tasty food for kids at the beach side restaurant. Also the refurbished Amata Resort (www.amataresort.com) with a big pool facing the ocean offers a good value for money and is a popular choice for expats. Last year the Lake View Lodge (www.ngapalilakeviewlodge.com) opened in Ngapali. It is just a short walk from the beach and has fantastic views over a nearby lake and the sea in the distance. Another very special place to stay and worth mentioning here is the always charming Yoma Cherry Hotel (www.yomacherrylodge.com) a small boutique hotel in a hidden bay with super friendly staff that continuously supports people and planet in the region.
Start planning your trip, it’s time for some vitamin D and at the same time support beautiful and peaceful Southern Rakhine state. The New Year’s period tends to be very early fully booked but no worries, hotels stay open for the season till at least 15 May (while some are open all year round). Make sure you don’t forget to give yourself enough beach time in the coming months.
Edwin Briels is MD of Khiri Travel Myanmar and has been working for over 15 years in travel in Myanmar and will share his experiences travelling in Myanmar in a monthly column.