NGWE SAUNG, Ayeyarwady Region — A five-hour drive from Yangon, the west coast’s Ngwe Saung beach is not exactly a quick getaway, but the reward at journey’s end is still miles of unspoiled sands, wonderful views and crystal waters.
Ngwe Saung remains much more low-key than Chaung Tha to the north. It is not a place for nightlife, except that which you invent yourself; this is a place where quiet continues to reign.
For sustenance, visitors generally rely on hotel food, much of it in beachfront restaurants. There are no independent restaurants on the beach yet. Or you can try the local eateries at nearby Ngwe Saung town, about a five- or 10-minute drive from most hotels. Thida San restaurant on Myoma Road serves a variety of seafood and Myanmar and Chinese cuisine.
I also enjoyed the other alternative—getting to know the area’s informal vendors, and the fresh fare they provide.
You can meet enterprising villagers and sellers who visit the beach and hotel-side areas with their wares mainly in the mornings and evenings, offering a wide range of seriously tasty local cuisine, including the soups, ngapi, (spicy fish paste) and tosaya (boiled vegetables) that Myanmar people like to have with virtually every meal.
Fresh from the sea, there’s cooked shrimp, octopus, crab and mussels as well as seaweed salads on offer.
The vendors think of everything. Some have business cards, so you can phone in your order, and some, like Ko Soe Naing and Ma Aye Aye San (tel: 09 2505 98733) will help you with everything you need for an evening campfire meal under the stars, including the food, plates and utensils, and even setting up the fire.
As Ko Soe Naing helped our group with our dinner on the sands, I found out that he began traveling to survive and work after losing his restaurant business during Cyclone Nargis in 2008. For a time he was in Meiktila, and then Chaung Tha, before he came to try his luck at this spot about two years ago.
Ngwe Saung beach has around 18 hotels with a wide range of standards and prices. The cheapest go for around 35,000-50,000 kyats (US$35-50), while the most expensive are 100,000 kyats ($100) and up, per standard room.
High-end choices include The Bay of Bengal Resort, the Myanmar Treasure Resort and Sunny Paradise Resort.
For those on a budget, the Yamonar Oo has garnered good reviews. The Yuzana Resort Hotel, once said to have been the area’s top hotel, has lost much of its sheen. But it’s still clean, has superb views, and friendly staff, some of whom speak good English. Rooms come with air-con, a slightly old TVs, and Western-style bathrooms.
But Myanmar visitors be warned: Should you ask for “foreigner food”—i.e., bread—you may be charged an extra 1,000 kyats.
Also on the downside, the electricity generator is only turned on from between 6pm and 6am and there is no swimming pool.
But the ocean at Ngwe Saung is lovely for swimming, and hotels post safety signs indicating where it is advisable to take care in the sea.
Other activities for visitors include renting a bicycle (about 1,000 kyats an hour) or a motorbike (fees vary according to the distance you expect to travel). Or you could go for a gentle horse ride, costing about 2,000 kyats for a kilometer or so.
Souvenir hunters can find stalls selling simple items such as T-shirts, key chains made from shells, purses and photo albums made from bamboo in Ngwe Saung beach and along the coastline near Lovers’ Island.
The little island is very close to the seashore and has great views. Just south of it is the Ngwe Saung Yacht Club, where Myanmar hosted part of the Southeast Asia Games in December last year.
Getting there: Ngwe Saung is about a five-hour drive from Yangon via Pathein, the capital of Ayeyarwady Division. The 30-mile last stretch from Pathein is a twisty mountain road with a peaceful rural feel and views of rubber plantations. Yangon bus companies offer coach trips for around 9,000 kyats.
This article was first published in the March 2014 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.