Myanmar in Focus: Ngwe Saung
Recently Tour Mandalay inspected Ngwe Saung, a relatively undeveloped beach destination, located approximately 5-6 hours from Yangon by car (it is possible to make it in less, but this will very much depend on traffic and fog conditions). Here is a selection of photographs, which we think help to show off some of Ngwe Saung’s highlights.
To break up the long drive, Tour Mandalay would recommend stopping off in Pathein, the fourth largest city in Myanmar. The city itself deserves its own ‘Myanmar in Focus’ feature, but that will have to wait for another day.
For a flying visit however, a visit to one of the city’s traditional parasol workshops is a must. You will see these dotted over Myanmar, especially in hotels and restaurants as they make for colourful and authentic decoration. What you probably don’t realise however is that they’re all crafted by hand using a traditional and time consuming process.
As you can see from the image below, a lot of care and thought goes into the creation of these traditional parasols. Not only do you have the umbrella mechanism itself, but the colours and patterns painted on top are extremely impressive, providing a unique character to each and every umbrella produced.
We appreciate the thought of a beach is probably going to be the only thing on your mind at this stage, but for those who can hold out, a quick stop at Shwemokhtaw Pagoda is also worthwhile. Originally founded by King Asoka of India in 305 BC, the temple complex has the feel of Shwedagon Pagoda, just a lot smaller and without the huge crowds. Whilst the pagoda itself is a grand sight, Tour Mandalay found the surrounding buildings the most fascinating – they contain a variety of unique Buddha images, all of which vary in age and style. Due to the distinct lack of people, our time spent here felt a lot more spiritual, especially when compared to some of the busier pagodas we know.
Whilst we usually try to avoid the generic souvenir stalls, we did manage to find a local carpenter hard work. It looked as though he was carving a range of objects ranging from animals to images of Buddha.
Depending on your appetite, you now have the option of driving straight to Ngwe Saung, or stopping at one of the local restaurants in Pathein to grab a bite to eat. There are many options available, but just don’t expect chicken and chips!
Again, depending on traffic and weather conditions, the drive to Ngwe Saung from Pathein takes approximately 1-2 hours. The road is extremely windy and a little bit hair raising in places, but the surrounding countryside views along the way more than make up for this.
Shortly after arriving in Ngwe Saung, we grabbed our towels and headed straight to the beach. The first thing we noticed was the amount of locals present – people were having a casual chin-wag with their mates, riding motor bikes, building boats and selling fruit.
We also noticed a small number of horses walking up and down. These are used for short rides, which you can purchase on the spot. Tour Mandalay would recommend against the use of these however seeing as they are independently run and we cannot vouch for their safety. It still makes for pleasant sightseeing nonetheless.
There was no shortage of friendly locals either. Noticing our camera, many stopped to stand and pose, seemingly delighted that we had taken the time to visit their home town.
Ngwe Saung’s 15km stretch of coastline is relatively undeveloped, especially towards the southern end. Close to the town however, you will find that there is a lot more life and the beach area is evidently more populated. So much so that we even came across clusters of pop-up restaurants, literally centimetres away from the receding tide. This provided the perfect opportunity to crack open an ice cold bottle of Myanmar beer.
We also got the chance to observe a friendly football (soccer) match, which was going on a few hundred metres away. Unfortunately none of them were wearing Arsenal shirts, but that was probably down to them being in the wash.
Shortly after finishing our last gulp of beer, we decided that we would venture off the beachfront and into Ngwe Saung’s small, yet bustling centre. In order to reach the town we were required to cut through a narrow, slightly overgrown pathway. Unlike any other beach resort in the world, as we walked through, we passed pig pens, vegetable gardens and bamboo huts – this provided a great insight into Ngwe Saung’s laid back local life.
Once we had navigate ourselves successfully through, we came across Ngwe Saung’s main street, a one mile straight, full of characterful shop fronts, restaurants and friendly locals. Within seconds we were greeted by a friendly girl (see above), who lit up with a massive smile when we asked, “Mingalabar, hta-min-sarr-pe-p-lar?!”, or “Greetings, have you finished eating yet?”
As we walked along the street, we noticed lots of children playing, seemingly unsupervised but safe. I guess this helps to highlight the trust in the community and laid-back nature of the place.
After working up an appetite, we decided to grab an early dinner at a local restaurant named Golden Myanmar – it has everything we needed from steamed fish to stir fried meat and vegetable dishes. We were joined by an unexpected guest however. Just before our main dishes came, one of Tour Mandalay’s staff was jumped on my a cat who refused to budge for at least 30 minutes. As you can see, even the animals are friendly. Perhaps there is something in Ngwe Saung’s drinking water?
After finishing dinner, Tour Mandalay decided that we would return to our resort the same way we got there. This provided us just enough time to get back and view the sunset.
Whilst most people looking for beach in Myanmar will inevitably default to Ngapali (perhaps because of its flight access and higher standard of accommodation), Ngwe Saung has the potential to be a strong rival destination in the future. Rather than waiting for it to develop any further however, Tour Mandalay would like to recommend that you see it now. There’s simply nowhere in the world like it.