Lonely Planet rates Ngwe Saung as a nothing-to-do kind of place, but when you haven’t seen the ocean for a month, this untarnished beach of fine white-sand is just the thing to soothe your travel-weary soul. Coconut palms shade bamboo bungalows and sunny days pass by in a lazy haze as you swim and surf and sip green coconuts on the sand, surfacing for snorkelling stints around Lovers Island.[quote text_size=”small”]
Coconut palms shade bamboo bungalows and sunny days pass by in a lazy haze[/quote]
Down on the beach we hire oversized tyre tubes for $1 a day to ride the gentle body-bashing break, build sand pagodas and drink chilly bottles of beer from the balcony of our beachfront bungalow as the sun set slowly west. Hawkers tempt us with massages and horse rides and feed us deep-fried prawns and, not surprisingly, our week at Ngwe Saung passes by in a thoroughly relaxing blur.
Unlike neighbouring Thailand where a revved up backpacker party scene reigns supreme, this little beach gem is serene, authentic and hugely appealing. It’s exactly the kind of place you’ll be searching for after a couple of hectic weeks in Myanmar where must-see destinations are separated by rather lengthy bus trips and busy, packed itineraries are de rigour. After our ambitious adventures from Yangon to Inle Lake, and Mandalay to Bagan, Ngwe Saung was a sanity saver, providing a blissful beach escape for our trio of bus weary travellers.[quote text_size=”small”]
Unlike neighbouring Thailand where a revved up backpacker party scene reigns supreme, this little beach gem is serene, authentic and hugely appealing[/quote]
That said, there are plenty of great ways to punctuate all that glorious downtime. At low tide we waded the ankle-deep channel to Lovers’ Island, snorkelling and swimming on the fringing reef and climbing a trail around the rocky isle for stunning sea views. There are snorkelling tours to distant Bird Island, and a wild motorbike adventure (hire a driver if you prefer) that rides south along the coast, crossing rivers aboard tiny canoe ferries and to reach remote, rarely visited villages.
We haggled for fresh fruit at the local markets and celebrated a rare full moon in style, helping locals stir and simmer a giant cauldron of aromatic sticky rice over a campfire, which was later shared amongst us all. Just in time for sunset on our last night at Ngwe Saung, we beachcombed south to watch the famous Kyauk Maumghnama Pagoda – brother and sister rocks – wow us with their twin spires glowing golden as the last light disappeared over the Bay of Bengal.
There are other, far more flamboyant resort destinations on Myanmar’s scenic west coast, but Ngwe Saung’s budget-priced reputation has so far held off the kind of gaudy overdevelopment that locals love and foreigners shun. Instead, Ngwe Saung provides just enough seafront seafood restaurants and a sprinkling of cool tapas bars to stir you from your slumber. Try the much raved about Ume Café on a hill above the beach, a Japanese fusion restaurant with a nightly fire show that lures a convivial crowd of travellers. With ocean view bungalows starting from as little as AUD$30 a night, this beautiful, serene beach is not only the closest you’ll find to Yangon, it might just be the best spot to unwind beachside in Myanmar.
Essentials: Ngwe Saung is located a six-hour bus ride from Yangon in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Region. If you go, apply for a 28-day Myanmar visa instantly online at evisa.moip.gov.mm (US $50pp). Bring local and US dollars to Ngwe Saung. To plan your trip, visit www.go-myanmar.com/ngwe-saung.