ISLANDS BEACHES AND BEACH AREAS IN MYANMAR

THANDWE AND NGAPALI BEACH

Thandwe (14 hour drive from Yangon along the Rakhine Yoma mountain range) is called Sandoway by the British, is a city and major seaport in southern Myanmar. Thandwe is very ancient, and is said to have been at one time the capital of Rakhine State, then called Arakan. The Thandwe Domestic Airport serves as an important entry port to the beautiful Ngapali Beach and the ancient Mrauk U City of Rakhine State. There are daily flights with the local airlines during the tourist season.

Thandwe is also a district. The district has an area of 3,784 square miles. The region is mountainous. The Arakan Mountains sends out spurs which reach the coast. Some of the peaks in the north attain 4,000 and more feet. The streams are mountain torrents to within a few miles of the coast; the mouth of the Khwa forms a good anchorage for vessels of from 9 to 10 feet. draught.

The rocks in the Arakan range and its spurs are metamorphic, and comprise clay, slates, ironstone and indurated sandstone; towards the south, ironstone, trap and rocks of basaltic character are common; veins of steatite and white fibrous quartz are also found. The rainfall is was 23-49 inches a year. Except a few acres of tobacco, all the cultivation is rice.

Ngapali Beach (7 kilometers from Thandwe, 45 minute flight from Yangon) is a beautiful undeveloped beach which stretches for about three kilometers in Thandwe Township, Rakhine State. It is good place for relaxing and has good snorkeling. It is arguably Myanmar’s most popular seaside destination. It is becoming more developed. Ngapali is famous for its natural and unspotted beauty up to this day. The beach has soft white sand fringed by coconut palms.

It is said Ngapali was named after Naples, Italy by a homesick Italian. It is a pleasant place for sunbathing and recreational activities such as beach strolling and cycling and so on. Unlike other popular beaches of Asia, it is free of noisy beachside bars, crowds, and pushy hawkers. The sea is cobalt blue. The beach is clean. The water here is transparent and tranquil. Bicycle tours are arranged to visit the nearby villages. The villagers usually sun dry their fish, shrimp and coconut. These products are transported to Yangon and and over the country. The best time to visit this beach during October to May.

Ngapali is not one single beach, but a series of beaches interspersed with small fishing villages stretching from Mazin where the airport is located, to Lontha on Mayo Bay where coastal steamers dock in a sheltered anchorage. A small winding tarmac road snakes its way along the coast for about 20 kilometers from Mazin to Lontha, passing through Ngapali village, Shwewa Gyaing, Myabyin, Lontha and several other small villages nestling between the beaches and the hills along the coast. A golf course next to the road near Ngapali village is being upgraded. The road is also being widened, from two lanes to four lanes, and the airport will be extended to take bigger planes. A new terminal building has already been constructed. The private Mandalay Air and the government Myanmar Airways fly to Ngapali on alternate days throughout the week.

In the hills behind the Strand Beach Hotel, you can find a peaceful lake, which is actually a reservoir with blue waters where you can fish but not swim. In the winter months this lake is the haunt of migrating water fowls, wild ducks, teals and other birds. Ponies are available for riding along the beaches. Fishing boats with motors can be hired for trips to some of the islands off the coast or just to fish near the reef. Some travelers like ride around on trishaws, peddled by local village men with two back to back seats for passengers at the side. Local buses ply between the villages and also to Thandwe, the district center, The best and cheapest way to get around is to hire a bicycle.

Ngapali an 18 holes golf course. The Ngapali Strand Beach Hotel has about forty-four single-storey bungalows, with comfortable two bed-rooms with bathrooms attached in each building. There are also three modern double -storey buildings. The hotel which first opened in the 1960s has been upgraded with modern facilities.

BEACHES SOUTH OF NGAPALI BEACH

Kyaukpyu (400 kilometers southeast of Yangon) is a town of western Myanmar on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Just to the south is the offshore island of Ramree in Combermere Bay, The town includes a natural harbor which connects rice trade between Calcutta and Yangon. The estimated population in 1983 was 19,456 inhabitants.

Kyaukphyu is a district in the Rakhine State of Lower Myanmar. It is situated on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal. It consists of a strip of mainland along the Bay of Bengal, extending from the An Pass, across the main range to the Ma-I river. The large islands of Ramree and Cheduba with many others to the south, lying off the coast of Thandwe. The An Pass is an important trade route and rises to a height of 4664 feet above sea level. Large forests of valuable timber cover an area of about 650 square meter. Kyaukpyu contains numerous mud volcanoes, from which the masrsh gas is frequently discharged with flames.

Kanthaya Beach Resort (about 200 kilometers from Yangon and 100 kilometers south of Ngapali) is in the process of being developed into Myanmar's most developed resort. The 4000-foot-long beach has beautiful clear blue water, palm trees and silver sand. Nearby, there are several large coconut plantations. A golf course and a resort hotel with expensive bungalow-style cottages are currently being built. Kanthayar means “Pleasant Beach.” It is located in the Rakkhine (Arakan) State about 16 miles north of the small town of Gwa.

Like its more famous neighbouring beach resort of Ngapali 65 miles farther north Kanthayar was developed with the initiative and active co-operation and help of the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar army. Ngapali was transformed from a quiet fishing village to a popular beach resort during the military Caretaker Government Period of the late 1950s. Kanthayar was "found" and named for development on the initiative of the Commander of the Western Command whose Headquarters are at Sittwe (Akyab) farther north on the same coast. Kanthayar Beach Resort was officially opened in 1995 by Lt-Gen. Tin Oo, Secretary of the then State Law and Order Restoration Council, to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Armed Forces Day.

The most convenient way to get to Kanthayar is by car from Yangon. The road from Yangon goes across the new Bayinnaung Bridge in West Yangon to the new town of Hlaing Thayar and from there it is only about an hour’s drive to Nyaungdon where you have to cross the main Irrawaddy River by Z-craft, car ferry, taking about 45 minutes. The third bridge across the Irrawaddy called Bo Myat Tun Bridge, connecting Nyaungdon and Setkaw was supposed to be completed in 1998, cutting down the travel time and making it much more convenient to visit the towns on the Irrawaddy Delta as well as the Rakkhine Coast where Kanthaya is located.

From Setkaw on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, the road goes through the flourishing deltaic towns of Pantanaw, the birthplace of the late UN Secretary-General U Thant, Kyaung-gon and Ye Kyi, and across the bridge spanning the Nga Wun or Pathein (Bassein) River at Nga- thaing Gyaung. Soon after leaving Nga-thaing Gyaung the road climbs across the southern end of the Rakkhine Yoma ridge of hills for about 47 miles till it goes down to the coastal town and fishing center of Gwa in Rakkhine State. From Gwa the road is along the lovely coast between the sea and the ridge of hills, northwards for about half an hour till Kanthayar is reached.

Altogether it is about 125 miles from Yangon to Kanthayar, and the road is fairly good as it is being upgraded each year. If you do not have to wait for the car ferry, the total travelling time by road is only about six hours; the road passes rice fields, orchards and tropical bamboo forests, going through peaceful, pleasant villages all along the way. The scenery changes from low paddy land, lakes and rivers to hills and forests and finally to the blue ocean and sandy beaches, some lined with small islands. For the more adventurous there is an alternative route to get to Kanthayar, combining it with a visit to the popular seaside resort of Ngapali. From Yangon you can go to Thandwe or Sandoway airport by jet in about half an hour and from there hire a car to get to Kanthayar, a three hour-drive on roads all along the coast.

BEACHES ACCESSIBLE FROM YANGON

Ngwe Saung Beach Resort (48 kilometers from Pathein in Irrawaddy River Division, about a five hour drive from Yangon) opened in the year 2000. Located on the Bay of Bengal, it has clear blue waters, white crested waves, sandy beaches and unspoiled and pollution-free natural surroundings. From Zee-Maw Village in the north to Majee-Maw Village in the south, Ngwe Saung’s silvery beach stretches in an unbroken line for some 13 kilometers, with occasional rocky shoreline, set against a backdrop of tropical rain forests and the towering Rakhine mountain range. Also called Silver Beach, it is one of the longest beaches in Asia. The shoreline is dotted with bungalow-type hotels staffed by well trained personnel who are trained to take care of your needs. Activities include speedboat trips, bicycling along the shore and horseback riding.

Chaung Thar Beach (240 kilometers from Yangon, 40 kilometers to the west of Pathein in Irrawaddy Division) is an attractive wide beach with a muddy delta look. Not only coconut palms but also casuarinas trees can be found at the back of the beach. Two small islands can be seen offshore. The crab dishes of Chaung Thar Beach are delicious and well-known. Fresh coconut juice is a common drink. There are bungalow type hotels along the beach with modern facilities.

Chaung Thar is the nearest ocean resort to Yangon. It can be reached in half a day by road from Yangon and became popular in the late 1990s. There are 13 hotels in Chaung Thar. Some of the well-known ones are Max Hotel, Lai Lai Hotel, Ambo Hotel and Khine Chaung Thar. Traditional bullock cart ride along the extensive stretches of the sandy beach are available. Others may prefer to stroll along the seashore and visit nearby villages to sample the local cuisine, and buy trinkets and ornaments fashioned from sea shells, cowries, mother of pearl, huge rock-shrimp and crabs, fossilized marine flora and unusual coral formations.

Pho Kalar Island is a two minutes boat ride for 200 kyats per person. There is a temple, a monastery and many coconut trees. You can drink fresh coconut juice for 100 kyats a coconut. No need to buy tickets. The water is quite shallow. There is a small village on the island selling coconuts and dried fishes. The water is clearer on that side of the island. You can find many red and green crabs running around. Kyaut Maung Nhama can be reached on foot (takes about 3 hours) or by bicycle (takes about 2 hours) or motorbike (takes about 1 hour). The road is bumpy. But the rocky shores are beautiful. There is one temple on top of a big stone.

Phyu Island (accessible from Chaung Thar) is also known as “White Sand Island.” From Chaung Thar it is about a 15 minute walk to the ferry boat stand from the hotel area. A 25 minute boat ride for 1,000 kyats person will take you to the sialnd . Life vests are provided to the passengers and tickets are required that you buy at the ferry stand. There is a temple on the island. The island is white because of the accumulation of the dead seashells to the shore. There are lots of rocky white stones.

Other Myanmar Beaches include Letkhokekon Beach (Kungyangon Township, Yangon Division), Setse Beach (Mudon Township, Mon State); and Maungmagan Beach (Launglon Township, Taninthayi Division).

TANINTHARYI DIVISION: THE STRIP OF MYANMAR BETWEEN THAILAND AND THE ANDAMAN SEA

TANINTHARYI DIVISION is a long, narrow state sandwiched between Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The southernmost most administrative region in the country. division in Myanmar, Tanintharyi Division is bordered by Mon State to the north, Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea in the east. Tanintharyi Division occupies a long narrow coastal plain bounded which runs to Kawthaung, the most southerly point of Myanmar and which then continues to the Malaya Peninsula. The coast is dotted with islands including the Heinze group. the Maung-Magan group and the Mergui or Mergui Archipelago. which comprises more than 800 beautiful and attractive islands.

Dawei (384 miles south of Yangon) is a port of medium importance and tropical seaside town in Tanintharyi Division. Natives speak Burmese but with a strong dialect. which is similar to Mergui. The most venerated pagodas are the Shin Motehti Pagoda, a few miles south of the town, Shin Datweh Pagoda in the north and Shin Maw Pagoda on the Dawei promontory. A 243-foot long reclining Buddha image occupies the Lawka Tharaphu Pagoda. In the 18th Century a group of Dawei people known as Inthas (“Sons of the Lake”) migrated to Inle to avoid the continual conflicts between the Burmese and Thais. The Inthas now live around Inle Lake in southern Shan State. Dawei is the capital of Tanintharyi Division.

Maungmagan (15 kilometers northwest of Dawei) is a beautiful seaside village and beach resort in Thanintharyi Division famous for delicious seafood. Most people in this region are fishermen. Various sizes of fishing boats are used in this work but Boatmahlay is the most useful for fishing families. It is a small wooden boat built without any iron or steel. The smallest Boatmahlay is 18 feet long and is used for fishing within nautical 10 miles from the coast.

The construction of Boatmahlay is interesting. It is built with Bantbwae wood planks attached with small wooden sticks placed into holes on either side of the boat. Two planks used for building the boat are joined together by putting small wooden sticks into the holes on the sides of the planks. Yaynyantha wood is kept between the two planks to prevent water seepage into the boat. Then the ropes are tied around the planks to keep them tight together. All the Botema boats are built in this way though there may be differences in size.The fishermen of Maungmagan village load their boats with food supplies and other needs for one or two days fishing at the sea.

The fishermen go out to the open sea by boats mostly at night depending on the weather and return to their village after catching a sufficient amount of fish. sea. Their wives put the fish on sale at the market.There are various kinds of fish Kettabaung Ngakunshut (mackerel) and Ngaleikkyauk sold at the Maungmagan fish market in the morning. Maungmagan Beach is thus alive with the fisherman and their fishing boats returning after a night’s fishing at the sea and carrying out preparations to go out to the open sea again in the evening.

KAWTHAUNG: THE SOUTHERNMOST TOWN IN MYANMAR

KAWTHAUNG (800 kilometers from Yangon and 2,000 kilometers from the country's most northern tip) is the southernmost town in Myanmar. Formerly known as Victoria Point, it is one of the entry ports into Myanmar and is only separated from Thailand by a broad estuary in the Pakchan River. Across the river is the border town of Ranong. Thailand.

Kawtaung is a Burmese port that lies along the Andaman Sea and the river that divides Burma and Thailand. It is a starting point for trips to the Mengui Archipelago and can be reached by a 20-minute longtail boat ride from Ranong, Thailand. Ranong is 200 kilometers north of Phuket. Visitors from Ranong can take a 30 minutes boat trips to Kawthaung for sightseeing and shopping. There are regular flights from Yangon to Kawthaung. Entry visas. valid for 28 days and border passes are issued at Kawthaung. The main business of Kawthaung is trade with Thailand, fishing, rubber and cashew nuts. Most Kawthaung residents speak Burmese and Thai. Kawthaung's bustling waterfront is lined with teashops, stores and shops arranging boat charters to Thailand for visitors and traders. Duty Free Shops and a few restaurants in the Burmese palace replica building are located in front of the Kawthaung harbor. A huge bronze statue of King Bayintnaung, one of the great Myanmar kings, outfit in full battle regalia and brandishing a sword, stands at the crest of a hill on the cape. A spectacular sea and island view from a hilltop pagoda known as the Three Mile Pagoda is located in a fishing village five kilometers north of town. See Thailand Victoria Point

Tha Htay Kyun (Boss Island) is within 10 minutes from Kawthaung. The Andaman Club is located Zadakale (St Luke) Island. Tha Htay Kyun has beaches but its coast is too rocky for swimming. It is possible to visit to islands nearby and explore coral reefs where few people have been. Some Islands are inhabited by Salons or Sea Gypsies who sail around the islands and are known by various names., including the Orang Basin, Chaunam (Water folk in Thai) and the Moken (Mae Ken) to themselves.

MENGUI ARCHIPELAGO: HOME OF THE MOKEN SEA NOMADS

MENGUI ARCHIPELAGO (southern Myanmar near Thailand) is a string of 800 mostly uninhabited islands with stunning white sand beaches and lovely blue and green water, sea gypsy nomad (Moken or Selung) camps, and delightful rain forest teaming with wildlife such as sea eagles, kites, hornbills, herons, gibbons, flying fox, crab-eating monkeys, elephants, crocodiles, pythons, kraits, cobra, wild pigs, buffalo and deer. The underwater life in coral reefs is just as diverse. It is similar to that found in the Similan Islands in Thailand.

The Mengui archipelago is scattered over an area of about 14,000 square miles. Most are jungle covered granite islands. Some are limestone, karst pinnacles that look Guilin in China or Halong Bay in Vietnam. In the old days they were notorious hang outs for pirates as well as sea nomads. The areas was off limits to tourist for a long time but was opened in the 1990s. Many travelers visit the islands by sailboat or long-tailed boat. Some sea kayaking is also done. Many of the trips are done through dive and tour operators based in Phuket, Thailand.

One 19th century explorer wrote “these are mostly mountainous islands, stretching from Tavoy Island south beyond the limits of British territory...Those amongst them which are not bare rocks are clothed with dense vegetation...They are sparsely inhabited, a few Burmese and Karen having settled on one or two. They are the resort of peculiar race, the Selung, who rarely or never leave them to visit the mainland. The most westerly are composed of granite and porphyry, those nearer the mainland of sandstone, grauwache and conglomerate. They islands are infested by snakes and wild animals—tiger, rhinoceros and deer.”

The islands haven’t changed that much since then except that the tigers and rhinos are gone. The Moken sea nomads that live here live in temporary huts. Burmese fishermen live on stilted huts in the forest near the beach. At low tide they collect shellfish, shrimp and shellfish, check their fish traps and fish with tridents. At high tide fishermen head out in their long-tailed boats and traditional Mawken boats, on which sea nomads live when they go out to sea.

Mengui Archipelago is arguably the most undeveloped place near a major developed place. Large Thai resorts like Phuket are relatively close nearby. Many visitors either sleep on boats on stay in camps that consist of just a few tents. It remains to see if the islands will remain as unspoiled as they now.

The Myeik Archipelago is situated on the southern Taninthayi Division of Myanmar (formerly known as Tennesarim coast of Burma). In the east of Myeik, there are many valuable tin mines, palm oil and rubber plantations and evergreen forest. In the Andaman Sea, there are pearl oyster and fishing beds. Pearl Island is the source of high quality pearls. Taninthayi city is on an island in the mouth of Tannintharyi River.

Visitors can fly to Kawthaung from Yangon by three airlines — Myanmar Airways, Air Mandalay and Yangon Airway. It takes about one and half hours to fly from Yangon to Kawthaung. Visitors also arrive via Phuket or Ranong, Thailand.

Myeik (just off the Myanmar mainland) is the only sizable town in the Mengui Archipelago Also known as Mergui town, is lies on a mangrove island and is a sleepy fishing backwater but at one time was an important Indian Ocean port. Among the people found here are monks with begging bowls, Tamil market women, Muslim traders and Asian-featured Catholics.

Pula Nala Island is the home of Marghon Galet, a village where the government has attempted to settle a community of Moken. The village is kind of artificial. The Moken have traditionally not lived in one place. There are lots of Burmese here as well as some souvenir shops, a monastery, a school, a hospital and a fuel depot. But not many Moken if any can be found there in the dry season.. About 400 Moken live there in the rainy season. The government encourages them to send their children to school but the Moken are not interested. When they are in their boats in the dry season, Burmese fishermen occupy their homes. Some of these are dynamite fishermen and illegal timber harvesters.

Lampi Island is shaped like a fishing hook and is as big as Singapore or Phuket. Mountainous and mostly uninhabited, it features beaches lined with mangroves and teak forests.

St. Luke Island has a lovely white sand beach on its north side that is backed by dense forest with parakeets, monkeys and monitor lizards. There are some Selung villages.

Elephant Island is a spectacular karst island, also known as Pan Daung, set among other karst islands. It contains a Burmese fishing village and a logaoom that can only be reached through a cave in a limestone cliff. The Marbles Islands are spectacular karst islands.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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