A month before I flew to Myanmar I borrowed digital guidebooks from the Hennepin County Library and started reading about the country. As I read the Lonely Planet guide’s Top 20 Myanmar list, I was surprised and excited to read about Ngapali, a beach the guidebook said is one of the best in the world.
Contributing to my surprise and excitement, I admit, is the fact that prior to reading about Myanmar I did not know the country had a coastline. I corrected my geography failings by looking at a map. I learned Myanmar’s western boarder includes more than 1300 miles of coastline traveling from the Bay of Bengal south to the Andaman Sea (source).
In this Year of Sarah Joy, I visited a number of world class beaches. In Vietnam I relaxed at and loved the beach at An Bang. In Cambodia I had an experience of a lifetime on Koh Rong Sanloem island, and I also visited beaches in Goa and Thailand. My beach visits combined with the stories from other travelers and the research that went into selecting each beach destination heightened my familiarity with the South East Asian sand and sun scene.
Although Ngapali Beach is not a culturally authentic experience in Myanmar, I was eager to spend time at another beach in Asia. I wanted to compare and contrast this beach with the others I visited or heard about, have a few more days of relaxation, and, most of all, I wanted to decide for myself if the hype around this beach was merited.
Shortly after I visited Ngapali, Trip Adviser published their 2017 Traveler’s Choice Top Beaches in the World ranking. Earning the final place, position #25, is Ngapali Beach.
My assessment: the beach is stunning. Travelers with the financial means to visit and who enjoy quiet will not be disappointed. Travelers seeking night activities and sand raked clean of seaweed may prefer other destinations or, assuming development continues, should wait 10 years before visiting Ngapali.
Traveling to Ngapali Beach from Bagan I had the option to choose between a 20 hour, two bus journey on some of the poorest roads in the country or a flight. I opted to pay the premium for the 45-minute flight to Thandwe airport, located 1 mile from my beach accommodation. I flew on a twin engine turboprop plane operated by Air KBZ, whose company slogan is, “flying beyond expectations.” The airport closest to Bagan is in Nyaung U. The airport at Nyaung U has one runway and two waiting lounges. All flights operated by Myanmar airlines are domestic so they are not required to meet international safety regulations – a fact I learned much after this flight.
My first views of the beaches in Ngapali. Ngapali is pronounced like the city in Italy, Napoli. Legend says a homesick Italian gave the area its name.
The sand is white. The beach is wide and long. The water is clear and there are gentle waves. The entire coastline in Ngapali is about 15 miles long however it is divided into sections by natural barriers like rock protrusions and, in one case, by a private golf course located on the waterfront. I stayed across the 2 lane highway from the northern section of the beach.
My beach visit was quick. I was here for an afternoon, one full day, and one morning. Even with a shorter visit, there was plenty of time for walking in the sand and enjoying the vastness of the water.
Another opportunity to see a sunset in Myanmar.
Ngapali is undeveloped compared to most beach communities. As the sand turns into land on the shoreline, especially in the northern area where I was staying, low brush, palm trees, and rocks are the main sights.
For my full day at the beach, I borrowed a bike from the hostel and rode 7 km to the southern part of Ngapali beach. This area of the beach has a number of hotels with prices starting at $150 USD a night. The hotels are 1-2 stories tall and few have more then 30 rooms.
The bike I borrowed from my hostel had a European style lock. The lock was fixed to the frame and, when locked, prevented the back tire from moving. I lost the key to the lock at the beach. Through elaborate charades with a local woman, she introduced me to a man whom she called, “my friend.” For a significant amount of Myanmar kyat, an amount equivalent to $5 USD, My Friend drove me and my bike the 7 km back to my hostel. En route to the hostel, we dropped his young son, who was sitting in the front seat of the sidecar, off at school. As a passenger riding backwards on the sidecar, I enjoyed seeing the grins of local people and imagined they were highly amused at this tourist, riding in a sidecar, holding a bike. As with everything I experienced in Asia, there is always a solution!
A famous mermaid statue on a rock. Fishing is one of the main livelihoods for local people in the community. Early in the morning I saw fisherman bringing in their boats. This 2014 article addresses the challenges of developing a beach vacation destination and maintaining the fishing culture of the community.