Word on the bumpy road to Ngwe Saung, located on the Bay of Bengal, is that it is the perfect way to unwind if you have a few days free at the end of your Myanmar trip. You know, put your feet up in a 5 * hotel and chill. You could do it that way, or…..
For this article it would be very convenient to spout forth a plethora of rudimentary cliches such as, “A hidden gem off the beaten track”, but well, it is not off the beaten track. On the contrary. By Myanmar standards, it is on the beaten track, and easily accessible from Yangon: you are looking at a 5 hour bus trip (unless you go in the middle of the night and have a bat-shit crazy bus driver munching on betel nuts, then you might get there in four). Adding to this, the gems are not hidden – they are right there, in plain sight – and the only way that you could possibly miss them is by confining yourself to your 5* hotel whilst sucking back cocktails and burgers as you discuss how much you love immersing yourself in the Myanmar culture.
So, to avoid the cliches, i am going to paint the picture in photos, ‘cause, as you know, a picture speaks a thousand words. DAMMIT! I did it again.
Part 1: NGWE SAUNG BEACH LIFE (sarcasm detector required)
The above facetious diatribe was fuelled by 3 weeks of holier than thou dieting, whilst simultaneously counteracting Monsoon Season with my very own dry season.
Ngwe Saung is a very special place to me as I spent three weeks there in September 2015. My days were spent exploring the surrounding areas, sitting on the beach watching the world go by, and learning a little Burmese (from the aforementioned child labourers).
Ngwe Saung was only set up as a tourist destination in 2000 with the goal of providing an upmarket alternative to Chaung Tha, a beach that is slightly further north which is easily accessible by motorbike. As Ngwe Saung is still a little green, it remains beautifully sincere and authentic. I would use the adage, “Get there before it changes”, but we, the foreigners are the ones who are changing it. This place is not Thailand, and hopefully never will be.
In order to not leave dirty paw prints over this part of Myanmar, just ensure that you treat the locals with respect at all times, and exercise particular decorum when exploring the villages. In regards to beach life, it is worth noting that the Burmese tend to swim in their clothes, and they do not go out past the waves. Whist I am not one to preach about appropriate attire, I can guarantee you that here – like most places in Myanmar– if you dress accordingly and stay modest the locals will be decidedly more receptive to you.
The hotels along the beach are somewhat different, and bikinis are the norm. I am not saying that the 5 star hotels there do not have their merits, but it really is a shame if you spend your entire stay there. You can also stay elsewhere, and visit a 5 star hotel for the day (everyone needs their fix). I chose the Eskala Hotel as, well, if you are going to do it, do it properly. In regards to the dwellings one may choose when they are travelling, it is a case of each to their own. Eskala for me is fine for a day, but frankly I find it somewhat bland and impersonal.
Instead, when I go to Ngwe Saung, I stay in the very affordable Dream House. Funnily enough, the wonderful Michael and Lei Lei used to both work at Eskala, meaning that the service is 5 star at a budget price. When I was there last time, it was a lot smaller and they were they were always doing small renovations and well thought out improvements: it was no surprise that when I went back this year it had expanded significantly in size. Also, not only is breakfast included, but they also have an extensive menu, which you can order from any time of the day.
The village is full of restaurants with delicious and well priced seafood, and my particular favourite is Social House, which is owned by a very lovely family. Saying that, sitting on the beach until the sun goes down is really not negotiable!! You can also rent bikes there (at the guesthouse).
Getting to Ngwe Saung from Yangon is relatively easy. Option one is to go to Hlaing Thar Yar bus station (which is an hour from downtown in a taxi) very early in the morning, or you can take the overnight bus. Well, it is not really overnight as you get in at 0330 at latest. The reason I endorse the second option is that the bus leaves from the main train station in downtown at 2130, meaning that you miss all the traffic as well as having to make the trek out to the other bus station. For this, there is the Asia Dragon Express, whose office is also very central, but you can book tickets over the phone.
With that in mind, I would not really recommend it during the peak Monsoon, but, the tail end of Monsoon for sure as that is where I caught all of those beautiful sunsets.