Published in the November edition of My Magical Myanmar
For those of us who find it hard to do nothing in this “always online” world, Ngwe Saung Beach is a really good place to practise the art of just being. Its unspoiled 14 kilometre stretch of ngwe saung (silver sands) hugs the Bay of Bengal’s turquoise waters, which practically cry out for a wading. While being less of a budget destination than nearby Chaungtha Beach, it attracts fewer visitors and has more of a laid back vibe: some say it’s the most tranquil spot in Myanmar.
Ngwe Saung Beach is located 260 kilometres west of Yangon and the five hour journey into Ayeyarwady Division concludes with 88 continuous curves: getting there feels a bit like slipping down a long bit of spaghetti. Hiring a car without a driver is inadvisable, as the two-lane road is best left navigated by someone familiar with its twists and turns as well as local driving customs, the latter of which I surmised as complex, cooperative and honky. The bus is of course another option and once there, motorcycles can be hired for a full day or on a jump-on, jump-off basis. However it’s likely that the only land commutes during your stay at Ngwe Saung will involve travelling from an upscale hotel in the northern side to the south, the latter of which is simply referred to by locals as “The Village.” The string of seafood restaurants along Myoma Road serve up crab, squid, lobster and octopus and are so cheap you’ll think you’ve ordered chips. It’s also a great place to buy local handicrafts, hire snorkel gear or book a guided boat trip for sea fishing, snorkelling and island hopping. “The Village” also offers cheaper accommodation options.
Lovers’ Island is located at the far northern end of Ngwe Saung and it’s well worth making the minimal effort required to visit it – particularly as the sweeping panoramic view from the top is picture postcard perfect. At low tide the waters are ankle deep and crossing from the shore takes just a couple of minutes, whilst at high tide it’s never more than chest deep.
Atop one of the rocky outcrops sits a mermaid, while most others are covered with greenish-brown crabs scrabbling to find a nook. The surrounding waters contain enough underwater life to lose at least an hour or two snorkelling, but sadly there’s also the occasional bit of litter floating about. Should the sea fishermen at the northern point of the island arouse your curiosity as to their catch, take care while meandering over because the rocks are deceptively slippery: I wasn’t the only one to go home that day with a barnacle-inflicted injury.
Though the origins of the island’s name are uncertain, it’s certainly apt: local couples arrive in droves at sunset and many linger there past dusk. Enterprising vendors on both the island and the shore sell coconut juice and chilled bottles of Myanmar beer. Further down the beach, ponies decorated with neon tassels also appear once the sun’s rays have softened.
Ngwe Saung is by no means a place to party on into the night: there’s an acoustic band that plays every evening at the chic but cheap Royal Flower Restaurant on Myoma Road, but virtually nothing else exists by way of entertainment. However as most hotels, including those over $100 a night, lack 24 hour electricity supplies, it’s wiser to tuck in early to avoid feeling hot and groggy when the AC cuts out at around 6am. Internet connections at hotels and restaurants vary from the spotty to the non-existent: whilst this can be inconvenient, it’s also part of what makes Ngwe Saung a place of virtually uninterrupted peace.