With a coastline stretching out over 2832 km along the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, Myanmar’s beach resorts are increasingly becoming a tourist hot spot. One of the more popular destinations is Ngapali Beach, which is located in Rakhine State and was known as Sandoway during the colonial period. This tranquil paradise has no remnants of colonial times with the oldest hotel still in use constructed in 1961.
Only a 40-minute flight from Yangon, it is an easy choice for those wanting to escape the city for the weekend. For the more adventurous traveller, the area can be reached by a full day’s car or bus journey over the spectacular Arakan Mountains. The road veers through dense jungle, remote villages and peaks at around 640 metres, with the opportunity to see various wildlife along the way. One can expect a long and bumpy road if travelling by road instead of air. The name Ngapali is believed by some to have come from early Italian travellers who compared the area to the seaside town of Naples. Unlike modern Naples, Ngapali is sparsely populated and remains unspoilt by high-rise hotels and retail stores. Myanmar’s beaches are often compared to Thailand’s beaches 20 years ago. Unlike the congested beaches of Thailand today, you will not find hawkers or noisy pubs. In their place are local fishermen trawling crystal clear blue waters in search of the next catch to supply one of the many family-run restaurants that occupy the beachside road. These restaurants offer the opportunity to eat outside your hotel of choice with a wide selection of fresh seafood dishes with a local twist, such as the elegant coconut-steamed fish. While the gentle 3-km-long stretch of white sand and palm-tree-filled beaches with jungle and hills in the backdrop offers the perfect opportunity for peaceful rest, visitors can also enjoy various activities. Nearby, tourists can walk through local fishing villages and take in the local sights and sounds. A popular alternative is to cycle the winding beachside road, stopping off at the numerous art galleries and traditional stores run by women from nearby fishing villages. The clear water makes it an ideal location for snorkelling, and a variety of colourful marine life can be spotted. Local fishermen also offer inexpensive day trips to a nearby island where giant lobsters and fresh coconuts can be enjoyed, quenching one’s thirst under wooden umbrellas. For those looking to hit a few golf balls, Ngapali’s golf course is a rustic link with far from perfect greens that are best enjoyed in a pair of sandals. Galloping along wet sand on horseback can be enjoyed shortly after sunrise and is a great way to take in the view and fresh sea air. A short car journey followed by an hour’s hike is the best way to visit an elephant herd in the jungle.
Regarded as one of South-east Asia’s most sought after beach destinations, Ngapali has a limited number of five-star and boutique hotels nestled among its palm trees, catering to the high-end market. However, cheaper options are available and more are expected to sprout up in the near future. The warm hospitality of the people of Myanmar ensures that visitors can expect to be welcomed as guests as opposed to tourists, regardless of how many stars the hotel has. The most popular time to visit the area is between November and February, with the majority of hotels closed during the monsoon season, which lasts from May to October. While not as busy, hotels in the area are open in the hot summer months from the end of February to the beginning of May.
Although plans are in place to enhance infrastructure and access to the stunning landscape, there is a consensus among tourism industry leaders in Myanmar that development must be carried out at a cautious pace in order to ensure the natural and cultural conservation of this once isolated nation. In the temple-rich countryside of Myanmar, from Inle Lake to Bagan’s vast and scattered pagodas, arrivals to the “Golden Land” will find no shortage of attractions. Visitors may be faced with challenges such as finding availability in a suitable hotel and making enough time to fit the numerous attractions into their schedule.
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