Ngapali Beach is in the Rakhine State of Burma. This beach town was hidden away from the world when tourism was essentially blocked by the military government take over. There are villages on one side of the road and a beautiful vast beach on the other. Ngapali Beach is four miles from the major city of Thandwe.
Baggage claim at the Thandwe Airport was the most chaotic scene of all. This system would never work in the United States. After we got off the plane we were waiting inside for our luggage. An airport worker instructed us all to leave that area and go outside of the airport. Now everyone from the flight is outside of the airport. A big cart was wheeled out with everyone’s luggage on it.
We all surrounded this cart (an entire plane’s worth of people) pulling bags off looking for our own. Mixed in were the employees sent by hotel’s to pick up their guest and airport workers trying to gather their guests luggage for them. It was crazy.
There was a dog at the airport who seemed to be a mother to puppies of all ages. The real question is who is the daddy? She was very irritated at the puppies and kept trying to run away. At one point she looked at me in desperation. When I left Ngapali I saw her at the airport again, still being hassled by the same puppies.
The locals I spoke with confirm that tourists are increasing in numbers every year. Tourism has more than doubled in the past two years. Still the beaches here haven’t really been discovered yet. Meaning there isn’t litter on the ground or tons of vendors set up selling something every few feet.
There are many local villages and people living their lives in a simple but traditional way. The ocean front has large westernized resorts short distances between each other. The Burmese have perfected the desires and comforts of travelers in these spacious resorts. The structure of the buildings are strong using quality supplies.
Is it wrong to want to be as far away from other tourists as possible? Thande hotel is located on the beach with all the amenities on property. It was one of those places that you never have to leave. It was paradise. The only problem was the feeling of disconnection to all of the local life, sights and sounds. Granted sitting on a pristine beach with table side service is relaxing and pampering but something was missing. The local people of Burma.
There are a few vendors set up hundreds of feet away from the resort. Only a handful of ladies selling fruit and a small area of vendor tables all selling sea shells, handmade bracelets, wooden bowls, elephants and spoons, placemats, lacquer boxes and a few t-shirts.
The most important person on the beach was the fruit lady. She sat about a hundred feet away facing all the sunbathers waiting for one of us to call her over for a coconut, papaya, watermelon or mango. This lady made a boatload of cash during the day.
The next hotel we stayed at was located further down the beach and across the street from the ocean. The Rivertop Lodge. It was here I felt that we were back in Burma. The nice resorts kept all of the locals away from that area. The Rivertop Lodge was right in the mix. Just a few feet down the road were where the locals lived, shopped and ate. While riding bikes through that area, we stood out like the tourists we were.
The stretch of beach by the Rivertop Lodge was a much different story than the luxurious Thande resort. Locals were everywhere. Fisherman were parking their boats at sundown, wild dogs were roaming pass and locals were swimming in the sea around sunset everyday.
The area wasn’t as manicured but still the beach was stunning. Even when the high tide came in, the stretch of sand left was still vast. There were empty plots of beachfront land with trees and lots of birds singing in them.
Seafood is a staple cuisine at the restaurants in Ngapali. Fisherman’s village is further down the street. Starting at 6am all of the local restaurants pick out their fresh fish and seafood for the day. Along the beach are several seafood restaurants and they to have the same menus. Offering fish and seafood fried, steamed, grilled or in a soup.
While eating at Silver Full restaurant on the beach, a Burmese movie star and her entourage came to the same restaurant to eat. Even though I had no idea who she was, the employees were really excited to have her there. They told me she was a big star visiting the beach from Yangon. I never got her name. I did however notice an Adam’s apple on “her” neck. . . . hmmm.
There were a few pagodas in town to see but the only thing on my mind was the beach. Renting bikes for the day turned out to be renting bikes for an hour. After riding in the stifling heat under direct sunlight with added humidity for an hour, we parked them at the beach and stayed there.
I was really impressed with the beaches in Ngapali. I know in the next several years this area will be saturated with tourists and resorts. I have many mixed emotions about heavy tourist areas. On one hand I’m happy for the town’s economy and on the other I am sad to see people and traditional ways of life displaced in the name of big resorts and congested beach front property.