Ngapali Beach, Myanmar – Part 1

We decided to spend that last few days of our trip through Myanmar relaxing at Ngapali Beach, and that we sure did. Even from the moment of our arrival at Thandwe airport, we knew that this was the place to be in Myanmar if you just wanted to do nothing for a few days. After all our wandering the streets of Yangon, spending days cruising around Inle Lake, and exploring the temples of Bagan, we enjoyed a few days by the beach before heading back to reality. Ngapali Beach is one of the most popular and most touristed beach in the Bay of Bengal, on the western side of Myanmar. But unlike other beachside resorts in South-East Asia, Ngapali Beach is unusually quiet and laid-back – although it was their peak season, there seemed to be no one around. It’s definitely not the place to come if you want to party into the early morning, but rather a place to relax, go swimming, take long walks along the beach, visit the small seaside villages and enjoy the freshly caught seafood. We were lucky enough to find accommodation on a small stretch of beach, just north of the main beach. All that was here was our lodge, a small fishing village consisting of no more than a dozen homes, two small local beach ‘restaurants’ (a ‘kitchen’ made from local bamboo and palm leaves, plus two or three tables in the sand) and a few fishing boats swaying in the water. If you really want to get away from it all, I can’t think of a better place.

We spent our first day here walking the stretch of the main beach and visiting the fishing village at its southern end. Of course, being by the seaside, we enjoyed an endless supply of fresh locally caught seafood, which by Australian standards, was incredibly cheap. Grilled prawns, tuna steaks, squid, grilled whole fish… you name it! We also tried the famous Myanmar tea leaf salad during our stay at Ngapali Beach. I wouldn’t quite say it was delicious, but it was very interesting, and had great unusual flavours.

Since the Bay of Bengal faces west, we enjoyed some incredible sunsets, usually whilst sipping a cocktail or two.

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Essentials

Getting There:
Again, if you want to same time and hassles, ditch the bus and fly to Thandwe airport, which is located about 10km north on Ngapali Beach. Most hotels should organise a pick-up service as taxis are virtually non-existent in this area.

Stay:
Our accommodation at Ngapali Beach was probably our favourite in Myanmar. We stayed at Yoma Cherry Lodge, located in a small bay just north of the main beach. Excellently run by an English lady called Sue, there was nothing that we could find fault with. The room was large and clean and looked out onto the beautiful tropical gardens. The dining area overlooked the beach and was perfect for that sunset cocktail. The staff were friendly and the restaurant food tasty. We felt as though we were staying at a friend’s beach house. And the location was excellent – we were the only lodge, bar one, on this secluded beach, located near Lin Tha village. If you want to get away from it all, this is the perfect place.

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Bagan, Myanmar – Part 2

We begun our second day in Bagan with an early morning hot-air balloon flight! It was nothing less than amazing. I had flown in a hot-air balloon only once before, in Cappadocia, Turkey, back in 2013 (you can see the pics here).  And it was Jonathan’s first time. I have to say that I think the landscape of Cappadocia was more stunning, but the view of Bagan from the air, with its hundreds of temples dotted across the landscape, glowing in the dawn light, wasn’t far behind. It was incredible to see the vastness of the Bagan ‘complex’ from such a height – seeing it from the air really made me appreciate the greatness of the place. I’d highly recommend spending the bit of extra money whilst in Bagan and take a balloon flight.

We spent quite a few hours that day wandering around Myinkaba searching for the perfect piece of lacquerware. There isn’t much in Myinkaba, except a few workshops dotted amongst a few dozen homes. Myinkaba is the place to purchase laquerware in Myanmar. The people of Myinkaba have been producing lacquerware for generations, with many workshops producing their own unique styles and patterns. There are so many lacquerware workshops in Myinkaba (a small town located between Old Bagan and New Bagan) that it can be a little difficult to decide what to buy and from which workshop. Take some time to browse through a number of stores, talk to the store holders and get an indication of the price you should be paying. Most places have set prices, but will go down 10%-20% if you bargain hard enough. We spent close to 3 hours going back and fourth between the workshops, before finally setting our eyes on a particular piece, then bargaining on a price. We finally left with a stunning three piece lacquerware set (I had my eye on the piece in the first workshop we visited), which we now keep on display in our lounge room.

The remainder of the day was spent wandering around Bagan on our hired push-bikes, visiting the temples of Shwezigon Paya (with it’s beautiful gilded zedi), Htilominlo Pahto and finally watching the dusty sunset from Shwesandaw Paya.

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Essentials

To Do:
Hot-air ballooning! Just check out the photos above! Perhaps not quite as spectacular as hot-air ballooning over Capadoccia in Turkey, but it’s pretty good. Seeing all the temples, pagodas and stupas from the air at sunrise is absolutely spectacular. We spoke to a couple who have flown in hot-air balloons all over the world and they said they flight in Bagan is second only to that in Capadoccia. We flew with Balloons over Bagan, who are the pioneers of hot-air ballooning in Bagan (being the only outfit until about a year ago when Oriental Ballooning showed up) and seem run a well-oiled business. They employ experienced and well-trained pilots and have not had any incidents since their establishment in Bagan in 1999. I’d definitely recommend splurging on a hot-air balloon flight whilst in Bagan. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Shop:
If you want to purchase Myanmar lacquerware whilst on your trip, Bagan is the place to buy it. The small town of Myinkaba, located between Old Bagan and New Bagan, has been producing lacquerware for generations. There are a number of workshops in this town, so it’s worth taking the time to look around and compare styles, prices and quality. I purchased a beautiful piece from Shwe La Yaung Lacquareware Store, located on the main road of Myinkaba. I found a piece I fell in love with and the owner of the store was very helpful and informative. But do shop around before making a final purchase.