A few more general observations and fun facts about Myanmar before heading into our Dawei tales.
- We found out that thanaka, a white cosmetic / sun protector worn mostly by women and kids, is made from the ground bark of certain trees mixed with water.
- Throughout Myanmar there are no international food or shopping chains. In nearly 4 weeks we only saw one, a Pizza Hut in Yangon.
- Young men are very fashion conscious. Dyed hair and trendy haircuts are very common, even from the young age of 4 or 5.
- Since the regime has been placated, the influx of cars has gone through the roof. Until a few years ago, there were barely any.
- There was no internet in the country till 5 years ago. As a result, low cost mobile phones have since boomed, and current penetration is of 1.8 mobiles per person.
- Women and men (and sometime kids) have no qualms in loudly clearing their throats and spitting on the ground. It’s something we won’t be missing.
Back to our travels… Dawei is the furthest southern city we’ll be seeing of Myanmar, which is sad because we had ambitions to make our way down to the very southern tip. We heard that getting to Kawthaung in the south is a lengthy and uncomfortable journey as the roads aren’t all paved, so we decided to leave that part of the country for another time.
The main reason we went to Dawei is because it’s the gateway to some of the country’s wildest and most remote beaches. West of Dawei lays a collection of faraway beaches, all day trips from Dawei with a scooter; and south of Dawei sits a more distant peninsula with another set of seemingly amazing beaches. We were keen to explore both so decided to stay in the area for 5 days.
On day 1 our aim was to cover 3 beach destinations – Maungmagan, San Maria Bay and Pa Nyit – so early morning we went to hire a scooter to begin our journey. The shopkeeper apologised for only having 1 scooter left and especially for it being an automatic, but we didn’t really understand why and happily set off with our new motor. It wasn’t until beach #2 that we realised why a manual scooter would have been better – the roads were terrible!
Our first stop was Maungmagan, a very large stretch of sand coasting a fishing village. We had read that the other beaches were prettier so we only stayed long enough for a paddle and to take photos of the masses of tiny crabs which paved the low tide sand.
Our next destination was San Maria Bay. After a few kilometers of weaving in and out of pretty villages on well cemented roads, our journey took an adventurous turn giving us a very uneven and very gravelly terrain. We slowly slalomed our way around the bumps till we met a kind man who must’ve spotted our lost looks and offered to show us the way. When we eventually arrived at the beach we quickly realised San Maria wasn’t the kind of beach where you can buy food and water – it was completely deserted. With two hungry, naive girls in his hands the kind man invited us to his bungalow house for lunch. We met his extended family – including a few gorgeous kids – and ate typical homemade Myanmar food: gingery soup, fried fish and rice.
The man’s generosity didn’t stop there as he then offered to guide us to the next beach, Pa Nyit. The roads here got even sandier and bumpier and unfortunately a particularly mean hill took hold of our back wheel and slipped us off the bike. Mostly intact (apart from my foot) we walked to the beach for a swim and to wipe off the dust and shake off the shock of the fall. The view was beautiful and we once again had the beach entirely to ourselves. Final good gesture of this lovely Myanmar family: cleaning and putting disinfectant on my foot (with accompanying mocking giggles).
Our day had peeked so we decided to make our way back home and relax. A big dinner followed, knocking us right out till the following morning. Day 2 arrived and our destination was another beach – Tizit. We hopped on our scooter and drove about an hour through very pretty villages and waving our hands to many kids who eagerly shouted hello and goodbye to us from the side of the road.
After a lunch of local fried delicacies, the second hour’s drive was up and down more sandy hills till we reached a small village by the sea. When the sand got too deep we left our scooter by a teeny cemetery and started walking through bushes and trees until we reached one of the most amazing sights we’ve ever seen – a huge complex of lagoons. We could barely see the ocean hiding behind a dune of sand but knew that if we walked through the shallow lagoons we’d reach our destination.
The sand was white, the breeze gentle, the water warm but refreshing, and once again the beach was completely deserted. It must have been at least 5km long, with a fishing village at one end and a leafy forest at the other, and we were the only ones there. It was a mind-blowing sight and the best possible reward after another treacherous journey.
By day 2 our beach days in the Dawei area were already beyond belief but little did we know they were about to get better. We spent the following 3 days in the region’s southern peninsula, specifically on Paradise Beach. After a few issues booking our accomodation we eventually managed to book a tent in the only resort in the area. The 3h drive was quite beautiful and the sore bums totally worth it. The secluded beach was not only postcard perfect but also the place where we made some lovely new friends. Our family on Paradise Beach was made of: Debbie and John, a 60 year old couple from Idaho; Asia, a fellow Italian; an interesting French family who lived in Yangon; a Spaniard, a Chilean, a German, a Peruvian and a quirky French lady.
Because the beach is so remote, once you’re there you don’t want to leave, so we basically spent 2 days on the beach chilling with our new friends. We swam lots, played cards, read our books, beat our record at bat n ball, and realised we’re not very good at frisbee. The sunsets were incredible, the water amazing, and we even had a midnight swim with glowing plankton. We also ate lots of fish – steamed with ginger and chilli and straight from the BBQ.
Waking up to the sound of waves is quite the life, so much so it even makes you forget you’re sleeping in a boiling tent!
After two days we left Paradise Beach with a few friends and drove to our final Myanmar beach, Grandfather Beach, another amazing spot with fine white sand and a luscious green backdrop. This heavenly coastline I’m sure would be spectacular from a boat and my gut tells me that in a few years time, when tourism picks up even more, there’ll be plenty of those opportunities. We can only hope that its remoteness and ruggedness won’t be entirely overtaken by 5 star resorts and more Pizza Huts.
5 days in heaven ended on a slightly sore note with our last hours in Dawei spent at a hospital so I could get my foot looked at. The infection had worsened swelling my foot up like a balloon, but luckily nothing a few pills couldn’t take care of.
Myanmar is without a doubt a new favourite and we can only highly recommend it if you’re up for a bit of an adventure.
Next stop: Phuket with Annalie’s sister Rachel!
Ciao for now xx