Myanmar

Exploring Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Region

The Ayeyarwady region was the last area of Myanmar that Ollie and I visited during our most recent trip to the country in December 2016 – January of this year. It is a very different part of Myanmar, occupying the delta region of the Ayeyarwady River with the Bay of Bengal to the south and west.

Pathein

From Yangon we travelled to the small city of Pathein, the capital of the Ayeyarwady division and the country’s fourth largest city. The port at Pathein is the most important in Myanmar outside of Yangon. We spent two whole days in Pathein, including New Years Eve and New Years Day, and very quickly came to love the city. We found it peaceful and easy to navigate with a very scenic waterfront, lots of interesting Buddhist temples and, of course, the famous umbrella workshops that the city is famous for.

The most well-known temple in Pathein is Shwemokhtaw Paya, which was originally founded by King Ashoka of India in 305BC. The stupa is 46.6m tall with the top layer made of solid gold, the middle tier of pure silver and the third tier of bronze; diamonds, rubies and semi-precious stones also feature.

We spent our first day ambling around the city; we walked along the waterfront with its many colonial-era buildings, explored the temples and the odd crumbling mosque and, in the evening, enjoyed the riverside street market. The sunset over the river was fantastic, the sun a golden ball reflected in the calm water.

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Sunset over the Ayeyarwady River

Ayeyarwady Delta Tour

The following day we hired a guide and went on a tour of the surrounding rivers and wetlands; it was a wonderful opportunity to get a taste of traditional village life in the delta region. Outside of the city, journeying through the narrow river-ways, everything was very quiet and still; the surrounding area was lush green countryside.

During the course of the day we stopped at a couple of small villages, where the local people were busy with their agricultural work. We enjoyed a filling Myanmar style lunch at one such village, complete with unlimited Chinese tea. Our guide and his friend, who had tagged along, were fantastic; they were very knowledgeable about their local area and spoke flawless English. The tour ended with a visit to the umbrella workshops in town, which are known across the country for their wonderful hand-made products. The beautiful umbrellas are also exported to many other countries.

New Years Eve in Pathein

That night was New Years Eve; Ollie and I spent some of the evening down at the riverfront, where festivities were taking place, including a music concert. We didn’t stay out until midnight though!

Pathein is a lovely relaxed city with many modern conveniences, including a supermarket, that still manages to hold on to the atmosphere of traditional Myanmar. Its main market is lively and its Buddhist temples and pagodas as timeless as ever.

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Traditional Umbrellas of Pathein

Chaung Tha Beach

From Pathein Ollie and I continued on to Chaung Tha beach, one of three beach resorts on Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal coast. Chaung Tha is the most down to earth of the three and where a large number of locals head for their holidays. It isn’t the cleanest beach in the world, made worse by the red betel nut spat out by locals on much of the southern stretch.

Again, we spent two days here, relaxing and taking leisurely coastal walks. There are several offshore islands that can be explored and activities such as horse riding; bicycles, quad bikes and inflatable rings can also be hired. We took a small boat over to the island directly south of the main beach, which has a small hilltop pagoda and offers decent views out to sea. But, in general, we avoided the southern-most part of the beach; instead we headed north and the further north we walked, the quieter it became. The beach at this end is also much cleaner and makes for a nicer place to escape to.

There are many hotels and guesthouses at Chaung Tha that cater to all budges; we stayed at the friendly Shwe Ya Min Guesthouse, where we had our own spacious bungalow that included a decent breakfast. Meals at the attached restaurant were also good value albeit the standard Myanmar staples that we had become very used to.

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An Unusual Horse at Chaung Tha

Chaung Tha to Ngwe Saung by Motorbike

From Chaung Tha we had an adventurous journey to Ngwe Saung beach, each taking a motorbike taxi, along with all of our belongings. If it had been on tarmac road things would have been easy. But our journey was via beach, jungle track and dirt road; we also had to dismount three times to cross small rivers by simple wooden boats.

Despite the fact that things were a bit hairy at times, this was a journey like no other and one that we will always remember very fondly. Riding at full speed across the wet sand of deserted beaches in Myanmar was a thrilling experience; I was very glad that I wasn’t driving though! Our drivers sure had skill.

Ngwe Saung Beach

Ngwe Saung beach is much cleaner than Chaung Tha with white sand; the sleepy fishing village is also much more welcoming with fewer people and a nicer ambience. As there really isn’t much to do at Ngwe Saung, apart from relax on the beach, we only spent two nights here. If you are looking for a beach getaway after a few hard weeks travelling in Myanmar, this is, however, the perfect place to kick back for a few days.

The beach stretches for several kilometers and Ngwe Saung village can be found at the northern end. There are plenty of local restaurants as well as a few basic shops, a few of which sell locally produced handicrafts. Generally, accommodation in Ngwe Saung is much more expensive than at Chaung Tha and there are few budget options. The place we stayed at had bamboo cottages for $35/night but we opted for the cheaper alternative – a very basic room inside the main building for $25/night, which came with only a mattress on the floor! We might have stayed longer had our lodgings been better.

We spent most of our time at Ngwe Saung walking along the lovely sandy beach and sitting, relaxing, taking in the sweeping views. We ventured into the sea once for a quick swim but the waves were pretty big. After that we stuck to walking in the shallows, which felt much safer.

There are offshore islands that can be visited from the beach; boats and guides can be hired to take you to some excellent snorkeling spots around these islands. Trips to local fishing villages can also be arranged with motorbike drivers.

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Endless Sandy Beach at Ngwe Saung

Ollie and I are very glad to have explored the Ayeyarwady region of Myanmar; it was, in fact, the last region of the country that we hadn’t visited. We have now been to every state in Myanmar!

We loved the city of Pathein, especially our boat trip into the surrounding wetlands, and enjoyed our few days relaxing on the beaches. We would definitely recommend Ngwe Saung over Chaung Tha but the exhilarating ride between the two is not to be missed, even if you do a day trip to Chaung Tha from Ngwe Saung! Of the three beach resorts on the Bay of Bengal, Ngapali Beach is the most exclusive; those in the Ayeyarwady region are more affordable and significantly closer to Yangon, which was where we headed next.

Yangon was our final stop in Myanmar; after one night in the city we took our flight out to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Manila. We love Myanmar and will return someday soon; after three trips to the country there is still more that we want to explore. We also hope to live in Myanmar at some point, teaching English as we are currently doing in Thailand. The people of Myanmar are very special and will always have a firm place in our hearts.

Looking for more Myanmar highlights? Check out Bagan and Inle Lake!

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