On the road again! Our goal : the secluded Burmese Far-West. To reach it : 30 intolerable hours of crazy bus drive on chaotic dusty roads to the most occidental part of the country, two streets away from Bangladesh…
Vamos a la playa, Ngapali beach here we come!
Right, you must wonder why we are talking about beaches now… On the first paragraph we were telling you about a 30hrs bus drive… Well, we haven’t been totally honest with you. We are afraid it was merely a lame and vile attempt to hook you on the story! Indeed, 30hrs is the exact time needed to reach Mrauk-U, except we didn’t do it in one go! To be fair, we felt we wouldn’t survive that long in a Burmese bus, so we split the trip in two and stopped for two days… At the beach! Hello palm trees, 30°C turquoise water, and fancy cocktails with a tiny parasol on top! …What? It was Christmas after all!
Beaches at Ngapali are quite pretty. Nothing comparable of course to the unique karst beauty of Krabi, in Thailand, where we stayed two weeks ago but more valuable in one thing : the quietness! It’s obvious that Burmese people are willing to try their best to steal a few visitors from their rich Thai neighbour in the near future. Paradise resorts, Clearwater hotels and « most delicious seafood » restaurants are popping up like mushrooms all over the place. Knowing the long lasting difficulties and underdevelopment of the country, we really hope that they will be successful! Meantime, we are quite happy to enjoy the nearly empty white sand beach. We share a fair amount of time here between swimming in the soothing blue sea and eating crazy quantities of delicious tiger prawns and fresh fish.
At first, the plan was to spend only one resting day at Ngapali beach, just enough for our lumbar spines to recover a bit before carrying on. You have to imagine that a burmese highway is even smaller than the tiniest road of New-Zealand or Scottland ! And more than smaller, it’s also totally damaged, with no edges, and from time to time bitumen appears between holes and crack… Then think about the buses. Most of the cars in Myanmar are imported from Japan. So the wheel in the right hand side, but they drive also on the right side of the road ! Pure logic…
And finally, to complete that bus trip description, we’ll have to talk about the ambiance : local pop music, played very loud in the cheap loudspeakers of the bus, and a huge low quality flat TV playing cheesy video clip and flashing light in your face. This is non stop during all the trip. Burmese people probably never sleep ! The top of the top was local people resistance to bus trips : our neighbourght threw up 7 times. That was a average score compare to the other passengers…
But fate decided otherwise, since the following morning the only bus for Mrauk-U was full as an egg. Damn! Stuck in paradise for another day. What a pain!
We could have managed if it wasn’t for Christmas and Burmese new-year public holidays. Not a single room available! We lost a good part of the day walking from hotels to resorts and the other way around with no results. Were we going to spend the night on the beach? No better way to ask for troubles with the Burmese police… Fortunately, a man finally offered us an « unofficial room » in a hotel under construction, facing the sea. The ceiling was cracked, the water was running cold and we had no electricity but we’ve certainly done worse and what a view from the deck, guys! Or, how to spend an amazing night lit by candles, listening to the crash of the waves…
We sneaked out quickly from the room the following morning. We knew from his uneasiness that the owner was taking some risks to let us sleep there unofficially. Even with the recent political change, the reality of the totalitarian regime is still quite vivid in Myanmar…
Mrauk-U, another world, another time…
Now we can picture you frowning in front of your screen, trying to pronounce the name of this amazing far-west town. It’s kind of funny, really. Okay so here is a little bit of help: Mia-ow… Here you go! A cat wouldn’t say it better.
We arrive at Mrauk-U/Miaow at 3 o’clock in the morning. A decent hour for any respectful Burmese bus! Following the established Burmese procedure, two guys escort us through the dark streets to help us find a room to stay. That consists in banging on the door of every hotels on the way while shouting like a madman to wake up the tenants, who never miss to open their doors with heavy bovine eyes and pillow marks on their cheeks. This until we find a suitable place to stay…
If we had to endure hell to come to Mrauk U, in those tin boxes they call buses, assaulted by revolting fish smells, Siberian AC, puking travelmates and unbearable local music, it’s because (as you must have guessed) the place is pretty rad! The simple act of wandering in the streets is already worth the trip. Beautiful colours. Fantastic light. Wonderful people. Golden dust everywhere… We spend ages in the market, fascinated by local life, or on the side of the main street, watching road-workers rebuilding it in a far-west-convict-style : by hammering down rocks to small pebbles then coating them with a highly pollutant tar taken out of a pile of old rusted barrels… It seems to take ages. NB.: road conditions in Myanmar won’t improve anytime soon.
We also arrive in Mrauk U in the middle of a very weird three-days long celebration. We fail to find anyone able to explain us clearly the meaning of it… What we can see is that all the youngsters in town, dressed like fancy halloween-gangstas, gather on top of old trucks and drive endlessly through the city, playing the last fashion electro hits as loud as they possibly can on numerous massive speakers while dancing like dislocated skeletons! Added to the piles of garbage decorating the streets, to the dim winter light and to the perpetual dust, it gives the atmosphere a rich surreal post-apocalyptic touch that would have certainly thrilled Mad Max’s director!
But what we first came here to see is not the city itself but a nearby large complex of very old temples, smaller version of Bagan in a different architectural style but still full charisma that you can enjoy at its best at sunset, when the dusty fog rises to mingle playfully with the last of the dying daylight. Amazing, as you can see!
Mrauk U is the second biggest archeologic site in Myanmar, with hundreds of temples, pagodas, and other monuments all around the place. A vast plain host the biggest and famous ones like the huge Paya Hukkanthein, the superb Paya Shitthaung, the big Andaw Pagoda, Sakya Man Aung Pagoda or Paya Koe Thaung and its 90000 Buddhas…
All the temples are also open to explore. The insides are real playgrounds for photographers, with their numerous dark labyrinthic galleries guarded by thousands of watching buddhas…
As you certainly came to understand, we really enjoyed the place, its remoteness (except for the bus ride) and our photo safari there. Moreover, Mrauk U is still on the « far » side of the country (considering its accessibility), and not many people take the time to get there, so you don’t get that many tourists standing in the middle of your souvenir shots !
No more far-west for today ! We hope you liked it as much as we did. Next time, we will be back on the beaten track with stupendous Bagan and her mesmerizing sunrise…
See you soon!
M. & Mme Shoes
Faces of Asia
Bus from Yagoon to Ngapali and Mrauk U :
- To Ngapali Beach, the easiest way is to ask your way in Yagoon bus station. There is so many bus inside AND outside the bus station that finding the good one is nearly impossible. We found one bus leaving around 3PM/3:30PM for 15000 Kyat. The direction is Thandwe, the closest village from Ngapali, but, the bus should drive to Ngapali Beach to drop people at the hotels. So make sure the bus is doing this and stay in ! We jumped off at Thandwe and had to pay 7000 Kyat (normal price 1500 Kyat) for a tuk tuk at 4AM ! The last 15km between Thandwe and Ngapali are some of the worst we’ve seen. It took around 50mn to drive it !
- Normally there is a direct bus service between Yagoon and Mrauk U, but we couldn’t find it. Try maybe asking for Sittwe.
- From Ngapali, a bus is leaving Thandwe bus station every day at 1PM in the direction of Sittwe and make a stop at Mrauk U. Be careful, it’s a small bus (between a bus and a van), so make sure you booked you ticket at least a day before. Price : 18 000 Kyat
Bus from Mrauk U back to the center :
- In Mrauk U, you’ll find a « nearly direct » to Bagan. Ask for a ticket to Kyauk Padaung. If you cannot get a ticket to that city, ask for a ticket to Magway and then when in the bus as to be dropped at Kyauk Padaung (it’s the same price, we paid 30 000 Kyat). When you’re in Kyauk Padaung, the bus to Bagan is 200m away, at the crossroad ahead on the left. In our case, at 2AM, the bus was waiting for us, our driver should have called the driver of the other bus. Price to Bagan : 2000 Kyat.
Sleeping at Ngapali Beach :
- You won’t any trouble finding accomodation in Ngapali Beach, unless, like us you arrive during public holidays. We slept the first night on the « only guesthouse » of Ngapali Beach, just next to the Art Gallery, and the Ice Factory. It was apparently the cheapest here (35$US for 3). Some luxury hotels like the Memento or the Laguna Beach Resort have some rooms for 2 around 40$US. Cheapest guesthouses are at Ngapali, a few kilometers away from Ngapali Beach. You’ll find there one called the Pink Caravan. It’s seems to be own by a girl from Sweden.
Sleeping in Mrauk U :
- We tried the Royal City Guesthouse, which also have bungalows, and a restaurant. In the guesthouse, the rooms where OK, with cold showers and electricity for 45000 Kyat for 3.
- Avoid Kyaw Soe, super cheap, but also super dirty, super small with very bad beds and holes in the walls….
Money in Ngapali et Mrauk U
- In Ngapali, the closest ATM is in Thandwe.
- In Mrauk U, you’ll find at least 1 ATM, but it was broken when we were there.
Internet in Mrauk U :
- Unless you have your own SIM card with data on it, or unless you sleep in a luxury hotel, you’ll have trouble finding an Internet connexion in Mrauk U. We managed to connect, asking the reception of Mrauk U Hotel, a fancy hotel, who accept to let us use it because we had bank troubles. But we’re not sure they will let everyone use it… Try to ask, who knows, the staff was super cool 🙂