Getting to Know Ngapali

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After traveling through Myanmar for 11 days, we were tired of temples and stupas and ready for some R&R at the beach. Ngapali is a sleepy fishing village that has not quite attained the international recognition the beaches in Vietnam or Thailand have. Its white sand and clear blue waters have cemented its status as the premier beach in Myanmar, however. Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, Ngapali beach is located about 7 km from the town of Thandwe. This idyllic palm-lined beach was found years ago by a homesick Italian reminiscing about Napoli.  The laid back vibe here makes it the perfect location for some peace and quiet to recharge for a few days before heading back to reality.

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We were expecting Ngapali to be a bit overrun with foreigners since it’s considered one of the top beach destinations in Myanmar, but our worries were quickly assuaged. Although Ngapali is currently in the middle of a construction boom, right now there are only a handful of resorts spread across the 15 miles of coast.  That means the beach is relatively empty and still maintaining its charming fishing-village vibe.  This probably won’t last long as more developers set their sights on this pristine beach.

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Peak season here usually lasts from November to March. Even during the busy time, Ngapali is still a snoozy place with a non-existent night life scene. During monsoon season from June to October, the town shuts down completely and flights in and out are reduced to once a week. 

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Getting There:

Flying is the easiest way to get to Ngapali, with many domestic airlines offering frequent flights to Thandwe Airport from all the major hubs.  Our flight from Inle to Ngapali cost $125. It is possible to take a bus from Yangon all the way to the beach, but the journey is long and arduous and might not be worth the savings.  Once we arrived at the airport, we had to join the long line to register our passport; they are quite keen on keeping track of all the travelers.

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Unlike a typical airport, there was no place to pick up our luggage, it’s brought directly outside.  Our hotel rep offered to stay behind and track down our bags.

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Accommodation 

There are a limited number of hotels and resorts in Ngapali, compared to other beaches in Asia. If you want to be near the action, it is better to stay in the smaller hotels down the coast at Ngapali beach where there are lots of guest houses that face the ocean. The bigger resorts are further up the coast, about 10-15 mins from the actual beach town of Ngapali. The Ngapali beach area has more shops and restaurants, while the resort area is more quiet and remote, so decide depending on what experience you want to have.

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We choose to stay at the beautiful Hilton Resort in Ngapali.  Upon arrival we were greeted by a refreshing glass of coconut water and a cold towel. We were quickly checked in and informed that we had been upgraded.  We were pleasantly surprised that our status as a Gold member got us a villa with a private pool facing the ocean. We loved it so much, we extended our stay.  It only cost us $616 USD + 60,000 Hilton points for 4 nights.

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The villa was huge, clocking in at 2,200 square feet, about 3 times the size of our apartment in New York.  The door opens to a courtyard with an infinity fountain and an easy chair. Turning to the left is another door to the bedroom/living room area that overlooks the pool and ocean. Turning to the right is the bathroom that comes with a huge dressing area, a nice marble bath and an outside shower. From the bedroom, you can walk outside to the gazebo and private pool with direct access to the beach. The pool has a built in whirlpool and waterfall features.  This is without a doubt, the nicest place I’ve ever stayed at.

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The rest of the resort is just as nice with other rooms overlooking the garden and lagoon. There is an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean, located near the lobby area.

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The busy season just started at the end of November, so there were not a lot of people around.  The only sound we heard in the morning was the soothing Buddhist chants from the nearby temple and the soft crashing waves from the ocean.

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The staff always had a smile on their face. Our villa was cleaned twice a day, once in the morning and again at turn down service.  They always left us with nice treats like macaroons and fruits to enjoy throughout our stay. Everyone was attentive and helpful, always going above and beyond.  During one of our excursions to Thandwe, we didn’t plan for transportation back to the hotel, but fortunately, one of staff members saw us and offered us a ride home. 

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The People

The people here are super nice.  They don’t speak a lot of English, but they are always eager to help.  Whenever we mentioned that we were from America, the first thing everyone said to us is ‘Obama’, to show their instant recognition. One time we were biking around looking for coconuts and Fausto saw a bunch in a courtyard next to a shop. We figured they were for sale, so we stopped in to ask the shop owner.  It turned out the coconuts belonged to the people who live there.  The shop owner didn’t want us leave empty handed, so she told us to wait while she ran inside to see if they were willing to sell us a few.  Soon after, a sweet old lady came out to signal that she was willing to sell us two coconuts for 1,000 Kyat (less than a dollar).  After we agreed, the whole family came over to help cut the coconuts, each person had different input on how to open the coconut while keeping it from spilling. The grandma happily resided over the whole process, making sure that it was done perfectly. After thanking them profusely, we rode back with the coconuts in our bike basket, ready for another day at the beach.

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This is just one story of many.  We were always amazed at how nice and accommodating everyone was on our trip, but it was especially true in Ngapali.  Even with the language barrier, people were always willing to lend a hand.  It really made our trip memorable.

Where to Get Money

Ngapali beach is a sleepy fishing village with limited banking options.  There are only two ATMs in Ngapali – one located inside the Amazing Ngapali resort that was out of order, and the other further up the coast at the Amata hotel.  You can always exchange money at the hotel, but it’s probably better to plan ahead and have extra cash before you get there.

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Getting Around

Our hotel was located a long way from the main stretch of beach, which made us worried that we were going to be marooned there the whole time.  But after doing some research and talking to the concierge, we found out a few ways to get around.  The hotel recommended method of transportation is by taxi, that they can call at your request.  A 15 minute cab ride costs about $7 USD, which is pricey in my opinion.

The local method of transportation is by tuktuk, which is a motorbike with a sidecar attached.  The whole contraption looks flimsy, but they are quite sturdy and can even make it over the hills.  Make sure you hold on for dear life, especially when going around the bends since there are no seat belts.  It’s actually not as scary as it sounds, and can be quite fun to ride.  The other great thing is that they are much cheaper than taxi, the same journey only cost about $3 USD by tuktuk.

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If you are unsure about riding freestyle on the sidecar tuktuk , you can always call for a an auto rickshaw .  These open air mini trucks usually come with two benches in the back and are generally bigger than the rickshaws found in India.  They are only slightly more expensive than a tuktuk, but still much cheaper than a taxi.  If you find a driver that you like, you can arrange for him to take you around the area to visit the fishing villages.  The drivers are usually flexible – they are willing to meet at pre-arranged time at whatever location you want and you don’t need to pay until the end of the day.

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Another option are the free bikes provided by the hotels and resorts. The bikes are fun to ride to around, but since the town is spread out, it takes more than 30 minute to ride from our hotel to Ngapali beach.  If your hotel doesn’t provide bikes, there are local shops that rent out ebikes for the day.

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Where to Eat

There are a few restaurants along the big road from the airport to Ngapali town, but dinning options are limited and most places only serve seafood.  The best food can be found right on the beach. There are 10-15  shacks that sell drinks and the fresh catch of the day that was brought in earlier by the small fishing boats.

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Every night as the sun goes down, people come to this spot to watch the sunset.  The mood is chill as people sit back on their easy chair with a beer to gaze at the waning sunlight. When sun completely disappears, the umbrellas are lit up with twinkly lights setting the mood for dinner.  There is nothing better than dinner under the stars with the sound of crashing waves nearby.

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The menu is similar from place to place, but our favorite restaurant was the Sunset View.  After a perfect dinner of seafood and beer on the first night, we found ourselves coming back for more.  A feast of grilled red snapper, blue crab, coconut curry shrimp and a few beers only came to about $16 dollars.  This is probably expensive compared to other meals we had, but it’s only fitting to eat fresh seafood when you’re by a beach.  We were back so often, the owner recognized us from afar.

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What to buy

Located a short distance from the Ngapali coast is Pearl Island, the place where they cultivate pearls.  Mother of pearl and other pearl products are super cheap here.  These are authentic pearls, but are much cheaper than what you would find in a fine jewelry store because their shape is not perfectly round.  Some have parallel grooves that are formed naturally while inside the oysters. These flaws are a good indicator that the pearls are genuine and not a cheap plastic knockoff.  I love the the imperfections because it makes each necklace unique. The necklace only cost me about $20 USD, but the price varies depending on the length and quality of the pearls.

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She was posing for me while her mom was busy selling pearls

You’ll find lots of vendors selling them on the beach or in small shops along the road. The beach merchants are not aggressive as touts in other South Asian countries. They usually wait for you to approach instead of persistently following you around, which is nice.  Most have very limited language skills, so they usually negotiate by writing down the acceptable price on a booklet.  They are also very accommodating, and can put together a necklace to your specifications.

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