The town of Dawei and the surrounding area is earmarked for major development over the next decade or so, with projects such as a major deep-sea port, a 4-lane super highway direct to Bangkok, and a straight rail link to China. Fortunately, none of these have quite got off the ground yet, and have been further delayed by the elections and the uncertainty surrounding the (hopefully!) new government.
As such, we headed down south to a part of Myanmar with stunning coastline and idyllic beaches. Sadly, the region even further south and the islands of the coast that are famous for untouched high quality diving are off-limits to tourists (well, those who don’t want to pay a fortune to the military government in permits anyway). However, the beaches near Dawei itself were supposedly the stuff of fairytales, and so they were our target for some chill out time before the inevitable chaos of the Return of the Beaut in Bangkok.
Buses to Dawei from Yangon take 9-10 hours according to the guide book, but we didn’t manage either journey in much less than 16, and it was complicated by regular police checkpoints where all foreigners needed to have their passports photocopied.
The town of Dawei itself isn’t much, although there is a nice coffee shop (Dream Journey), and a few restaurants. This made it even more important for us to get to the beach! Transport options are a bit limited however, so we hired scooters for a couple of days and went exploring! The main ‘tourist’ beach (we saw two Frenchmen there), Maungmakan Beach – to the north of Dawei, although nice enough, didn’t quite have the feel we wanted, so we aimed our bikes further south the next day onto the peninsula.
We had been warned that some of the off-road tracks to the beaches were tough for those inexperienced on bikes, but we still were unprepared for what awaited us! We went to two different beaches, both of which were utterly idyllic and so beautiful, but it is the drives there that will remain etched in our minds for evermore!
The first day, we headed about 25km down the peninsula before following a sign (helpfully labelled “Beach”) that led over the hills and into the dunes, arriving in a fishing village right on the beach – after you’ve negotiated a way round the waist-deep tidal waters of course…! Think villagers repairing their narrow wooden boats on the beach; nets hanging out to dry and to be fixed; and gorgeous expanses of golden sand and you’ve got it about right! Well worth the drive!
I’m not sure that we would say the same for our second beach attempt the next day…! We decided to go further down the peninsula and see what else we could find. This was a mistake when we still didn’t know the Burmese word for ‘beach’! Two and a half hours later, with particularly numb bums, we saw another helpful sign (Beach – 10km), and went for it! What the sign should have read was: ‘Stunning beach in secluded cove, 11km away, though sand, gravel, dirt, forest, villages, mud, marsh and more sand’. Yeah – an adventure! It took ages, and more than once we were tempted to turn back as it just looked so unlikely that the path, as it got narrower and narrower, would ever end up at a beach! But we were stubborn, and eventually stumbled across a series of beach side bungalows ($30 per night if you’re interested) set in a stunning location. We were however, almost completely unable to appreciate it, as it had taken us so long to get there that we had a mere hour or so to regain our mental strength for the ride back – neither of us felt capable of that track after dark!
The thing that struck us the most from riding for miles and miles up and down the peninsula was the incredible happiness of the local people. Everyone, and I mean literally everyone, smiled and waved and shouted a greeting as we rode past. There was music in the streets, and an almost carnival atmosphere. We also had one of the nicest meals of the past few weeks in a roadside stall/restaurant – the lady only cooked one dish, but it was beautiful! And it was vegetarian – so it must have been really really good!!
All told – a lovely part of the world – but not the relaxing time we had pictured!