As many of us now live in crowded cities with the stress and strain of overpopulation, we need periods of relaxation away from the urban areas and go back closer to nature. Undoubtedly one of the best places for a relaxing holiday is Ngapali Beach near Thandwe (Sandoway) in Rakhine State, on the Bay of Bengal. Ngapali Beach is one of the prettiest places in Myanmar, it is also one of the most untouched beaches in the world, with miles of pure white sands skirting the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean.
Ngapali is not a single beach, it is a series of beaches with intermittent small fishing villages stretching from Mazin where the airport is located to Lontha on Mayo Bay where coastal steamers dock in a sheltered anchorage. A small road winding its way along the coast from Mazin to Lontha, passing through Ngapali village, Shwewa Gyaing, Myabyin, Lontha, and several other small villages intertwined with the beaches and the hills along the coast.
A golf course next to the road near Ngapali village has been upgraded. The road has also been widened, from two lanes to four lanes, and the airport extended to take bigger planes. A new terminal building has already been constructed. It takes only 45 minutes of flying time from Yangon.
After resting on the beach under the clear blue skies, the more energetic tourists or traveler has the option of exploring the range of hills. Once you are in the small hills you will find a peaceful lake, which is usually a reservoir with blue waters where you can fish but not swim. In the winter months, this lake is the resting place of migrating waterfowls, wild ducks, teals, and others which come down from the far north, beyond the borders of Myanmar.
Ponies may be available for riding along the beaches. Motorized boats can be rent for trips to the islands off the coast or just to fish near the reef. Some travelers like to go on what is known as “sidecar” (trishaws), pedaled by local village men with two back-to-back seats for passengers at the side. The best way is to hop on a bicycle to go around.
Ngapali is not only the sea and the sky, the beach, and the peace that comes from close contact with nature. For those who are interested in history, in antiquity and ancient remains, the area around Ngapali can be explored. Thandwe (Sandoway) the nearest town, which is only about four miles from Ngapali, is an ancient centre of Rakhine culture.
Thandwe is recorded in history as one of the ancient capitals of Rakhine up to the end of the tenth century when the Rakhine kings set up their capitals in Mrohaung and around that area. Known under its classical Pali name as Dwarawadi, it was the capital of one of the four provinces of the old Rakhine Kingdom.
Three well-known pagodas on three hills surrounding Thandwe can be visited. The Sandaw Pagoda (AD. 784), Sandaw means a hair relic of the Buddha, is at the southern end of the town, near the Thandwe River, and the Andaw Pagoda (AD. 761), named after a Buddha’s tooth relic, is on the opposite bank and visitors have to walk some way to get there. The Nandaw Pagoda (AD. 763), which enshrines a sacred rib relic of Gautama Buddha, is at the northern end of the town and there is now a small road going up the hill. You can see a great scenic view of the Thandwe River and valley surrounded by the Rakhine Yoma mountains.
The name “Thandwe” means “iron-bound”. It comes from a legend, the city in ancient times had the power of soaring above the earth in times of danger. During the reign of Nareindo, the country was invaded by Vasudeva and his nine brothers. With the help of a master magician, the brothers were able to deprive an iron chain, or in another version, an iron pole, and hence the city became known as Thandwe or “iron-bound”.
Thandwe is now a pleasant town, with a big market in the centre. You can buy the local hand-woven cloth, basketry, shell souvenirs, and many varieties of fruits, fish, and other seafood like tasty oysters and mussels.