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Ngapali Beach: More than just Sand and Sea

Ngapali Beach has earned its reputation as Myanmar’s best beach thanks to its stunning blue waters, white sands and a tranquil atmosphere. And after a Myanmar holiday, a beach extension is the perfect way to round out the trip. However we realise that not everyone wants to simply relax on the sand so we headed to Ngapali to see what excitement is hiding beyond the tropical beachfront.

Our first stop was an elephant camp we had heard about on the outskirts of the beach. Ngapali is situated west of the Yoma Mountain chain, where elephants are still used for logging and other labour, so it is no surprise that an entrepreneurial local has established this camp. A 45-minute ride on remote roads lead us through an uncharted and peaceful jungle to the elephant camp where we met the owner Aung Myint Zaw. Initially skeptical, our worries about the elephant’s condition was quickly put to rest as we chatted over a cup of tea. The elephants are from a neighboring working camp and are treated like royalty by Aung Myint Zaw with more than ample food, free reign to wander during the days and medical care. Feeling reassured that these elephants were not ‘circus’ animals, we booked in for a ride the next day.

Early the following morning Aung Myint Zaw picked us up and after a short transfer we reached a jungle clearing where the two elephants were waiting. Exiting the car, our jaws dropped as we approached the imposing, yet gentle, elephants. Standing alongside them we were both overwhelmed by their size and impressed with their grace as they grabbed bananas and sweets from our hands. The ride was an incredible adventure, passing through small villages and jungle to reach an elevated viewpoint where we could see Ngapali beach’s shimmering white coast in the distance. Aung Myint Zaw also wanted us to learn about and connect with the gentle giants, so we joined the mahouts (elephant care takers) to bathe the elephants, a perfect way to complete our encounter.

That evening as we walked along the street deciding which of the many seafood restaurants to dine at, we met a chef who offered us a cooking demonstration. Although not a cooking class it was fun to learn the local Ngapali way of preparing seafood. We also had a chance to chat about the variety of fish and shellfish available and were told about the nearby fishing village which , he explained, was busy from the wee hours of the morning until around 9AM. We quickly scribbled down the directions and set our alarms for an early wake up! We met a restaurant owner who offers cooking demonstrations to show how local seafood dishes are prepared. While we were talking to him, we found out that he was also the boat supplier for a beach safari to Maung Shwe Lay. We knew what we were going to do the next day!

Awaking in the early morning we had a quick cup of coffee then set off for the fishing village. It was full of boats and fishermen unloading their catch from the night before. It was fascinating to see as buyers from hotels and restaurants, as well as families, came to bargain over the days fresh catch. Returning to our hotel for breakfast we then prepared for our next adventure- a day trip to Maung Shwe Lay, a typical village on the coast. Our guide, Min Min, arrived right on time and we boarded a local motorized wooden boat for our beach excursion. Casting off, we had beautiful views of Ngapali beach as well as neighboring Pearl Island and were fortunate to see some dolphins in the distance.

An hour later we reach Maung Shwe Lay where our hosts were waiting for us. The morning was spent exploring the village on foot and by ox cart. The solitude, tropical beauty and friendliness of the people gave us a feeling of a village stuck in a time warp- there were very few signs of modernity yet everyone seemed happy. We were blessed by the village monks who offered us safe travels and a healthy future, we visited a local workshop to learn how coconut shells are converted to coal and were fortunate to stop at the local library and school where we were able to donate much-needed supplies. The midday sun was getting intense so we retreated to a local house for a delicious seafood lunch followed by a swim in the clear waters. Snorkeling equipment allowed us to see the colorful fish and coral that inhabit the waters around the village. Soon it was time to return to Ngapali but not without a farewell send off from our hosts at Maung Shwe Lay.

For those wanting a bit more excitement on their Myanmar beach break, Ngapali certainly delivers. Although we only had time for these two excursions they provided plenty of adventure to counter our lazy beach days and we are looking forward to going back and discovering more. If you, too, are curious about what is hiding behind Ngapali’s beautiful sandy beaches than check out our beach extensions.

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