Exploring Ngapali Beach
Ngapali Beach, pronounced “Napalee” is truly a piece of heaven with its turquoise blue waters, white powdery soft sand and 7 km of dreamy beaches. It is located at the Bay of Bengal, in the South of the Rakhine State. During one of the warm summer nights we spent on the beach, a group of friendly locals told us the story of how Ngapali got its name. Apparently an Italian Sailor from Naples (Italian Napoli) reached the shores during his travels, loved it so much and felt home straight away that he called the beach his new Napoli, hence ”Ngapali” . The region of Ngapali Beach has become one of my favorite beach and ocean locations in Asia and it is located in Myanmar! Yes, you wouldn’t have guessed it but Myanmar has some incredible and completely undiscovered beaches to offer. Tall palm trees can be found all around the shores. The area has not yet been developed as drastically as other beach regions in Asia which gives you almost empty beaches. Discover one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia right here in Ngapali.
The country of Myanmar has recently reached UNESCO status for its temple city Old Bagan and is also world-famous for the leg-rowing fishermen at Inle Lake. Myanmar has so much to offer that after two weeks of exploring temples, lakes and mountain regions, we felt it was time for some beachy relaxation towards the end of our trip and reflect on the incredible memories we made in Bagan, Yangon and Inle Lake. Little did we know that we’d find such a great place! Getting here to Ngapali can be a little challenging and time-consuming but I definitely urge you to include this little piece of Paradise in your Myanmar Travel Route. The whole beach area already offers some beautiful and affordable hotels with Pools and Restaurants, most of them were designed in a beach-chic way, blending in nicely with the tropical nature and lush green jungles all around.
Why visit Ngapali on your trip to Myanmar?
Ngapali Beach is one of the hidden gems of Myanmar. It’s a perfect little slice of paradise that not many travelers seem to have discovered just yet. Visiting during high-season in January almost felt like we had the place to ourselves. Compared to many other beaches in Asia, Ngapali Beach seemed almost empty, truly heavenly! Not only is Ngapali Beach quiet, but it also has so much natural beauty to offer. The beach seems endless with its pristine blues and powdery, soft sand. Hundreds of coconut palm trees line up at the beach and create a perfect scenery. The clean lagoons have a lovely temperature, inviting you for a swim or 10. Having lived in the Maldives for 5 years, I wouldn’t have expected to find a beach rivalling some of the best beaches in the world, and this in a country like Myanmar. But Ngapali Beach could give some of the famous (and super expensive to reach) Maldivian or Thai beaches a run for their money!
There are already many hotels and guest houses to choose from, but it doesn’t have the same overdeveloped resort feel that you might find in other places, such as Phuket. It’s still quiet and lovely, everyone seems happy and relaxed. I hope it will stay this way for a long time, go soon though, you never know. Now, to get the expectations right: Ngapali is no secret tropical beach, but rather a small fisherman village region with some infrastructure, just about enough to make travelers comfortable. There’s an airport (Thandwe) and a couple of hotel resorts and guest houses, some rustic, some comfortable and some luxurious. Technically, you could also rent an apartment but hotel rates are rather low with 50-100 USD/ night on breakfast basis and have beach access. While I love being outdoors in the wild I do like some infrastructure with restaurants and road systems to get around. Ngapali is developed, yet it’s still rather quiet and laid back. Some travelers say it’s like Thailand 40 years ago…
What to do in Ngapali Beach?
Here are 10 Things To Do in Ngapali:
Ngapali is all about the beach and its surroundings. To make the most of it, a visit should take about 3 to 4 days to really experience and get to know this area without time pressure.
This one’s pretty obvious. A beautiful beach is an invitation to relax! Most hotels and beach shack restaurants offer comfortable sun chairs and lounges to relax in. Always carry some cash as credit card machines don’t work in these smaller beach bars and dining places. Ngapali is all about the beach and offers plenty of space for everyone, take your towel with you and find a good spot near the palm tree, it won’t be hard to find.
Take a long Walk on the Beach
The beaches in Ngapali are long and beautiful, taking a beach walk is just wonderful in the afternoon towards the sunset. There are many small bars around so definitely have a fresh coconut, and oh – they’re massive here with about 1 litre of coconut water inside! Always put on a lot of sun lotion, there’s usually a wonderful breeze so you won’t feel the sunburn coming. Remember to carry some water just in case you reach a more rural area and a pair of sandals might be a good idea if you’d like to walk along a jetty. The wood and floors can get quite hot, but you will not need any shoes for the soft beach. There are a few ladies walking on the beach, selling fresh fruits and in the late afternoon locals come out to play with their children in the sea.
Explore the Area by Bike
Ngapali is a quiet area with one long main road along the coastline. Rent a bike and hop on in the early morning, around 8:30 AM after breakfast. The road is about 10 kilometers long so you will be back before the heat of the afternoon, or do a nice tour in the afternoon for sunset. A Tip: At sunset the tide is low and it’s possible to bike down Ngapali Beach with the sand being a bit more firm. Take your camera, some cash and water. You can rent a bike (sometimes e-bikes would you believe it?) at almost all hotels, some small tourist shops on the main road or local restaurants also offer them. Bikes price are usually 3-5 USD per day.
Watch an incredible Sunset
The sunsets on Ngapali are jaw-dropping, and you definitely should not miss even a single one of them. Every night was a slightly different show of clouds, lights and stunning colors. Each sunset was more spectacular than the one before! It’s the perfect time to take a stroll on the beach, and if you’re a photographer you will get some fantastic photos. Alternatively, you can head to one of the beach bars around half an hour before the sunset, and order a cocktail. Our favorite was “Pleasant View Islet Restaurant” more about it under “Where to eat”. All of the bars offer happy hour just in time for sunset. What’s better than a cocktail paired with a fabulous sunset?
Get Sporty in the Sea
When you’re done relaxing, and some people never are, there are a few small local stalls down the beach renting fun floaties and paddleboards but also jetskis and windsurfing gear. I would opt for the quieter option to preserve the peaceful atmosphere of Ngapali. Swimming in the lagoons is quite relaxed without major currents and even not as strong swimmers will find the depth just right - not too shallow and not too deep.
Take a Picture with the famous Ngapali Palm Tree
When you look for Ngapali on Instagram, mainly palm tree shots with a perfectly low-hanging trunk pointing towards the ocean. We looked for it quite a bit but it’s fairly easy to find and located right next to Art of Sand Resort. There’s also a small connecting road from the main street if you’re coming by bike. For pictures, the morning light is too harsh as the main palm trunk will be covered by shadows. Around 2.00 pm, the sun will reach the whole palm tree, and give you a shot like mine, but the best light will be around 5.30 -6.00pm during golden hour.
Boat Tour in the early Morning
The local fishermen of Ngapali Beach offer boat tours with their fishing boats. You can visit Pearl Island, a local island just off the coast and a few minutes away from Ngapali Beach. It earned its name from the underwater pearl farms producing beautiful pearls for jewelry and you can do some snorkeling around the reef as well. There’s a few corals and turtles around apparently but nothing famous we were told. Also, the trips are quite expensive with 40 USD, around 52,800 Kyats. We didn’t go because apparently the trip is a bit of a rip-off and we wanted to spend our time exploring otherwise but if you love snorkeling this trip might be just right for you.
Visit the hilltop Buddha Statue “Tilawkasayambhu”
From afar you can see this impressive statue watching over the lagoons of Ngapali. Our goal was to reach the very Southern tip of Ngapali and drive up a hill to see the “Tilawkasayambhu Buddha Statue“. We rented a driver for this and were charged about 50 USD for 4 hours. Slightly pricey but worth it! The Tilawkasayambhu Buddha Statue is located at the end of Ngapali’s beach strips and overlooks several lagoons and beaches.It’s really steep way up and when we visited, the road was still under heavy construction so please don’t drive there by scooters or bikes. The view in the end was worth the hastle though and stunning views awaited us up there. You can overlook the southern bay with it’s tiny colourful fishing boats all lined up waiting for their next fishing trip in the protected lagoons. The giant standing Buddha Statue is a guardian for the fishing villages and in one hand you can see the Buddha hold a red pearl, a symbol of protection against Tsunamis, floods and wild waves. Many people come up here to worship and meditate, don’t forget to take off your shoes and cover your knees and shoulders - even if nobody might be there to see you.
Visit the Southern Fishermen’s Village
Further South, the beach belongs is inhabited only by locals, who are living off the ocean by fishery. The village Gyeik Taw is a great place to see the locals getting on with their everyday lives. It’s a totally different atmosphere just next door to the hotels. You’ll see locals unloading fish from their traditional fishing boats, packing up their nets, sorting and spreading their catch on the beach to dry in the sun. Sorting and drying out fish seems to be the job of the women of the village, while the men focus on catching the fish. The beach is neatly covered with nets and small catch lying out to dry in the sun. Hundreds of small wooden boats float in the bay and with the fresh sea breeze we were surprised that the smell of fish was very little. Local fishermen and their families stay here in their wooden huts at the beach and life seems to pass by even slower. Friendly smiles greet visitors but barely speak any English, use your hands and feet to communicate and ask before taking pictures. I recommend to visit the village early in the morning around 7.30-8.00 am, when the boats return from their nightly fishing routine. Every night, the sea at Ngapali is dotted with green lights – that’s the fishermen out and about in their small vessels working the night away. They go for daily night-fishing trips, except for full moon nights. At full moon, their tradition forbids them to go fishing, as the fish are naturally drawn towards the light of the moon and they don’t want to use that unfair advantage. What a lovely way to treat nature. As soon as dawn breaks, the fishermen return to their village and bring home the catch of the day, which is later sold at the local market or to the restaurants and hotels.
Have a Seafood Feast – where to eat?
Seaview Restaurant “Blue Sky”
The Blue Sky, just like any other beach restaurant, is run by hard-working local families and is located right on the beach. It’s a feet in the sand dining experience, and all of the seafood served is caught fresh that day. The view across the sea during sunset is second to none, and the dishes are incredibly tasty and great value for money. On our first night, we went to have a small bite but after tasting the amazing food there we kept on ordering and had an accidental feast. Whatever you order, make sure to have the Ngapali Coconut Curry. It tastes like heaven and is the richest, most buttery and creamy coconut curry I have ever tasted. Also the Tiger Prawns were incredible and we ordered them charcoal grilled, with garlic sauce. Yum. Be sure to book if you want a front row table for sunset.
Pleasant View Islet Restaurant
This restaurant is located on a small island at the southern end of Ngapali beach and can be reached via a small jetty. It’s a great place for lunch or for sunset drinks in happy hour. During low tide, you can walk straight to the restaurant, but at high tide, you may need to take a very short walk through the shallows. This restaurant offers good food, with a large choice of tasty dishes but the main reason to visit is for its amazing bar location and and gorgeous lagoon views. Due to its prime location and popular drinks, a reservation is recommended for sunset and prices are a bit higher compared to other places on the beach.
How to get to Ngapali Beach?
The easiest way to get to Ngapali Beach is by plane. You can fly to Ngapali Beach direct from Yangon, Heho (Inle Lake), Bagan and Mandalay. It’s fast, safe and you won’t need any time to recover, which you might need if you travel by bus. The airfares range from $70 to over $100. Flights arrive at Thandwe Airport, and most hotels offer a pickup and drop off service, included in the price of the room. Thandwe Airport is just twenty minutes away from the main beach of Ngapali, making it a very quick transfer. If you’re on a budget, the bus from Yangon to Ngapali takes 15 hours and costs around 14000 Kyats (9 USD) per person. From Bagan there is no direct bus, it takes 24 hours so you might want to put aside some money for a flight. Traveling by bus can be exhausting and this takes over fourteen hours from Yangon, driving on rather bad roads.
Where to stay at Ngapali
Hotels and guesthouses in Ngapali are not the cheapest in Myanmar but still affordable. Guesthouses are anywhere from $15 to $30 per night and luxury hotels range from $50 to $150 a night on breakfast basis. We stayed at the Jade Marina Resort & Spa, directly in the middle of Ngapali Beach so we found moving around easy. It’s a beautiful resort with a large pool, Wellness Spa with Massages, Pool Bar, sumptuous outdoor breakfast and comfortable facilities. The staff was also friendly but had some difficulties with English. Once we wrote everything down for them to understand we were fine. There’s also a large variety of other resorts such as the Hilton but I was happy with our choice and I’d stay there again!
If you’re heading to Myanmar soon, be sure to leave some time to chill out at Ngapali Beach, at the end of your trip. After exploring the rest of the country, you will be glad to have some time to kick back and relax, in this incredibly beautiful location. I couldn’t think of a better ending to a holiday in Myanmar.
Through my Lense...