We were oh, so ready for a relaxing respite when we boarded our plane from Inle Lake. Our flight to Ngpali had been delayed due to fog. When we finally landed, the baggage claim consisted of a crew of Burmese men running around with luggage crying out and pointing, “Yours? Yours? Yours?” Though it seemed chaotic, the system works, within minutes we got all our bags. Maybe JFK should consider a new baggage system?
But once we made the short ride to the hotel, our mood shifted – because there it was, the Bay of Bengal! Blue, blue, blue waters and pristine white beaches like sugar, with nary a soul in sight.
Five wonderful days! The most strenuous activity we planned was a walk on the beach or choosing a local restaurant. In fact, Jim was in full-on “nope” mode. Before I could even formulate a question, I had his answer: “Hey, do you want to . . . . ?“ “Nope!”
First things first, we did what any weary traveler would do: showered, got into beach garb, and headed to check out the hotel restaurant for lunch. What I expected to be average hotel fare turned out to be fantastic – a sticky, spicy chili crab for me, a big bowl of noodles for Yao Yao, and a delicious prawn salad for Jim, with refreshing homemade ginger iced tea. We sat gazing over the snowy white, finely raked beaches and watched the fishermen on their boats and the pristine beach with maybe 15 people on it – tops.
This is exactly what we needed. We spent the next five blissful days swimming, reading in the shade, napping, walking on the beach, and eating fresh barracuda, crab, and other seafood delicacies.
In Western countries we like to rent a car, which gives you a ton of freedom to gad about, but we don’t typically in Asia. And actually, here would have been a good place to hire one, since you’re just driving along the coast road for the most part. Plus, there were very few taxis to be had – the first night we had to wait 45 minutes to go into town for dinner. We rolled with it and learned to book transportation about an hour before we really wanted to go anywhere. Huge swaths of the main road were under construction, too, and there were huge potholes everywhere, adding to the adventure.
The little tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorcycles with small truck-beds with two facing benches) provided a kidney-damaging ride into town. As we were also sunburned and in summer clothes, the first night in the tuk-tuk we not only were bounced around, but were freezing as well. Hold onto the little ones or you’ll see them bouncing out the back! These makeshift taxis wait for you while you dine – something that takes some getting used to. Often the men just chat, drink tea, or nap in their vehicles until you’re ready to go back to your hotel, but with my Western sensibilities, I felt bad that our driver was cooling his heels while we sat over our appetizers.
Although our hotel was not my first choice, it turned out to be the perfect fit for us. The grounds were lush and tropical and the suites large, with stunning views. The beaches were raked every day, and there were only a few hotel guests and local families enjoying them. No one ever approached us to hawk souvenirs. We read that hotel villa and suites were a bit dated, and though an update wouldn’t hurt, they were fine.
The rooms were cleaned twice a day, the mini bar was stocked free of charge, and the little living area was perfect for Yao Yao to sit and read or sketch. We got two large stacks of towels a day (a necessity for us, as I am a towel hoarder!) and the breakfast buffet was perfect for us. Yao Yao got her pladas (basically fried dough with brown sugar), I got my fruit, and Jim . . . well he got everything he could get his hands on. It was a typical buffet in a Southeast Asia hotel – a wide selection of local, Japanese, Chinese, and Western fare, and loads of it. Most of the tourists we met were from Asia or Europe. We did not meet other Americans.
The food in Ngapali was good – really good. Good curries; Rakhine noodles, which were a little bit spicier than some of the other noodle dishes; plus a mix of Chinese, Thai, Indian, and Malay food in some of the tonier establishments. Jim was back in his element with fresh grilled fish (the barracuda was especially good), and local tomato salads with peanuts were delicious. And Yao Yao could get her yummy pladas at breakfast and even the occasional pasta dish. I was happy with chili crab wherever I could get it. If you like beer or mixed drinks, you’re in luck. Wine? Not so much. My drink of choice was tart, refreshing homemade limeade served with fresh mint.
Ngapali was a wonderful beach vacation with a few sights thrown in for good measure. The best part was we really got to reconnect with each other and savor what we had seen. The relaxing environment, the perfect weather, and the stunning beaches allowed us a place to reminisce about the two and a half weeks of sights and experiences and the warm, generous people we were so lucky to have met.
The sign of a successful trip is the impact it has long-term. Yes, it’s always fun, culturally enhancing, and exciting, but how does it change us or expand our perspectives?
I’m often asked if Yao Yao is too young to really remember or be impacted by these experiences she has all over the world. Here’s my answer: Two days after we got home, Yao Yao told me that she wondered how the Burmese children could have so few material comforts, yet still be so generous. She wanted to do something for some kids that didn’t have books. I know she is deeply moved by seeing others with less than she has, but I didn’t really give it another thought. A few weeks later when she came home from school, she told me she had recruited eight of her friends to join her in putting together a fundraiser.
They named themselves Cupcakes for Change, and worked with her school to get permission to have a bake sale. She met with one of the teachers, Ms. Tucci, and recruited her to be the event’s sponsor. Yao Yao co-opted me and the other mothers to do the baking. She held planning meetings at our house, and they divvied up the tasks of designing posters and labels. Three months later, the girls put on the most successful bake sale the school has ever had. (By the way, my house may never look the same again!) Yao Yao contacted Free the Children, an amazing organization where kids help other kids, and worked with one of the youth organizers, and the kids ended up donating 100% of the proceeds from the sales to that organization. All the girls (and mothers) did an amazing job. The best part is that Yao Yao is planning her next event for the spring! So does global travel really impact Yao Yao and her view of the world? my answer is a resounding, YES!
If you decide that you need more activity than musing on the Bay of Bengal (Jim: Nope!), you can take advantage of some of these activities, easily arranged through your hotel:
What do to
- Pearl Island – Good for snorkeling.
- Pirate Island – An uninhabited island, and you can have a BBQ lunch prepared and enjoy the pristine coastline.
- Aalat Htone – Known as the island of black sand.
- Salone Monastery – Home to a Buddhist monk who put himself in a “meditative state of death.” His mummified body is kept under
- Thandwe – A little town about eight kilometers from the beach, with a longyi factory, a local market, and three interesting pagodas.
- The Nansaw Paya – Purported to contain a piece of the rib of the Buddha.
- Golf – Neither of us plays, but if you do, have at it!
- Htay Htay’s Kitchen This little restaurant has a gift shop as well as the eatery. The food was good. The crab curry and large prawns were particularly tasty.
- Min Thu Great curry and clams, the grilled fish was excellent, and the owners really catered to Yao Yao desire for Western pasta.
Pleasant View Islet Restaurant
- Two Brothers This might have been my favorite. The grilled barracuda and tiger prawns were really good. We tend to eat late, and they were so kind, telling us to relax and not worry about rushing out due to the late hour.
- Brilliance Seafood A funky, family-run eatery that has good fresh fish at pretty inexpensive prices. It’s not as nice as the beach restaurants, but the food is every bit as good and the people who run it are charming.
Best Dishes in Ngapali
Yao Yao – Pladas with brown sugar and Burmese noodles with shrimp were my best meals.
Samantha– That’s easy, chili crab and grilled curry prawns! Wonderful tomato salads with spicy dressing and…
Jim – Grilled baraccuda, grilled to perfection, rakhine noodles and seafood curries..
Yao Yao – The water and beaches were so nice! The food was really good and I loved the tuk tuk’s. They were scary and exciting.
Samantha – Ngapali is paradise – the beaches are pristine, however military presence can be felt even in Ngapali. Burma is one of the loveliest countries I’ve ever visited, but the average Burmese citizen is far from free and that was challenging.
Jim – I was surprised at how much I needed the time to decompress and how perfect a choice Ngapali was. Myanmar was fascinating and lovely, but there were haunting images and political issues that were hard for us to come to terms with.
What to Buy
Yao Yao – I bought bracelets for my friends and a lacquer box for my mom’s birthday.
Samantha – I bought baskets made from colorful recycled materials, perfect for carrying home our spoils. Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Yangon are really the shopping mecca’s. If you are an ardent shopper, don’t wait until you get to Ngapali. If you are like me, it will be hard to leave that beach.
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