Have you been hearing a lot about Myanmar? Feeling the buzz build around Burma? A lot has changed in the last few years. This recently closed-off country is starting to blossom, and tourists are running toward–no longer away from–its borders with Thailand, Laos, and India. But does that mean you should extend your next Indian Ocean vacation to take your first trip there?
The second-largest country in Southeast Asia has a long history of unrest. Dynasties were invaded and empires were conquered numerous times before the British arrived in the 19th century. Independence in 1948 was followed by civil wars and military rule. Human rights violations resulted in trade and economic sanctions by the U.N. But a 2010 general election reduced the military’s power, and the country with two names is finally on a path toward democracy.
Enter the tourists. From afar, people have had their eye on the Bay of Bengal’s beaches for years. And now they are quietly flocking to Ngapali Beach, which is considered the best beach in the country. The three-kilometer beach is filled with golden sand and lined with palms. The single-lane main road is sandy; locals get around on ox carts, tuk-tuks, and bikes. At the Amazing Ngapali Resort, you’ll be welcomed with fresh coconut juice. Villas, which are surrounded by gardens and coconut trees, have views of the calm, turquoise water. It feels like Thailand or Indonesia. But it’s Burma.
If you still haven’t recovered from your jet lag, wake up early and bike north to the village of Jatetaw. Fishermen start returning with their daily catch around 6 a.m. Or bike to Thandwe, an ancient town with three pagodas: Nan Daw, San Daw, and Ann Daw. Wander through the local market, check out the intricate weavings, and buy a coconut carving doll. Return to the resort for a nap or a traditional Thai massage at Spa Thukha. Spend the afternoon snorkeling around Pearl Island or sip an amazing punch–made with fresh mint, lemongrass, and rum–by the pool.
When it’s time for dinner, walk down the beach until you find the Dragon King. The restaurant’s tables sit in the sand, and the menu is written on a big board. As the sun goes down, eat big prawns, barracuda, and lobster. An unordered banana-and-strawberry pancake appears after your seafood feast. And the beer never stops flowing. All for a few dollars.
Ngapali Beach won’t remain this peaceful for long. New hotels have already broken ground, and the airport is expanding. You’re not the only one with a Burma craving.