Chaungtha, Myanmar - World class beach spiced with local color

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June 11th 2014
Published: June 11th 2014
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Chaungtha Chaungtha Chaungtha

Ox cart in front of our beach hotel.
We were there some years ago when it was not very well known to foreign tourists, and only the locals were there with the exception of one lone Frenchman. Chaungtha is probably one of my favorite beaches among many which I have been to around the world.

The name 'Chaungtha' in English means pleasant stream. Well, it really is pleasant, but certainly not a stream by any means. Chaungtha is a long stretch of fine beach situated on the Bay of Bengal, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the city of Bassein or Pathein as it is called now. Actually, this beach is named for the village nearby. Accordingly, it is more commonly known as Chaungtha Beach to separate it from the village. More about Chaungtha village later in this article.

We hired a private car with driver and left Yangon early in the morning. The driver turned out to be a real nice fellow, and we actually became good friends with him. Nowadays, you can make this trip in about five hours, but at that time we had to take a ferry to cross the river. So it took us around 7 hours to reach Chaungtha. I should
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Another ox cart on the beach. Note the two vendors selling coconut frond hats.
mention that a couple of years ago a bridge was built over the river (I can't recall the name of that river). Hence, the driving time is considerably shortened now.

We reached the ferry crossing in time for lunch which was just as well, because the ferry waited until it was fully loaded with cars and other passengers. Anyway, it was a nice break as all three of us were hungry, and the food we had at a riverside restaurant was surprisingly good. While we waited for the ferry to fill up I took the chance to observe life along the river. Unfortunately, due to my constant moving around different countries, I have either misplaced or lost many of the photos taken on this trip, so I am only posting a few that are left.

The ferry ride itself took only about 15 minutes and was uneventful, except I met a person from Mongolia for the first time in my life. She stood out among the other people on the boat as she wore a Western dress, and was very fair-complexioned with the rosiest cheeks I have ever seen in a woman! When I ventured to ask her
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Ken and I in front of the beach hotel where we stayed
nationality, she replied, 'Mongolia' and that's how I knew which country she was from. She spoke quite good English and said she was traveling with another companion, also from Mongolia but I never saw that person as the boat had docked on the other side, and I had to get back to my own traveling companions, hahaha!

When we continued our journey, the road became rather bumpy and our driver couldn't go as fast as he wanted to. We had to stop at a police checkpoint on the way as my friend who is Caucasian stood out. However, it was just a routine check. After the police officer checked Ken's passport, he wrote down the details in his big ledger book. Both Ken and I noticed that he had written 'Kenneth Dean' as Ken's first and last name. We thought it was funny as Ken's last name was Whiting, and Dean was only his middle name. We joked about it afterwards saying that the non-existent name of 'Kenneth Dean' will be recorded forever in the history books of Myanmar, as being one of the first Americans to visit that part of the country! Anyway, the policeman just gave a
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Ken and I cooling off in the water.
cursory glance to the driver's ID card and didn't even bother to ask me for mine.

We didn't make any hotel reservations as Chaungtha wasn't exactly a popular tourist destination at that time. It would get a little crowded only on weekends when middle class city folks from Yangon or Pathein would come to relax at the beach with family or friends. So we pulled into the very first hotel that we saw on the road. It was practically empty, but the owner/manager wanted $35 for a room which we thought was pretty expensive. The next hotel we looked at was right on the beach. Here again, I have forgotten the name of that hotel, but the room rate there was very cheap, only $15/night with breakfast included. The only drawback was electricity was shut down from 10 pm to 6 am every day, but it wasn't much of a problem for us as our bungalow was on the beach and we could feel the cool sea breeze all the time. We let our driver have his own room (and paid for it) while Ken and I shared one room.

After we checked in, it was still early
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Grilled prawns with 'Myanmar' beer, best of the best! Note the inflated tyre tubes on the beach.
afternoon so we treated ourselves to some cold beers on the porch of our bungalow. After a short while a young kid suddenly popped up from somewhere with a basket full of huge live crabs. He told us that he would grill them right in front of us. I was sure the boy was going to overcharge us seeing a White man there, so I got ready to bargain with him. When I asked him how much the whole basket was, he said '5,000 kyats' or about 5 US dollars. I was going to haggle with him to bring the price down to 4,000 kyats, but Ken just told me to take it as it would cost at least 10 times more in the United States. I also felt sorry for the boy, and even told him to keep the change of 500 kyats! Anyway, as promised he grilled all the crabs right there and we had a great (but messy) time eating all those crabs, and washing them down with a few bottles of 'Myanmar' beer (smile). I think that was our dinner and we all went to bed early.

The next day we explored the beach. We
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Me with our driver on the beach. Note the mini-pagoda on the rock behind us.
did not see one single foreigner, and Ken kept saying how great it was to be the odd man out among all the locals. We swam in the sea, and went for a ride on an ox cart along the beach. There were inflated rubber tubes from old tires for rent, and we took them for about an hour. We only saw a few vendors selling their wares, but I recall seeing a horse for hire which we didn't take. A group of Burmese girls were frolicking in the water. I should mention here that Burmese women are very conservative, and all of the girls in the water were wearing their 'longyis' tied above their breasts. It is the standard swimwear of women on the beaches in Myanmar. (I noticed that in India too, more about this later in a separate travel blog).

After lunch we decided to go to the village to replenish our supply of beer. It would have taken us only 15 minutes maximum to get there on foot, but since we had a car we decided to take it. On the way, we saw one European man walking along the road, and I remarked to
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Dinner in restaurant at Chaungtha village where we were given the royal treatment.
Ken that he looked like a Frenchman. Chaungtha is a quaint little village and it only had one small grocery store. However, this store had all the items we needed. We all liked the look and feel of this village, and so later in the evening we went back there for dinner.

There were several nice looking restaurants in the village and we just chose one at random. Strangely enough, we were the only customers in that restaurant, but the food was good enough. Best of all, we got special service from the owner who came out of the kitchen to look after us. Although there was a ceiling fan, she used a big hand fan to cool us throughout the meal!

The next day we left for Yangon. I don't remember much of the return trip as I was feeling quite exhausted from all the merrymaking at the beach on the previous day, so I slept most of the way back. All in all, a splendid vacation in a remarkable country!

FOOTNOTE: As mentioned earlier, my trip above was some years ago when Myanmar was hardly ever mentioned as a tourist destination in travel magazines and websites. BIG CHANGE! Do not expect Chaungtha to be off the beaten track now. Last year tourist arrivals in the country increased to 1 million plus, compared to just a few hundred thousand in the previous years. Hotel room rates have gone up as much as 3 times. My friend Ken went back to Chaungtha with his wife just a year ago, and he told me the beach was crowded with a lot of foreigners, and many new hotels are in place there now.


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