Eight hours by road to the north west of Yangon lie the small coastal towns of Gwa and Kanthaya, where you will find seemingly endless stretches of palm tree-lined white sand beaches. Set between the popular resorts of Ngwe Saung and Ngapali on the Bay of Bengal coast, this area stands in contrast to those two in being largely undeveloped: infrastructure is quite basic and the beaches are totally empty – you are unlikely to run into other foreigners.
Gwa area and beaches
Located where the road from Yangon reaches the coast, the town of Gwa itself offers little other than being a base for accommodation in the area and a lively jetty area; it is the surrounding area that make it worth the effort of getting here. See our YouTube video from Gwa jetty.
There is a beach at the town of Gwa, but it is not the best in the area – to explore, you will need to hire a motorbike (or have the use of a car). Motorbikes cost K10,000 per day and your guest house will be able to get hold of one for you, but don’t expect it to be in great condition! If you’re in need of food or a drink, Sea Horse (Ye Nakar) beer station, located on the main road near Royal Rose guest house (on the opposite side of the road) is a pleasant spot, and the restaurant next door serves good food.
Though there are currently no places for bicycle hire in Gwa, it's coastal roads and hard-packed white sand beaches are excellent for cycling. Check out our blog post and YouTube video for more information.
The peninsula south of Gwa
There are many great beaches in the area, but the most idyllic and picture-perfect are on the peninsula to the south of Gwa. To get there, you will need to go to the jetty at the south end of Gwa town and then cross the river mouth on the small boat that runs regularly through the day until 6pm (K1,000 each way); motorbikes are lifted on to the boat with wooden sticks poked through the spokes of the bike.
Once you cross the water, you can drive westwards across the peninsula on a rough track, first through a small village and then countryside, to reach the coast – where you will find many miles of empty white sand beaches. One reference point, from which you can get good views, is the pagoda on a small headland several kilometres to the south of where the road meets the sea. There is no accommodation on this side of the water, but there is a shop and a lovely little beer station at the jetty area opposite Gwa.
Check out our YouTube video from the peninsula south of Gwa.
Five kilometres off the coast is the solitary Gwa Island, which can be reached by local fishing boat (K35,000 to hire). To get there, you will also need a permit, which can be secured through your guest house. The island has a beach on the east side and some picturesque cliffs on the west side (looking out to the Bay of Bengal); it can be walked around in an hour and a half.
Zik Hone beach
Zik Hone village, 20 kilometres to the north of Gwa, has a beautiful, secluded little beach and is host to the Arakan Nature Lodge. To get there, you will need to drive for about 30 minutes from Gwa (or 10 minutes south from Kanthaya) until you get to Nyaung Kyaung village, which can be recognised from a distance by its large red and white telecom tower. In the centre of Nyaung Kyaung village, there is a 90-degree turn in the road and a huge tree – it is at this point that you need to turn on to the small road to Zik Hone village and beach, which is two kilometres further down (there are photos of the turning in our Gwa Flickr photo album - link below).
Kanthaya was, for a short period of time, a beach resort in its own right – a luxury beach-side hotel was built here in 1995 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Armed Forces Day, but was abandoned soon afterwards (you are free to explore the ghostly structures, which are set between the beach and the road which runs parallel to it).
There are some restaurants and accommodation options at Kanthaya, all located on the main road, and at the very south end of the beach there is great beer station with friendly staff and a panoramic view of the beach. They also have inflatable rings for paddling around in the water.