(originally posted on Medium on Oct 23, 2019)
Ngwe Saung to Chaungtha Beach by scooter
Between Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha there is a slightly hidden scooter path over deserted sand, along palm trees, and across three small ferries. The ferries are in actual use by the local population and the path does show some previous tire tracks — to say, this is not a secret path — but there were only few other travelers (~3-4 other scooters per ferry) on their way, none of which were tourists.
The ride requires some previous experience driving a scooter, and some self-confidence. The terrain is off road, and there are a few tricky points to balance through. Since it’s a simple back and forth trip, one could follow the below description in the opposite direction from Chaungtha to Ngwe Saung as well. We stayed in a hostel in Ngwe Saung, hence the description in the written direction.
Starting somewhere in Ngwe Saung, start by travelling on the main road in north-western direction; in direction Tazin. After a while (~4km) there is a crossroad with a large sign showing an arrow. This arrow is somewhat seductive to follow after a rather bumpy road without certainty to be on the right track … nonetheless, do not follow the arrow! When you look closely, there are some latin characters on the sign: “snake island”, not your goal for today. Instead, head right, still in direction of Tazin.
Once in Tazin (the first somewhat dense collection of houses since leaving Ngwe Saung), you’ll get to a T-intersection: head right. The road ends at the river. Here, if you indeed travelled in the described direction, you’ll see a restaurant to your left when facing the end of the road.
If the ferry isn’t there yet, the restaurant is a nice lookout. How do you know whether the ferry is there yet already? Observe the locals: if noone is there, you missed it by a few minutes (wait some more…). If there are already some scooters facing the water and some pedestrians sitting on the side, the ferry is soon due.
When you see a small boat (about 3 scooters wide and 4-6 scooters long), that’s the ferry; impossible to oversee despite its small size (everything is to proportion, this is not a mass tourist spot after all!).
You don’t have to buy a ticket before getting onboard. To the right when facing the river (i.e. on opposite side of the road from the restaurant) there is a small food stand / kiosk. This is not a ticket sales point, and the people there will look at you in a “what is this tourist looking for”-way. Stay calm, get on the boat, you’re going to pay the ferry on the other side when you get off. The fare is 800 MMK per scooter.
After landing on the other side of the river, you’ll see 3-4 houses and a road. Likely all other scooters and pedestrians who have crossed the river alongside with you will take the obvious road. That’s not the road you are looking for. If you look closer, there is a slightly hidden path to the left in mids / straight after the houses. That’s the path leading to the beach. If you miss it, the main road is fine, turn left in direction beach as soon as feasible (it’s not like there are actual roads here, remember, in the beginning I promised an off road terrain).
Once on the beach, you follow it all to the end. While driving on sand, stay clear from the dried sand — here you will dig yourself in. Stay also away from the very wet sand just uncovered from the sea — here too you risk of digging yourself in. Plus the salt water isn’t particularly healthy for the scooter anyway. Try to find a middle way. All of this being said, first and foremost, don’t worry and enjoy the ride!
Towards the end of the beach (meaning the sand stops and vegetation and water take over — impossible to move on with a scooter) you’ll see tire marks leading into the forrest on your right: follow them. Along this path you’ll cross two houses at a strong right turn, follow the road until the end. That’s the second ferry.
The second ferry is somewhat special. This river is particularly strongly affected by the changing tides. Which means the exact landing spot of the ferry is unclear on both sides of the river. On Ngwe side, the landing site is given by about ±20m along the river. But you may have to go through knee deep water to reach the ferry (or land, when getting off). That’s where the initially mentioned self-confidence comes into play.
On Chaungtha side, you get on and off on sand. But the exact location varies in the order of about ±100m. Watch out for people waving in the distance.
Once across the river, you’re immediately on the beach (assuming you’re heading to Chaungtha). Follow it again all the way to the end — respectively, until slightly before the end, when tire marks lead into the forrest. Follow the road all the way to the end. The third and last ferry takes you to Chaungtha.
The Chaungtha landing site is fix with a steep concrete ramp. Here, two difficulties presented themselves. First, at the time of our travel, the landing ramp was in very poor condition. Our scooter eventually made it, but only thanks to the help of two locals who’ve pushed from behind.
The second difficulty was that people in Myanmar are also just people. And people — everywhere in the world — when determined to enter a bus, a train, or in the case at hand on a boat, are not really interested in making space for the passengers to get off first.
Hence, squeezing through scooters and people, while on gravels from the damaged landing ramp, while said people look at you annoyed for the fact that you are in their way to get onto the ferry (…because they’re in your way to get off…), represented a challenge.
Once you’ve made it to Chaungtha, you can explore the village, go to the beach there, etc. Eventually you head back the same way you got here, taking the three ferries, and enjoying the adventure along the deserted beaches some more.
In our case, we didn’t find Chaungtha to be all that interesting and headed back rather soon; the beach rides are an absolute delight and highly recommendable activity in Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha.
We’ve paid for each ferry 800 MMK (i.e. 2x3x800 = 4800 MMK in total). The last ferry back to Tazin is apparently at about 5pm (we didn’t ask about the last ferry to Chaungtha). The scooter we’ve rented in Ngwe Saung for 15000 MMK the day.