Getting from Yangon to Ngapali beach leaves a lot to be desired. On the bright side, the extra effort (and money) it takes to get to there is what sets it apart from the other popular and often-times over-crowded beach destinations in Southeast Asia. You may just find yourself enjoying a strip of white sand beach all to yourself.
The most highly recommended way to get there is flying as travel overland is rough! Buses can take over 13 hours due to bumpy and unreliable roads. There are no direct trains but there is an option to take a train part of the way and then the bus. There is also a ferry that takes 24 hours from Yangon to Pyay and then an additional 10-hour bus ride onwards to Thandwe. Yikes. This is a lot of extra travel time to factor in especially considering that flights are only 45 minutes. Still considering traveling overland? Read more below.
Flights from Yangon to Thandwe
Taking a little under an hour, flying from Yangon to Thandwe is the fastest way to get out of the city and onto the beach.
The Yangon airport is 30km outside of the city centre so make sure to give yourself extra time to get there. The fastest way to get to the airport is by taxi which should cost around MMK8000. You can take the public bus most of the way to the airport but this will take extra time. The public bus schedule is currently being updated so ask at your hotel for current departure times to the airport.
Thandwe airport is actually closer to Ngapali Beach than to the town of Thandwe. Most hotels that are mid-range or above will provide airport pick up. Make sure to check with your hotel. If you are making your way to or from the airport in Thandwe on your own, taxis should be no more than MMK5000.
During high season, October–April, FMI Airlines and Myanmar Airways International have direct flights that leave daily. Flights cost around USD90-120 one-way.
Note: Direct flights from Yangon to Thandwe are not as frequent during low season- May–September. So make sure to check for flights in advance of booking your hotel to ensure you can get there on your preferred date.
From Yangon to Thandwe by bus
Bussing from Yangon to Thandwe is not for the faint of heart. The bus ride is long and the route is underdeveloped compared to travel between other popular destinations in Myanmar.
Important note!!! Ngapali Beach is located in Rakhine state which due to on-going ethnic tensions has caused some Western governments including Britain and Canada to recommend against travel there except for the Southern area around Ngapali beach. So at this time, flying to Thandwe is the recommended way to reach Ngapali beach.
If you are determined to reach Ngapali beach by land, there are direct buses that head to the town of Thandwe (the closest town to the beach) from Yangon. The length of the trip is around 13 hours but can easily become much longer because of poor road conditions. Ask around at travel agencies in Yangon for bus tickets to Thandwe. Buses cost anywhere from MMK15,000-20,000.
From Yangon to Thandwe via Pyay by bus
Another option is to break up the trip with a stop in Pyay. Pyay itself is a pleasant enough town that is not on the regular tourist track. It is 7 hours from Yangon and situated on the Irrawaddy River. It’s a good place to get to know the friendly Myanmar people as you will probably be one of the few foreign visitors.
Buses to Pyay run daily and are around MMK18,000. You will need to spend the night in Pyay as getting to Ngapali Beach is still an additional 9-10 hours by bus. It costs MMK13,000-15,000.
From Yangon to Thandwe via Pyay by train+bus
Trains do not run between Yangon and Thandwe. Taking a train to Pyay and then bussing to Thandwe is an option if you don’t mind adding an extra day of travel onto your trip and then suffering through a bumpy bus ride. You will save money but lose a lot of time!
Getting to Pyay is an 8-hour train ride from Yangon. You will need to ask at your hotel about this train as there should be one that goes daily but at this point, the schedule is not confirmed. Normally train #71 leaves Yangon main station daily at 1pm and arrives to Pyay by 9.30pm taking thus above 7 hours to cover 260 km between Yangon and Pyay. Tickets are from USD5 to USD13 for upper class seats and USD3-USD5 for ordinary class seats.
If you want to take a rest in Pyay there are a couple of basic hotels where you can spend the night. You could take a break from the road and spend the day biking around and exploring a city far-off the tourist-trail. The bus onwards to Thandwe is another 9-10 hours and is not a comfortable one! From Thandwe you will need to get a taxi into Ngapali Beach which is another 13km away.
From Yangon to Thandwe via Pyay by ferry+bus
Those in search of adventure could attempt taking the local ferry from Yangon to Pyay and then the bus onwards to Ngapali Beach. The ferry takes over 24-hours (and up to 4 days!!!) and doesn’t run regularly. You will need to ask around in Yangon for up-to-date information on this route as it is not a path well-trodden by travellers.
Once you get to Pyay the bus is still another 9-10 hours to Thandwe (Ngapali Beach). It leaves daily at MMK15,000.
Why travel to Thandwe
Most travellers make their way south to Thandwe to get some sun and relax on Ngapali beach after exploring the many temples and pagodas Myanmar is famous for. If you still have energy after all of this exploring, you can rent bikes and venture around the surrounding fishing villages and colourful market of Thandwe. If not, plant yourself on the beach, and enjoy the sun, sea and fresh seafood. The best time to visit is November–May when the weather is hot and dry.
Myanmar is not yet known as a beach destination so you will be able to enjoy the white sand beaches that Southeast Asia is famous for without the crowds. As is everywhere else in Myanmar, things are changing quickly. So make the extra effort to get there now before the peace and quiet of Ngapali Beach disappears.
Onward travel from Thandwe
Myanmar’s coastline is a very unexplored area compared to the rest of the country which leaves lots to be discovered by those that put in the extra effort. Always keep up to date on the political situation as Rakhine State has closed to foreigners in the past due to conflicts in the area.
Mrauk U is one of Myanmar’s less travelled hidden gems where you can see impressive temples without the crowds of Bagan. People also head there to visit traditional villages of Myanmar’s Chin people. Mrauk U is not easy to get to! By bus, it is 15 hours from Thandwe, MMK15,000.
Instead of attempting the treacherous bus ride to Mrauk U you could fly to Sittwe and then take a bus for a much shorter 1.5 hours. It is also possible to take a public boat from Sittwe to Mrauk U or hire your own private boat USD80.
Sittwe doesn’t have many sights to see and most people pass through it. However, it is on the coastline and has some decent restaurants, hotels and pretty sunsets. Before going it is a good idea to do some research and be aware of the situation Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya people are facing as many are internally displaced and are staying in camps just outside of Sittwe.
If you haven’t seen the famous temples of Bagan yet It is possible to make your way by bus if you go from Thandwe to Pyay first. The easiest way to get to Bagan is to fly from Thandwe to Mandalay and then continue on by bus, train or plane.