Welcome to a tourist paradise, in one of the world’s most isolated nations. “I’ve been to a lot of beaches and this is just amazing,” said retired Canadian Hugh Minielly, as he and his wife Mary watched the sun set over the azure Bay of Bengal at Myanmar’s coastal resort of Ngapali. Just a dozen or so hotels are hidden amid the two-mile (three-kilometre) stretch of palms, including some offering luxury beachfront villas for hundreds of dollars a night.
Despite the allure of its picture-perfect sands, Myanmar’s murky political landscape has kept the beach largely under the radar of most tropical sun-seekers, who have typically looked to more well-trodden Asian shores. Those who do venture to the impoverished nation — one of the world’s least-developed after nearly 50 years of military rule — rave about the friendly locals, the tasty seafood and above all, the lack of other tourists.
“I’ve been looking for a beach like Goa, and this is like Goa but without the backpackers. It’s so authentic,” 69-year-old Minielly told AFP. The quest for a coastal idyll was dramatised in the film “The Beach”, in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young backpacker who finds a seemingly utopian community on a remote bay, later torn apart by violence and paranoia.
Secluded spots are increasingly hard to find, as neighbouring Thailand can attest: it saw 16 million visitors in 2010, compared to 300,000 in Myanmar, according to the Bangkok-based Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). Maya Bay on Phi-Phi Leh island, where the movie was filmed in 1999, is now hardly DiCaprio’s dream shore: every day, dozens of boats ferry hundreds of tourists to follow in his footsteps.
The Beach Movie Trailer