Moving down southwards along the coast of the Andaman Sea the next port of call was Dawei. Dawei is a small jungle city in Myanmar, but maybe not for long. Just out of town there are the picture perfect nearly empty beaches, just as beautiful as the crammed tourist places in Thailand. Then, there is the Dawei Deep Sea Port Project west of the city, that could solve the Malacca Dilemma and be just as important to international trade as Suez or Panama.
‘Ordinary or upperclass?’, asks the officer at the train station in a town called Ye. The 160 kilometer train ride southwards from Ye to Dawei is bound to take the whole day and the wooden benches in upper seem to be a bit more comfortable then the ordinary plastic ones. ‘Upper, please,’ I answer. ‘Sorry sir, there is no upperclass on this train to Dawei, you have to take ordinary’. ‘Okay.’ I reply and the man opposite of me with his blouse hanging loosely over his brown Longyi (traditional men’s skirt) takes one of the enormous books from the pile on his desk and start writing our names in it.
Every day there are two trains through the jungle from Ye to Dawei. One during daytime (the one we are on ) and one at night, probably the one with wooden benches. It’s a long and amazingly wobbly ride over the single track line. The speed is comparable to that of a moped. Clearing its way through the jungle, the Bamar army soldier and the retired general opposite of us in seat 31 and 32 try hard to keep the bamboo branches outside. Nonetheless, the branches and leaves that come inside give some nasty scratches on arms and head. It’s dark when we arrive at an empty Dawei train station.
There appears to be a coffee shop next to our hotel, but unfortunately there is no power. Over ice coffee (which was really good, btw) we commit ourselves to visit the city’s main pagoda, which has proven to be a good introduction to a new place in Myanmar.
The pagoda is pretty, the surrounding monasteries even better, but most impressive is a building next to the pagoda, which houses a statue of The Buddha. Walking barefoot into the small building is like stepping into a glitter feast. The walls are covered with a mosaic of small mirrors. Through the room there are many big poles dressed with gold, diamonds and rubies. In the middle sits a life-size Buddha behind the glass. Often Buddha statues are decorated with neon lights and many other ornaments, but this one is simple, which makes it an even stronger image. In front of the glass, a purple robed monk is in deep trance.
Surrounding the pagoda is jungle set neighbourhoods with colonial style bungalows. These mansions are big, some dilapidated, others are in a beautiful condition. Everywhere the eye can see there are palm and betel nut trees and blossom in white, red and pink. It’s a relax place to wander around and the people chatty. The small streets seem endless and if an ally ends up in a busy road, the small streets on the other side are like an offer you can’t refuse. Later on, our hotel manager explains me that the houses in Dawei are big, but many empty.
The game is called (Sepak)Takraw and is played throughout Myanmar. This traditional South East Asian game is often referred to as ‘kick volley’. Players may only play the rattan (it’s a sort of cane) ball with foot, knee and head. It’s played between two teams of three players and a net divides the field. In Myanmar, the game is traditionally played by men in hung longyi (knotted like a sumo wrestlers belt) and bare-chested. This to show off their muscles to the on looking women.
Amazingly Maungmagan is the only beach along the coast of southern Myanmar with some basic tourist facilities. There is said to be another one, hundreds of kilometers to the north, named Setse, but apparently it’s not much and the beach dirty. Then there are the many ‘empty’ beaches scattered along the coast. The best ones can be found on the Dawei Peninsula, south of Maungmagan. The peninsula is stretch of land of about 80 kilometers famous for it’s perfectly white and still undiscovered beaches. We made a separate blog, The Beautiful Lagoon, about our camping adventure on one of the beaches of the peninsula.
Maungmagan is just west of Dawei and about half an hour by scooter. It is a long beach strip (3 km) situated in front of a village with a sandy ‘boulevard’ that houses some local restaurants and three guesthouses. One of which is referred to as a ‘foreign tourist’ style place and in that sense the only one so for about 500 kilometer of coast.
Nevertheless (or despite) Maungmagan is a quiet relax beach. There where some tourists, here and there, but the beach side was mainly visited by some locals and daytrippers from Dawei, if visited at all. It’s the dogs and little crabs that have an unlimited sandpit at their disposal. The beautiful sunset over sea attracts some young love couples and during the late afternoon kids play a game of football. With the sun safely locked in the sea the place becomes pitch dark as the beach front restaurants are plagued by power cuts. Nevertheless the barbecued fresh fish over candle light tastes delicious.
Dawei Deep Sea Port
On a clear day we took the bumpy dirt road towards Nabule beach, situated north of Muangmagan. It is at this place where a massive industrial complex and deep-sea-port are to be erected that should become the new gateway to South East Asia and beyond.
The project was launched in 2010 with the governments of Myanmar and Thailand agreeing on building this mega size complex. This estimated 50 billion project on Myanmarese ground should become the largest industrial zone of South East Asia. From the shores of Dawei the port will be connected with neighbouring Thailand and from there with the rest of South East Asia and importantly Asia’s superpower China.
This new route should reduce the huge dependence of international trade on the Strait of Malacca. 40% percent of world trade and 80% of China’s energy resources (2012) passes through the small sea lane in front of Malacca (Malaysia). A gateway though Myanmar would not only make trade routes much shorter, it would also reduce the security risks of an only viable commercial route in this part of the world through the Strait of Malacca.
Looking around at Nabule Beach there was nothing that would suggest that an industrial complex with the size of Amsterdam is being built here. Since the launch in 2010, the project has had its problems, mainly financial. Due to these problems the construction was put on-hold in 2013. Last year (2015) though Japan came aboard and together with Myanmar and Thailand new life was blown into the project and construction work had started again. Things could change, but at the time of our visit Nabule beach was still a nice and quieter alternative for Maungmagan.
From the rooftop of our hotel there was a good sight on the Daweis tallest building under construction. ‘It will be a hotel’ said our hotel manager about the huge building. He added, ’for the last two years, with construction of the port on-hold, the hotel construction has also been on-hold.’
Since the announcement of the Deep Sea Port Project in 2010 property prices in and around the city have gone up 50 times. Many houses are empty in Dawei as they are held for investment. Another reason for the low occupancy is that many people from Dawei work as labour migrants in Thailand.
Dawei is a small town, often referred to as ‘sleepy’. If the industrial-mega-project is to be carried out and mass tourism finds it way to Dawei, this will soon change. For now though these plans are still dreams and Dawei will sleep a little further.
* Shwe Moung Tan is a nice hotel with affordable prices. There are basic clean non-airco rooms for about 18 USD. Next door coffee shop has great hot coffee, if there is power.
* Here is a link to some footage of spectacular professional Takraw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj_sZKSrFJ8
* Daw San Family Rice and Curry Shop is in our opinion an exception to the otherwise poor restaurants in Dawei. The beef-, chickpea- and egg-curry we found to be the best. The ‘ruling’ aunty is very friendly and speaks English. Good prices, friendly people, but the food is what stand out.
* Maungmagan beach has a few accommodations to offer. We stayed at two. Coconut Guesthouse is the so-called ‘foreign friendly’ place. It is a nice place and a perfect base for checking out the area. DDPC bungalows are very basic, but right on the beach. The wooden bungalows with terrace are bit dilapidated, the bleu paint not so bright anymore, this old style place breathes some loneliness, sadness even, but in there is also the beauty. If you like simple, a touch of bohemian, to be on your own and right on the beach, this is the place to be. Downside is the foreigner price of DDPC bungalows.
* Dawei peninsula beaches: we have a special blog dedicated to the beaches on the Dawei peninsula (link). The peninsula has many virtually empty and pristine beaches.
* Interested in reading more about the Dawei Deep Sea Port Project? Here are some articles, ranging from views when the project was launched to more recent insights: