The latest instalment in our series about wild swimming spots focuses on little-visited Ye in southern Mon State, where we discover shipwrecks, deserted beaches and technicolour sunsets.
By DOMINIC HORNER | FRONTIER
Ye is very much a victim of its location. Sandwiched between the Mon State capital Mawlamyine and beach magnet Dawei, and with no airport to connect it to the rest of the country, Ye receives just a fraction of the tourist numbers it deserves. But rest assured – it really does have it all. If winding rivers, jungle-buried waterfalls, island boat trips and endless stretches of untouched coastline are your thing, then Ye is definitely the place for you.
Note to readers: Frontier does not encourage non-essential travel within Myanmar at this time, when the country faces the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. People infected with the virus may show no symptoms, and travel risks spreading it to communities with limited access to healthcare. This article is for those who plan to travel after this risk subsides, when responsible tourism could aid the country’s economic recovery.
An obvious place to start your Ye adventure is with a boat ride costing K15,000 up the Ye River from Kyaung Ywar to Chaung Na Kwar pagoda, which sits perched upon stone pillars at the river’s confluence. The 20-minute voyage is worthwhile but once you’ve crossed that off there’s still plenty of laid-back fun to be had back in Kyaung Ywar. The teashop area along the riverbank is a great place to splash about with locals and includes some wicked tree jumps (15.302626, 97.989286) on the opposite side of the river. If you want to get away from the crowds, for another K20,000 you can rent a boat to take you downstream to a less populated, more mellow stretch of the river. Finish on a romantic high with a climb to a monastery near Kyaung Ywar (15.301461, 97.975675) for a magnificent sunset view of the valley.
The Andin Three/Hnyigarok Beach
Ignore Pin Le Wa, the popular but tatty local resort 40 minutes west of Ye. For real beach bum kicks rent a bike and head northwest to Andin, where you’ll find three gorgeous beaches (15.329680,97.722740) ripe for exploring and picnic-centred adventure. Once you’ve passed through Andin, you’ll come to a small fishing village. From here you’ll need to cross an estuary to get to the beaches (you might need to dismount for this). On the other side is a rugged stretch of partitioned coastline; it’s genuinely wild, with only the odd fisherman and/or pack of local children for company. Afterwards, and if time allows, gun it over to nearby Hnyigarok beach (15.372520,97.745949) for a truly epic sunset. The beach is enormous – about 5 kilometres long – and, best of all, you’ll have it all to yourself.
As already mentioned, Pin Le Wa is not worth the trouble. If you still want a functioning beach resort, Kabyar Wa, about an hour south, will reward the time and effort it takes to get there. The bay is pretty clean, you can rent out the standard rubber rings and, if you’re lucky, you can lunch on lobster. If you fancy doing a bit of exploring, for around K40,000 or K50,000 you can rent a speed boat to take you out to Kyungyi, a large island 20 minutes from the shore. After you’ve disembarked, follow the path through the middle of the island to the beach on the western flank. Once again, you’ll have the place to yourself.
Ma Gyi Three
But from Kabyar Wa it only gets better. Take the main road past Kabyar Wa – which is in remarkably good condition given its remoteness – towards Ma Gyi, stopping off at two fantastic isolated beaches along the way. First up is Ta Yoke Htauk (15.016971,97.784393) – a big, broad, 2km expanse of life-affirming joy. Whatever you do, don’t miss the shipwreck. Next up is Kawsar Chaung Wa (14.992741, 97.798729) with its glinting gold island pagoda, picture perfect fishing boats and swirling estuary dunes. Last is Ma Gyi itself, (14.951796, 97.806389), which provides two beaches for the price of one. The south side next to the pagoda is a superb spot to watch the sun go down, as the waters turn fluid shades of purple and pink. The north side, a vast tract of open shoreline, is perfect for flooring it on your scooter across the sands as the last of the sun flickers across the horizon.
Stone Crocodile Waterfall
This small waterfall hidden deep within a labyrinth of rubber plantations is pretty much impossible to get to independently – you’ll need a guide. Appropriate then that this one really is more about the journey than the swimming. However, if you descend to the bottom of the falls, you’ll find a couple of shaded shallow pools where you can have a dunk before making the return journey through the jungle.
The Du Ya Slide
Again, you’ll need a guide to reach this natural water slide. As the more reckless (or inebriated) will discover, there are endless insane methods for rolling down the slide. If you want to have a proper swim, you’ll need to ride for another 20 or 30 minutes to reach the bottom of the falls.
Don’t be fooled by the nondescript name. This creek (15.207560,97.905738), about 40 minutes off the highway south of Ye, is a verdant green jungle oasis that’s perfect for a lazy day of beer drinking, and lazy, languid wild swimming in its sparkling clear waters.
How do I get there?
Unfortunately you can’t fly to Ye, so unless you’re prepared to fork out for a private car your only option from Yangon is a 10-hour-plus bus ride. Visit the website Myanmar Bus Ticket for options. Train is an option via Mawlamyine, but it’ll take you even longer.
Ye River and Kabyar Wa can be reached by private car. For everything else, motorbiking is the only way. Stone Crocodile, Du Ya and 40ft Stream require a guide.
How long do I need?
Between five and six days. If you’re pushed for time, it’s possible to cram Stone Crocodile, Du Ya and 40ft Stream into a single chock-a-block day.
Best time to visit?
Avoid the monsoon season. Just trust me on this one.
Where to stay?
Starlight Resort (formerly Starlight Guesthouse) really is outstanding. With rooms at K35,000 (US$25) a night, there’s Wi-Fi, good food, motorbike rental, and exceptionally friendly and helpful service from owner Dave and his team. Starlight can also arrange guides for the area – a big shout out to STP, who has to be one of the best guides in Myanmar.