It seems such a pain in the backside to plan a trip to Ngapali Beach on Myanmar’s west coast. The country’s rail network does not stretch that far west, which means bumpy bus rides or unreliable and unsafe flights are pretty much the only ways to arrive (unless you fancy riding on the back of a cow). However, despite the perceived difficulty, it is actually fairly straight forward to plan your holiday at Ngapali Beach from either Yangon or Bagan.
The flight from Bagan’s Nyaung-U Airport to Thandwe Airport (the closest town to Ngapali Beach itself) takes just 2 hours, although the safety record of some of the airlines flying this route leaves a lot to be desired. Not to mention the fact that flying is always much more expensive than overland travel, it makes more sense to just flag down that passing bus!
Reliable buses run directly from Yangon to Thandwe but the journey takes upwards of 11 hours each way. You would be better off getting a VIP bus to Bagan, spending some time in the dusty archaeological zone, and then think about catching another bus to Ngapali, in order to break up the journey. It is not recommended to visit Ngapali Beach from Mandalay or Inle Lake or from anywhere else in Myanmar apart from Bagan or Yangon, as there is insufficient tourist infrastructure.
From Bagan, you must first take a bus to the town of Pyay, and then change buses to head onwards to Thandwe. Bagan Min Thar Express, Academy, and Shwe Lamin are popular bus companies that plies this route. $23-$26 is a rough estimate of what it will cost per person for this journey, although be warned that these are typically not the kind of VIP buses that operate between other touristy areas of Myanmar, and the journey could take up to 24hrs!
The town of Thandwe is very rural and is located around 6km away from the coastline. Local taxis can transport you from the airport or hotel to the beachfront very cheaply. I found Thandwe to be a brilliant example of Burmese life WITHOUT the tourism that has now infiltrated larger cities such as Heho, Bagan, and Mandalay. If you want to spend a day or two immersing yourself in local culture then Thandwe is certainly the best place to do it!
I once ranked Ngapali Beach as one of the top 5 beaches in South East Asia, and nothing has made me change my mind since. In fact, it could actually rank as number 1 if you wanted to know what was the most underrated beach in the region! It is a true tropical paradise, and because of its location in western Myanmar, it is almost untouched by mass tourism.
Wherever you come from when arriving at Ngapali Beach, you will need to find some accommodation. In recent years, more and more hotels and resorts have been popping up with ocean views (including a Hilton), and nightly rates are quite high compared to other destinations in Asia (I find this is typical of Myanmar in general). One thing you can be certain of, though, in your hotel is classic Burmese hospitality!
The journey back to Bagan can be bit of a chore after spending time near the waves of Ngapali Beach, but it must be done (well, unless you want to commandeer a boat and sail across the sea to Bangladesh!). As Bagan does not have an international airport, you may want to consider getting the bus back to Yangon instead, especially if you are intending to fly out of Myanmar after your seaside escapades.