Home Features Myanmar: A sad picture at Ngwe Saung Beach

Myanmar: A sad picture at Ngwe Saung Beach


I count myself so lucky to have had a wonderful year with so much travel and having taken a few photos along the way. But it was not all sunshine and smiles as this sad photo demonstrates.

It was taken at Ngwe Saung Beach in Myanmar back in March. I was walking up the pristine and almost empty beach with my camera when I was approached by this beach vendor. It was very hot, there were no customers for kilometres and she was obviously hopeful that this one tourist — me — was going to make her day. I was wearing swimming shorts. I was carrying no money. I had nothing to give her. I took her photo. Her expression says it all. I felt really bad about it. I still do.


Ngwe Sang Beach was definitely the strangest place I visited in Myanmar on my trip in March. It is two hours by bus from the city of Pathein. The road is narrow and winding and progress was slow. It was not a fun journey. The very long white sandy beach is attractive enough but nothing special compared with most Aussie beaches.

Behind a short section of the beach there is a small village strung out along a road, with the usual seaside mixture of restaurants and shops selling beach stuff.

The strangeness comes from the fact there is one absolutely immaculate resort complex right on the beachside, guarded by large security gates. And in a field opposite the entrance is a helipad. Ngwe Saung Beach is the Generals’ playground and the resort is the ruling military junta’s resort. Vacationing military personnel whose rank does not qualify them for helicopter transport come down from Yangon in their black Toyota Land Cruisers with very heavily tinted windows. I saw two of them on the road to the resort and some others in the village. They had a very menacing air and seeing them made my stomach churn.

There are other hotels but most are very run down or abandoned — reminders of Myanmar’s recent hard times and strife.


The place had the feel of Bali when I visited it 40 years ago, before the overdevelopment and the cheap airfares. There was a solitary beachside bar blaring out the sort of music you would expect from a bar in a tropical resort (see photo below).

I went into the very warm sea of the Bay of Bengal. The beach was almost deserted, apart from a couple of European backpackers playing beach volleyball. I hope they were appreciating the special atmosphere as soon it will be gone. Dramatic change is about to happen. Chinese money is moving in. Chinese hotels will line the beach and a nearby newly constructed international airport will be full of Chinese tourists, charter-jetting in by thousand.  Another paradise will be lost, but the lady on the beach will probably have more customers than she ever dreamt of. Hopefully she will then be smiling.

You can find more from John Shingleton at The Rolling Road and on Instagram at therollingroad.


  1. Great shot. You have certainly captured her plight in that portrait, John. That face has seen a much harder life than most of us can imagine. It’s a shame that many people who live surrounded by with beautiful tropical scenery can only improve their lot through being invaded by the hoards of tourists you mention.

  2. Hi John,

    I agree it’s a very sad image, reminds me of the significant gaps in standards of life around the world. And makes me feel lucky and thankful to have the life I have, and some of the trappings that come with it.

    What strikes me as a bit grimmer, is that the place looks so beautiful to look at, but that hides the reality of life there.

    I am glad you have shared this experience with us, and in wonderful colour too – however what camera where you using, as for once you do not mention your X or your Q?


    • David , the photo was taken with the Q but it could as easily have been taken with the X1.
      Travelling in countries such as Myanmar always brings home to me the inequalities in the world but the saddest thing it is not just in underdeveloped countries that these inequalities are apparent and worse still is that the inequalities are getting bigger not diminishing.
      It is not all bad news in Myanmar. Pathein just two hours drive from where this photo was taken is quite prosperous by Myanmar standards and people on the streets and in the market seemed content with their world. Certainly apparently more content than many of the sour, po faced top of the range luxury car driving people with their dog eat dog attitudes I see here in many first world countries including sadly Australia.

  3. Hello John
    It’s a sad photo indeed. I went to Ngwe Saung in 2016 and the feeling was quite different. The beach was busy and vendors were making business, especially where there is that small pagoda you can reach at low tide. I guess you must be speaking of the village with the high school left at the T junction not far from the beach. when we stayed for a few days there, pupils had just finished their exams and the street were crowded with students. On other days there was a small market, a very nice barber where I had a haircut, not that there’s so much to cut and apart from swimsuit shops there were quite a few restaurants. We also discovered that there were primary schools and rice paddies (it was the dry season) about 500 yards inland behind the hotels and guest houses. I guess that your remark about its being spoilt by Chinese in the future is recurrent in Asia. I’ve seen that in Thailand, Bali and Laos. When I was staying in Luang Prabang the Chinese had already invaded the place and they’re building dams everywhere in Laos, evicting peasants, not providing them a replacement housing. My neighbour, a Lao refugee told me they’re blasting some of the mountains in Yunnan and north Laos to build a motorway and a high speed train line between Kumming and Luang Prabang and as many places in the world that will be the end of many jewels that dot the earth.
    However, your photo is a great shot and you make the Q shine


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