We visited Dawei at the very end of 2015 as part of a multi-city tour of Myanmar. This sleepy little town stole our hearts and became our favorite destination on the trip. If you’re thinking of traveling to Burma don’t miss our guide to Dawei, Myanmar featuring our top spots and everything we loved!
Check out our 2016 Myanmar Travel Guide, with the most up to date information on traveling in Myanmar.
Why We Loved Dawei
One of the reasons we loved Dawei so much, was the escape from the tourist trail that it provided. With fewer “MUST SEE!” attractions, we slowed down and enjoyed simply being in Myanmar instead of trying to check off boxes on a list. We even,*gasp*, bought some playing cards to fill time one day!
Dawei is also one of the few large towns in the south of Myanmar. With so much of the country’s landmass away from the coast, the overall “feel” of the town is distinctly different from the typical Myanmar experience. The town and neighboring villages are distinctly tropical, and you get the predictable “island time” pace of life that comes with.
Dawei locals themselves are very friendly and polite, even moreso than the typical Burmese if that’s possible. We felt very welcomed and appreciated during our stay, and that played a huge part in our overall enjoyment of Dawei.
We almost didn’t go because we thought it would be difficult to get to Dawei, and what a mistake that would have been.
More about Dawei
Dawei is one of the larger cities close to beaches in Myanmar. It is located on the Andaman Sea (the same sea that famous Phuket, Thailand sits on), and is shielded by a small peninsula.
When you assess Myanmar’s top attractions, beach time simply isn’t on the list. The country’s tourist trail (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake) is far to the north and predominantly landlocked. There’s so much to see in Myanmar already, and with the 30-day standard tourist visa, getting south to a beach just isn’t on the top of most travelers’ lists.
Tourists don’t often visit Myanmar for beaches, as the country is more famous for mountains and inland adventures and beaches are easier to come by in neighboring Thailand. Those that do usually go North, to the Ayeyarwady Region beach resorts closer to Yangon. Even fewer go south to Myeik, a rugged outpost close to the Thai border that caters mostly to scuba divers with big money to spend.
Dawei hits the sweet spot. Far enough away from Yangon to remove most of the tourist traffic, yet not too far as to be inaccessible. Yet still gorgeous.
The town itself has a friendly feel, and is small enough that most of what you need will be in walking distance from your hotel. Exploring further will lead to discoveries like the market and views of the river delta.
These days, Dawei is seeing more and more tourists since Myanmar opened its borders several years ago. Still, it’s nice in that it doesn’t have a big tourism infrastructure outside of a few hotels and bike rental shops. There are no major attractions to see, and most people are just there to relax.
The locals aren’t astounded by your presence, plenty of people speak English, and you’ll be hassled infrequently if at all. (The worst we got in town was a tuk tuk driver, seemingly asleep on his rig, who looked up to ask where we were going, and laid back down when we told him, “No, thank you.”)
There are several hotels and guesthouses of varying price ranges in Dawei. Guess which ones you’ll find online?
There are mid and lower range guest houses in Dawei, so there’s no need to pay more just to book in advance. Check out Dream Emperor Guest House, Garden Hotel, or Sein Shwe Moe Guest House, for budget-friendly options.
Because we arrived in Dawei right at Christmas time, booking was hard to find at the typical budget guest houses. During the rest of the year however, there shouldn’t be too many problems simply showing up and finding a place to stay.
A word to the wise: most guest houses and budget accommodation do not have air conditioning available, or charge more for it. Dawei is hot. We won’t judge you if you end up splurging on a hotel with A/C just to get some relief.
For a full list of food highlights throughout our entire Myanmar Trip, go here.
There are a few nicer restaurants near the hotel areas serving traditional Burmese and Chinese style dishes, like the Pearl Princess (6). Expect to pay more at these places. Also expect to be eaten alive by mosquitos on the patio at night.
One of our favorite places to eat was Padon Mar (1), a local joint serving fresh juice, ice cream and Burmese salads. We usually went to Padon Mar twice a day to get a pick-me-up of freshly prepared, ice-cold juice. Menus are in Burmese, but like most places throughout Myanmar, the owners speak enough English to help you order.
Around the Temple
Starting at around dusk, road side food stalls set up shop along the corner outer wall of the temple (2), across from the mosque. You can find quite the variety of street eats here, from noodles to curry to chapatis to my personal favorite: papaya salad.
Dawei is both tropical and very close to Thailand geographically, so Thai style papaya salad as well as Burmese versions are popular.
Dream Journeys Coffee
Just a few doors down from the Shwe Mong Than Hotel is Dream Journeys (3) coffee shop. This cute little place serves standard espresso drinks, along with smoothies and other cafe standards. They also make fresh baked goods and Burmese style cakes in the back. This is where you can order one of our favorite things in all of Myanmar: avocado coffee.
Curry and More
For curry, try Daw San Curry House (5), or the (vegetarian!) chickpea curry and naan bread stall. If you’re craving Thai food there are a few within walking distance from the hotel, but we heard good things about Joy House.
Renting a Motorbike
Motorbiking is a great way to explore Dawei, the peninsula, and its beaches. It’s also great fun.
The motorbikes available to you in Dawei aren’t like the e-bikes in Bagan, or even in larger cities in Myanmar- these have some go in them. And if you want to access some of the more remote beaches on the peninsula, you’re going to need some of that.
Many hotels and guesthouses in Dawei will either rent bikes out to you directly (Shwe Mong Than has their own fleet) or make arrangements to rent you one.
You can also go to Focus Bike Rentals (4) who rent out motorbikes, both manual and automatic, to tourists by the day or longer. We rented from Focus on two separate days and had no problems.
Exercise some common sense when you get your bike. Unless you are a mechanic, you probably won’t know what to look for, but make sure you note how much gas is in the tank, that you can get some time to practice, and ask for a helmet.
If you’re beach hunting, you will definitely need to fill up your tank at some point during the day, if not before you bring your bike back. Gas is sold by the litre, and is widely available in road side stands. Most places will fill up your tank for you.
While Dawei is nice and a cute town for your basecamp, you really want to use a motorbike to explore the villages and beaches on the peninsula. The peninsula is huge and many great beaches are not accessible within a day’s ride. As of December 2015, there was no accommodation on the southern part of the peninsula.
San Maria Beach near Myawyik Pagoda
About an hour and half ride from Dawei is Myawyik Pagoda. This Buddhist pagoda sits on a rocky island offshore. The view and photo opportunities are beautiful, both on and off the island.
On the way there is San Maria beach, a nice beach that is mostly unused. We relaxed on the beach for about an hour and saw only three people, and from very far away.
This fun place is a beach hangout for Burmese. It has a distinctly beach vacation vibe with Burmese flair.
While the beach isn’t great- it’s not particularly picturesque, is very crowded with beach goers in gigantic black inner tubes, and I wouldn’t want to swim there for the relentless ogling I’d get as a Western woman- the vibe certainly is.
There are tons of restaurants serving great beach food. After a long day of biking, heaping plates of papaya salad for only 1,500 kyats, fresh sugar cane juice, and a fresh grilled fish really hit the spot.
Tizit beach had everything we were looking for: white sand, clear water, and so far uncolonized. It was also the hardest to get to; the most out-of-the-way and with more dirt and gravel backroads to travel on. This was all part of the adventure though 😛
Realistically, it should take almost two hours to get to Tizit beach, and that’s if you don’t get lost.
Another thing: after riding up and over some small foothills, you’ll descend into a quaint village that opens up into an estuary. On the other side of the estuary is the beach, but you won’t be able to ride across if the tide is in. This means you’ll have to wait until the tide recedes or try and get across (we would not recommend). Try to get the information on the tides before you go out- we didn’t and it almost derailed our Tizit beach trip.
The beach itself is definitely worth it, especially compared to everything else that’s available near Dawei. It’s large, very photo-friendly and is not very utilitarian; you’ll see fishing boats anchored a ways offshore but no one’s drying fish on the sand or using it to stage a boat-repairing operation. You’ll run into a few residents of the nearby village, going for a swim and generally having good, clean fun in the sun.
Unfortunately, it looks like a resort has already staked a claim, and it’s uncertain for how much longer you’ll be able to simply walk up to the beach and get in. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try, however, and we still highly recommend a trip to Tizit beach.
Getting To Dawei
As of December 2015, foreigners were not allowed to take the train to Dawei. You can take the train to other places within the country, but you just can’t much further south than Mawlamyine.
Dawei does have a small airport that services most of the domestic airlines within Myanmar. If you’re on a time constraint, you can fly in and out of Dawei from a larger city in a matter of a few hours, but it’ll cost you.
For everyone else, including budget travelers, we recommend taking the bus.
As with much of our travel within Myanmar, we took an overnight bus to Dawei. We traveled out of Yangon, but it is possible to travel from Bago or Mawlamyine. Because Dawei is so remote comparatively, you’ll likely have to transfer in Bago or Yangon if you’re starting elsewhere.
We bused out of Dawei during the day, and it was unmemorable. It was also longer; because the passengers are awake, the buses make very frequent pit stops that they do not on overnight rides. Definitely go the overnight route.
This is important:
When you bus south to Dawei you will cross into the Tanintharyi Region. The location of the official border is on a remote mountain road.
Regardless of whether it is the middle of the day or night, immigration will come onto the bus and collect the passports of all foreigners to register. This takes a few minutes and the bus will wait until they are finished and return your passports. Make sure you have your passport handy, in the event you fall asleep and are awoken by a stern immigration officer, it will make things move along a bit smoother.
The Dawei bus station, like most in Myanmar, is outside of the city limits, so you will need transportation to get into Dawei. You’ll be swarmed by taxi, tuk tuk, and motorbike taxi drivers looking to give you a ride. This behavior is startling (especially after just waking up from a long overnight bus ride), but it’s standard for the country, and the sooner you get your bearings the sooner you can haggle for a good price.
- Don’t wear white. Yes, sweat stains are horrible to get out, but mostly it’s because of the red soil throughout much of Myanmar and Dawei. Many of the roads are dirt and after a day of motorbiking your clothes will have a nice mauve color to them. It doesn’t come out easily (we tried) so wear dark colors when motorbiking around.
- Start your days early. It gets hot pretty quickly and it’s better to ease into the heat, especially if you have accommodation with A/C!
- Bring water and snacks if you’re beach hunting. You won’t realize it, but you sweat a lot and lose water on the motorbike, so it would suck to finally get to your beach and realize that you feel bad because you’re dehydrated. Fill up a big bottle before you go and drink frequently.
Let us know what you think of our guide to Dawei, Myanmar in the comments section! We’d love to hear from you!