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Dawei, formerly Tavoy, is the administrative capital of Tanintharyi, the southernmost division of Myanmar. The Dawei port, situated in an optimum location for trade, was tugged back and forth for centuries between Siam and Burma, before the British decisively took the town as one of the first pieces of their Burma conquest in 1826. Though not as aesthetically pleasing as Myeik further down the coast, there is plenty to do and see in and around Dawei, Myanmar’s most tourist-friendly port south of Yangon. It is also a good jumping-off point for the secluded beaches and fishing villages such as Maungmagan, Phloe Hla Maw, and Yaun Pin.
Dawei's Payagyi is a pristine complex bustling with locals at sunset. A 30 minute trishaw ride out of the town can take you to Shwe Thal Yaung Daw Mu, which at a length of 74 metres and a height of 21 metres is the second largest Reclining Buddha in the country. Visitors could once enter the hollow image and view the jataka therein, but it has now been barred shut due to it becoming a haunt for the young couples of Dawei with intentions far removed from obeisance and meditation.
Not far from Shwe Thal Yaung Daw Mu is the Shinmetkhi Pagoda, which houses a particularly revered 150 year old Buddha Image from Cambodia. There is a well just outside the pagoda which has a sign strictly forbidding anyone to drink from it, on account of its water being fingered for sending a former king of Myanmar mad, leading to the frantic execution of a score of subjects. In the town one can also visit both a broom factory and a cashew nut workshop, as well as the Yatawmu Standing Buddha. Additionally worth a visit, purely for its striking and slightly foreboding structure, is the old colonial church which is now the town’s Educational College.
Just outside of Dawei, a short distance beyond the small town of Lao-Lo, is the Tawkye Waterfall atop of which stands a small pagoda. The water rushes into a lagoon at the bottom where locals plunge in to cool down. Up at the top, visitors are granted splendid views of the surrounding paddy fields. Not far from Tawkye is Tanintharyi Division’s answer to Golden Rock. The gilded boulder that here perches on the edge of the cliff is actually the same size as the one in Mon State, but does not boast the splendid backdrop of the original. Nonetheless, those who have climbed to the summit of the hill (about a 45 minute hike) will be able to savour splendid views from the other side of the summit of the empty and pristine 2 mile strip of Phloe Hla Maw Beach and the Dawei Estuary.
Save for commandeering a fishing boat, access to Phloe Hla Maw beach can only be sought via a steep and rocky foot path from the nearby Yaun Pin fishing village. The beach used to be entirely strewn with mangrove, cashew and betel-nut trees until the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 swept half of the orchid away leaving this idyllic stretch of sand in its wake. The only building either on or viewable from the beach is a small hut belonging to an old man from Yaun Pin, whose spry figure you may spot striding heartily across the bay. There is a sand-banked lagoon at the centre of the beach and out to sea nothing save for fishing boats and the children of the village playing naked in the waves. One may imagine how in a decade’s time these children will likely work as waiters and chambermaids in the hotels that sit where once the cashews grew. They will tell the incredulous guests how this beach used to be empty save for themselves; the whole bay their playground, where now tourists sunbathe and drive jet skis.
If possible - and it is advised only when accompanied by a local guide - pop back along the rocky path to the village of Yaun Pin shortly after sunset to catch the fishing boats come in. At this point the village's own little bay fills up with lithe children, who plunge into the crashing waves along with their fathers and brothers to help haul in the day’s catch. The large tuna are heaped in towering piles on the sand before being carted away a-top heads of stocky women. The silhouettes of the limber and bare-chested fishermen backlit by the seafoam green boat lights, the charcoal smell of campfire smoke cutting through the stench of fish, and the convalescence of action and unity makes for an utterly intoxicating experience.
In between Yaun Pin and Dawei is Maungmagan Beach. Despite the handful of hotels along the dunes, often when visiting Maungmagan you are more than likely to be in the company of a greater number of fishermen than tourists. The beach is more Atlantic than white-sand, but has less rocks, a gentler current and less ferocious waves than the more frequented Ngwe Saung. Small children race across the sand on large bicycles, sometimes clutching a fish caught in the shallows with their bare hands. Like Chaungtha north of Ngwe Saung, Maungmagan remains more of a hangout for locals than for foreigners.
At the weekend the score of bamboo restaurants just behind the dunes burst with residents of Dawei and the nearby Maungmagan village, feasting on giant barbecued crab and listening to the gentle chords of acoustic guitar. From Maungmagan one can rent motorbikes and drive up into the mountains and through the dells towards the Myaw Yis Pagoda, passing little hamlets and children screaming ‘Mingalabar!’ in a frenzy, and past little creeks where teenage boys gather to smoke Red Ruby cigarettes. There are also hot springs not far from the beach where one can pay 100 Kyat for a dip in the pool and 500 Kyat for a shower. Not only good health but good luck is promised.
Opposite Maungmagan Beach are the 'Middle Miscos' Islands. Still officially protected, these three islands were established as a marine sanctuary by the British in 1927 due to the many wild boar, barking deer, sambar and swiftlets (sea swallows) that reside there.
One can also travel south down the Dawei peninsula, where there is a score of secluded beaches and bays ripe for exploration.
North of Maungmagan Beach the works are in place for the Dawei Deep Sea Port, the so called ‘Dawei Project’, which is destined to transform the region irreversibly as the town becomes the promised ‘new global gateway of Indo-China’ and once more takes up the role as the region’s central sea-trade hub. All will change; so visit now.
There are regular flights into Dawei airport from Yangon, as well as up from Kawthaung and Myeik. Have a look at our Suggested Journeys that incorporate a trip to Dawei, or alternatively find out how we curate Tailor-Made Journeys.