The fertile delta region south and west of Yangon has long been of great importance, due to its abundant agricultural production and strategic location for trading. It made news headlines around the world in 2008 after being devastated by Cyclone Nargis, when the military regime blocked foreign aid claiming that they had the situation under control. This worsened an already appalling situation and the official final death toll was 138,000 people, although in reality it was probably much higher.
While a lot of the region was closed after the cyclone, it is now completely open again, but most people rush straight through its lush green rice fields and sleepy towns on their way to the beaches at Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung. If you don’t mind roughing it a bit, one good way to see more of the region is to travel by public ferry to Pathein, famous for its handmade parasols, before carrying on to the beaches.
The west coast of Myanmar lies to the north of the delta region. First comes the long and thin stretch of Rakhine State, separated from the plains to the east by mountains, then Chin State and its border with Bangladesh. The most touted destination in this part of the country is Ngapali Beach, but it’s a long, hard journey by bus and rising hotel prices have squeezed out anyone on a very strict budget. Of more interest to most budget travellers is Mrauk U, capital of Rakhine when it was a separate country, but it was closed to tourists following violence in 2012. Until this situation changes, it is also impossible to take boat trips from Mrauk U into Chin State, which had previously been the easiest way to see the rarely-visited state without a permit.