Pagoda in Dawei

Dawei

Dawei is a sleepy town of colonial architecture, palm trees and mangroves. It’s a great base to explore nearby fishing villages and minority communities deep in the jungle. Sadly, life here is set to change if the proposed deep-sea port is built, so the time to go is now.

Halfway down the tail of Myanmar, on the same latitude as Bangkok, is the quiet town of Dawei. It’s been a sleepy little port for centuries, bouncing between Myanmar and Siam rule, before the British took over in 1826.

Today, it has the finest collection of colonial era villas this side of Yangon. It’s also managed to bypass the ugly development you can’t avoid elsewhere, just palm trees breaking the low-rise roofline.

We let community-led tourism initiatives take over here. Join a local guide who speaks the Dawei dialect for a walking tour to meet cashew farmers and clay potters. He’ll also take you through the market where merchants trade flowers, fruit and vegetables along with the catch of the day.

Dawei faces the mouth and mangroves of an eponymous river, cut off from the Andaman Sea by a narrow peninsula. To the east is Tanintharyi National Park. Imagine trekking through the jungle with villagers who’ve lived here for generations, knowledge of the plants and their properties passed down the ancestral line. Join them in daubing thanaka, the natural sunblock, on your face, chew betel nut if you dare, and witness the alchemy of natural medicines at the forest pharmacy.

Head west, and you’ll reach the coast and the fishing village of Tizit. Help out for the morning, casting nets or hunting for shellfish at low tide.

Plans to construct a deep-sea port, transforming Dawei into Southeast Asia’s largest industrial trade zone are in the pipeline and how long these villages will fare is anyone’s guess. So, go now, before Dawei changes for good.

Nearby destinations

Southern Myanmar

A strip of 800 tiny, jungle-clad islands lie off Myanmar’s southern coastline in splendid isolation.

Southern Myanmar

Once a tropical sea, now coral deposits have formed limestone karsts that rise dramatically from the lush forests and rice paddies around Hpa-An.

Southern Myanmar

Some things have not changed since Kipling came to Malwamyine (then Moulmein) in 1889 to see the old pagoda by the sea. You’ll still find fishing boats zipping along the waterfront, merchants trading spices.