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Journeys

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Major Ports

The country possesses abundant water resources - more than 5,000 km of rivers that are navigable, and more than 2,000 km of coastline along the Indian Ocean. It has an excellent strategic location on the doorstep between the major markets of India and China, and is a natural land bridge between the Middle East and Southeast Asia to capitalize on regional trade. The ports have always been gateways to domestic and international trade and lifelines to the outside world for communications and commerce. Coveted and fought over by adventurers, kings and empires, the key ports in Myanmar have changed hands multiple times through the ages. Today, as Myanmar seeks to open up and compete once again on the global stage, the ports are critical – playing a central role to propel the country forward.

 

Spreading across the whole coastline, there are currently nine ports that serve coastal and seaborne trade. Yangon is the traditional major port city for the country.


Teak logs for export at Yangon port. | Source: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times

Doorways to global commerce, the ports are needed to support massive volumes of international import/export, as well as domestic cargo volume every day as the country develops. The ports also house the cruise terminals to support the growing regional cruise tourism industry, and bring about the new industrial zone locations.


Manufacturing and processing industries are situated close to the ports to ship finished products to international and domestic markets, and transport raw materials inbound at lower costs. Hence, major new special economic zones (SEZs) are emerging alongside the ports to serve as new development nodes and to attract large-scale investment from overseas.

Many people still feel the best way to visit the country is to arrive via the river on a cruise ship. However you choose to travel, the ports are must-see places for business travelers to witness first-hand and get a feel for the extraordinary change-in-motion. The ports are also exotic attractions for leisure tourists to experience history, and the lively scenes of daily river and coastal life. Here are some of the most exciting options for port adventurers and seafaring peoples of the world!

Thanlyin (Syriam) – Ancient Port Town

This ancient port town, less than a half hour’s drive from downtown Yangon, is a great place to begin. Thanlyin was the ancient capital of the Mon Kings from the 14th to 16th centuries, and was one of Myanmar’s main ports. It receded from prominence when Yangon port took on much of its role from 1755, but Thanlyin still remains a town of much importance to Yangon, and to Myanmar. It lies just 10 km away from Yangon at the confluence of the mighty Bago (Pegu) and Yangon Rivers. You will cross the almost one kilometer wide Bago River using one of the longest bridges in Myanmar, the Thanlyin Bridge, to reach the port towns of Thanlyin and Thilawa.


Thanlyin | Source: myanmartravel.cc

Thanylin is a fascinating town with its diverse history, unique river scenery and city views. Much of the colonial era architecture remains, an elegant reminder of the town’s early days as a refinery port. The British developed areas to service the Burma Oil Company, including houses for employees. Thanlyin’s earlier Portuguese history is also apparent. Philip de Brito, adventurer and notorious occupier of Thanlyin in the late 1500s has left his mark. The ruins of a church, built in the 1700s, houses the tombstones of Portuguese missionaries.

The Kyaik Kauk Pagoda, on the way to nearby Kyauk Tan, is a popular destination, as is the remarkable Kyauk Tan Yaylel Pagoda. Its name translates to ‘in the middle of the water’ and for obvious reason. Boats ferry visitors to the pagoda, which sits mid-stream. Catfish swim alongside the boats, looking for food from the passengers.


Yangon Port – Heart of Burma / Myanmar's Main Port

The Yangon Port, which is located right next to the downtown on the banks of the Yangon River, has been the main port handling Myanmar’s shipping cargo since colonial times.


Yangon River | Source: Colegota

In ancient times, the Yangon Port was a small fishing village. The British seized the Port during the First Anglo-Burmese War from 1824 to 1826 but handed it back to Burma after the war. A fire then destroyed the Port in 1841. In 1852, during the next Anglo-Burmese War, the Port was again taken over by the British, along with all of the south of the country. Under the British, the Yangon Port was developed into the commercial hub for the country as a whole. By the late 1800s, the Port had a fast-growing population, and was growing very prosperous. Yangon city was built around the Port on delta land, and the city was made the capital of British Burma. The Japanese occupied the Port during World War II, and after Burma gained independence in 1948, it was infused with more local character.

Yangon has been disadvantaged because it has not had deep-water access close to the city, hence it was unable to accommodate more modern deep-sea vessels, including large passenger cruise ships. Larger vessels entering at Yangon Port have had to be piloted to negotiate sand bars between the mouth of the river and downtown, and ships can cross only at high tide. As a result, the Yangon port could accommodate only relatively small ships, and it can take as many as two days for a ship to navigate the journey from the sea, up the river channel and across the sandbars to reach port.

The Port is in the process of being upgraded and redeveloped into a modern harbor to be completed in 2015. Feasibility studies are also underway to assess how to further improve the Yangon River Channel to improve accessibility and reduce logistics costs. A business and cultural hub, in the near future the port will include shopping, nightlife, restaurants, and hotels as well as commercial port terminals and warehouses. With a regional cruise industry developing quickly, the port has exciting tourism potential.

Yangon port is now a vibrant blend of local culture and a colonial past - a bustling working port with colonial-era buildings, and a distinctive backdrop of Shwedagon Pagoda. Tiny traditional fishing boats and modern container ships share the river and its banks. It's a busy marketplace for local traders, with local porters unloading rice and spices from vessels along the shore, and traders conducting their business aboard the ferries on the river itself.

The Strand Road runs the length of the port area alongside the downtown area. It borders Yangon’s China Town, and features some distinctive landmarks including the old Strand Hotel and the Botataung Pagoda. Foreign embassies and the Ministry of Trade building are also found here, along with other important government buildings.


Thilawa – Mouth of the Yangon River

If you are taking a cruise in Myanmar (Burma), chances are that your ship will dock at Thilawa Port! Yangon has a second port at Thilawa, located 16 km south of Yangon Port nearer to the Andaman Sea at the mouth of Yangon River, for larger vessels unable to berth in the heart of the city. It was built in the mid '90s, and is about one-hour's drive from the Yangon city center. Taxis should be ready waiting for you at the port entrance, and there is normally a shuttle bus that takes about one hour to reach the city from the port that’s free of charge.


Thilawa shipyard | Source: camce.com.cn

In addition to cruise ships, a great deal of the country’s imports and exports go through Thilawa Port. Thilawa is also the location of one of Myanmar’s most important new mega-projects, Thilawa Special Economic Zone. Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a vast industrial zone and new port about to be developed. The zone is just 25 kilometers south of downtown Yangon, adjacent to the existing Thilawa Port on the east bank of the Yangon River. The 2,400-hectare (6,000-acre) site will incorporate the existing port facility at Thilawa and a new industrial zone, container yards and port.

Japan is focusing a large proportion of its financial interests and technical expertise on the Thilawa project. In November 2012, it pledged a fresh US$615 million in loans to Myanmar, with "a significant portion" earmarked for the Thilawa project. As well as financial backing, Japan will share environmentally friendly technology to develop a "Smart City," supported by cutting edge infrastructure. This massive infrastructure development is expected to have an enormous positive impact on the country’s overall economic growth, improving employment opportunities and helping to increase connectivity across the region. The project is expected to be completed and operational in 2015.


Dawei – Deep-sea Access / New Destination in South

Dawei is a city in southeastern Myanmar, located at Tavoy on the coast of the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean, approximately 610 km south of Yangon and 350 km west of Bangkok, Thailand. Dawei is also the name of the ethnic nationality in Myanmar that lives there. Dawei become connected to the rest of Myanmar by railways and roads only recently, but is now the location of a new deep-sea port and special economic zone.


Dawei Sea Port | Source: aurecon

The 250-km square (61,775-acre) development at Dawei is expected to cost about US$58 billion and to include a deep-sea port, a heavy industrial park, power plants, and tourism facilities. Japan is supporting the project, but its major focus is Thilawa, mentioned above. Thailand has a tremendous interest in the development, as Dawei will give Thailand more direct access to international trade routes and markets in India, Europe and Africa, bypassing the Malacca Strait. It will also become a source of power generation for Thailand. An 8-lane highway and railway will connect Dawei and Bangkok, and a railway to Kunming in China is also planned.

Dawei’s Maungmagan Beach, a well known and popular beach destination used to be a key beach getaway spot for the British during colonial times. The fisheries industry is the main economic activity there. There are also several hot springs on the outskirts of Dawei, and the largest reclining Buddha in Myanmar is about 30 minutes from Dawei.


Kyaukphyu – Bay of Bengal Entryway

A third major new port project is located at Kyaukphyu, in Rakhine State, off the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Kyaukphyu is located on a tremendous natural harbor that traditionally connected Calcutta and Yangon for rice trade. The US$109 billion project underway there will cover approximately 120 sq. kilometers and will include a deep-sea port, oil wharves, road transport terminals, residential and recreation areas.


SHWE Field Development Jetty Project | Source: HSL

As part of the project, the airport on Yanbye (Ramree) Island will be expanded and upgraded. Still in the design phase, the zone will incorporate the current Shwe Gas and China-Myanmar Corridor Projects, under construction to supply China with natural gas via overland pipeline across Myanmar. An 800-km railway and highway from Kyaukphyu to Muse, China, will connect China to the Bay of Bengal.

The deep-sea port is under construction on Maday Island, east of Kyaukphyu. The port will berth 300,000-ton oil tankers and become an important link for China to petroleum from the Middle East and other international markets. Although China will receive many benefits from the development, the advantages to Myanmar in terms of economic growth, employment and improved infrastructure will also be significant.

Kyaukpyu Viewpoint (known as “Point”) is a popular spot for tourists and young local lovers. It includes a beach and a sightseeing tower that looks out into the Bay of Bengal and the mouth of the Thanzit (Kyaukpyu) River.


For more insight into the workings of the Burmese economy and political climate - be sure to check out our section on Business in Myanmar (Burma).