Along the banks of the Irrawaddy in the delta region lies a mile-long stretch of sand. During the summer months the water levels sink, revealing the sandy banks below.
This stretch, called Yankinthar Beach, attracts thousands of visitors from the Irrawaddy region and is a hit with locals wanting to escape the stifling Rangoon summer heat.
In the past Yankinthar village used to lie on the river’s banks and residents would farm the surrounding land and fish to make a living. Due to water erosion the village had to be demolished and the beach was given to the former residents as compensation.
Now, hundreds of tarpaulin huts and colourful umbrellas are packed onto the beach. Children play on rubber rings in the water, people drink beer in the shade and families eat picnics on plastic chairs.
The farmers from the old village run the many shops and restaurants, earning more money catering to summer visitors than they did farming.
“We earn a lot when the beach is here. And we sell more during the Thyingyan water festival. We get around 10,000 kyats (US$10) a day,” said food seller Mya Mya.
Over the past two months 30,000 visitors have come to the beach. Khin Win Yi sells dried fish and said everyone is enjoying a steady income now.
“When the beach is here it is good for poor people to sell things. Before was very difficult,” she said.
Fish stall owner Ko Pi Si said each year the beach gets busier.
“We can sell 20-30 viss (33- 49 kg) at the weekend. There are about seven thousand people here a day. There are more people here this year than last,” he said.
The beach is about 1 ½ hours from Rangoon and families are choosing this beach over other popular beaches near by.
“I am happy that the beach is close to us. We don’t go to Chaung Thar beach now. This is close and convenient. We are planning to come again next month,” a visitor from Rangoon said.
The government set up a tender system for people who want to run shops and bungalows. The money earned from this season will be used to rebuild the local City Hall and whatever is left over goes towards the annual Thingyan water festival.
“Last year, tens of thousands of people visited during the water festival. We hope the same number of people to come this year,” said Aye Swe, senior custodian of Yankinthar Beach.
However, soon the rainy season will begin and the beach will once again be submerged in the Irrawaddy. The restaurant owners and shop sellers, who rely on the summer income, will have go back to work in the paddy fields and fish for their living, until the river levels drop again.