A fantastic little town, charming Ye is a delightful and seriously off-the-beaten path destination — it was completely off-limits to any foreigners from independence until late 2013. If anywhere fits the travel writing cliche ‘hidden’, then it’s probably Ye. The coast is on one side and hills on the other, with just a tiny trickle of adventurous tourists coming through. It has good accommodation, great restaurants and even some nightlife — what are you waiting for?
Located just over the Tanintharyi border in southern Mon State, Ye (pronounced yay) is the area’s administrative and commercial centre. Due to many years of fighting between government and both Mon and Karen forces, the whole region between Dawei and Thanbyuzayat (south of Mawlamyine) was out of bounds for foreigners until peace accords were signed in 2013 and the area judged to be safe. No visitors of any kind had been here since 1947 — how hidden is that to outsiders?
Some interior areas are still sensitive and forbidden, but foreigners are now free to travel the highway between Ye and towns north and south, and also to visit the surrounding area. We saw practically no police or military checkpoints, we didn’t have to show our passport once and we were free to hire a motorbike and cruise around the countryside at will. Stunned but clearly happy locals still gawp in amazement and it’s difficult for a tourist to comprehend the enormity for them of these very recent changes. Unless they’ve travelled to, say, Yangon then no one here under the age of 70 would have ever seen a Westerner.
There are some good sights that locals are proud of, such as spectacular Banana Mountain, Bin Le Wa Beach, Jaun Yua village and the Ye River, while the little town itself squeezed on a low bluff between the river and a scenic lake is a lovely spot on its own.
The population is around half-Mon and half-Bamar, and the surrounding areas are Mon and Karen. Local industries include fishing, rubber, and fruit and vegetable cultivation, including betel and pepper. In some ways we’re reluctant to write a travel guide to this idyllic destination. Please, if you do come, make sure you leave its inhabitants with a good impression of the outside world!
The town of Ye lies on slightly raised ground overlooking a bend in the eponymously named river. It’s surrounded by paddy and plantations. As the crow flies, the Andaman coast is less than 10 kilometres west and Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province 40 kilometres to the east. Apart from the actual point itself at Kawthaung, Ye forms the narrowest part of southern Burma.
The old town, sited presumably on the first area of dry land upriver from the Ye’s estuary, lies mostly on the slight rise between the river and a small lake. This lake is actually a remaining section of an ancient city moat — Ye’s been around for a while. The lake has several cafes and tea shops, a few pagodas and the Starlight and May Shan Guesthouses on its shore.
One block south the town’s principal temple, Shwe San Daw, which overlooks the main commercial street of May Yu. This is where you’ll find cafes, shops, bus company offices and the only exchange and foreign ATM facilities in town at the dependable KBZ bank. The main hospital is also at the western end of May Yu nearly opposite the bank. Another block south and you’ll see the lively market backing onto the river.
The small station is at the far end of the western continuation of May Yu though there’s no bus station as such, with coaches loading up outside their respective offices on the main street. Incoming buses drop off on the main Dawei to Mawlamyine highway which skirts the town to the east. Jaun Yua village is also east. The police station is located at the junction of the highway and the main side road leading into town.
The town centre is compact and easily navigated on foot.
By Mark Ord . Last updated on 24th June, 2016.