YANGON—The Rakhine government has given the green light for a new night market in southern Rakhine’s Thandwe Township, the location of the miles-long uniquely beautiful Ngapali Beach, as a means of introducing the night-out culture in the Rakhine community and drawing some tourists too.
Ko Tun Thant Kyaw, the managing director of Shwe Khine Thazin, a public company in Thandwe, said nearly 100 residents submitted a collective proposal for the night market project to the Rakhine State government in August. On Oct. 12, it was officially approved by the government’s administrative office.
Although night markets and nightlife culture are commonplace for residents in the commercial cities of Yangon and Mandalay, it is a new concept in Rakhine State. Ko Tun Thant Kyaw has learned that tourists visiting Thandwe sometimes ask if there is a market or place where they can buy traditional Rakhine dishes and local handicrafts.
He said, “Despite [producing] a number of sea and fish products, locals can’t easily buy them around the downtown area. By creating this project, Thandwe locals will at least have a place to visit.”
According to him, the project will not be funded by the state government but by Thandwe locals and business people. They plan to support the night market by establishing the relevant infrastructure including electricity and a water supply, a land labeling process as well as a drainage system. He believes that the new project could provide a number of jobs for locals.
The government-approved location for the night market is to be in front of Thandwe’s Myoma Playground, near the Thandwe River Bridge. However, this location, at 8 kilometers—a 14-minute drive—from hotels serving Ngapali Beach may not be close enough to attract tourists. Late afternoons and evenings at Ngapali are usually spent enjoying the sunset and swimming and playing on the beach. Thus, implementing a night market closer to the beach and hotel zone would likely draw more tourists.
The initial step, which is to be carried out by the Shwe Khine Thazin company in the coming months, will be plot designation. The selected compound will have a concrete floor laid. The public company has estimated that the project will cost approximately 100 million kyats ($63,200). However, a committee is to be formed to decide who is to be assigned to which market plots.
“Apart from pagodas, we don’t have any places to visit in Thandwe at nighttime. As you know, pagodas and temples are not a tourist’s favorite location to visit at night. Even locals want to eat out at night, but there is no proper market where they can get a variety of foods in one place,” said Ko Tun Thant Kyaw.
He said the township municipality will arrange garbage management for the night market. It’s unclear, however, whether they would have sufficient human resources to handle a new project, as the head of the township municipal previously told The Irrawaddy that a lack of staff was the cause for poor waste management reported at Ngapali Beach. As for management of the market, he suggested the authorities form a committee made up of members of the municipal government and some influential businesspeople.
“In one way, it is the right idea as there is nothing [to do at night] in Ngapali. But people do not want to drive or travel far in the evening, especially before or after dinner, so it would need to be nearby,” said Oliver E Soe Thet who operates Laguna Lodge Eco Hotel in Ngapali.
In terms of the night market project, he believes it’s a good idea as long as the products sold are predominantly Rakhine—traditional souvenirs, Rakhine dishes and snacks—instead of selling imported Chinese or Thai products. Authentic local products like coconut leaf maps, hats, coconut shell artwork, items made from seashells as well as bamboo-made accessories could attract more tourists. He hopes for the market to be Rakhine-driven with Rakhine goods to ensure jobs for Rakhine people and a proper income for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
“It should have many Rakhine desserts and food like monti (rice noodles) made by family-style shops, not by chain [restaurants] which would spoil the image. Women should be at the forefront and sell their goods and food, especially desserts. It should be something the local people are proud of themselves about.”
As well as running Laguna Lodge, Oliver is active in promoting environmental conservation in Ngapali and has an anti-sand-mining campaign so is concerned that sand from Ngapali Beach will be used in the construction of the market with the excuse that it is being used for public interests.
Oliver, a German native based in Ngapali for many years—including during the military regime—said that in late 2017 he submitted his own proposal for a community-based night market project in the village at Ngapali Beach to Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu but a year later, however, it’s status is still pending. His more recent suggestions for the planned night market to be established near Ngapali Beach rather than in Thandwe have also been ignored.
The town of Thandwe is home to a mix population including Muslims and Kaman with a majority of Buddhists. When sectarian conflict between Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine community erupted in 2012, Thandwe residents also suffered tremendously and over the past few years, the authorities have occasionally announced curfew orders in the area. Following the violence in northern Rakhine State in August of 2017, it was reported that some members of Thandwe’s community instigated racial hatred by spreading false information on two separate occasions, though no acts of violence are reported to have taken place.