I’ve been to a few beaches over the years, and have seen my fair share of sand, shells and shore creatures, but until I went to Ngapali beach in Myanmar, I’d never seen sand art like these intricate, swirling designs that appeared every day at low tide. What made them even more remarkable, was that the artists who created these one-of-a-kind artworks weren’t human. They were a unique species known as sand bubbler crabs!
We discovered Ngapali beach while planning our trip to Myanmar, my plan being to include a few days ‘vacation from our vacation’ by spending a little downtime at the ocean – a good idea after 15 days of climbing temples, hiking hills to remote villages, navigating lakes and uncovering ruins around the country. Googling ‘best beach in Myamar’, I saw Ngapali Beach pop up which promised us plenty of sunshine, soft sandy beaches, gentle surf, and clear turquoise waters.
In fact, Ngapali beach was all that and more – because not only was the beach as beautiful as its description, but it was practically deserted. Or so we thought, until we saw that there was a very prolific artistic community who came out every day at low tide to create their intricate designs in the sand. More surprising was that these talented artists were actually tiny sand bubbler crabs!
Sand Bubbler Crabs: an Indo-Pacific-Specific Species
Turns out that Ngapali is home to a particular species of crab known as ‘sand bubbler crabs’, a species that is native to the tropical Indo-Pacific part of the world, (which explains why I hadn’t seen them before on our western side of the globe).
These ‘bubblers’ burrow into the sand during high tide, and emerge when the tide recedes to scour and filter the sand looking for tiny organic material to eat. They do this by creating little sand balls that they form with their legs and then toss behind them, slowly working their way further and further from their hole in the search for food.
Sometimes the paths they take form concentric circles…
…sometimes the Type A crabs take a more linear path…
…until the result is a giant collage of multiple designs that overlap and intersect, creating sand art that covers hundreds of square feet of beach.
Of course, capturing the artist in action requires a little patience, since at the first hint of movement the sand bubbler crabs scurry back into their respective holes, and the artistic process comes to a complete halt.
But if you wait patiently and stand still long enough, the crabs will re-emerge to continue their work, fiddling and tossing their little sand balls behind them. And this search for food goes on for hours, day in, day out, tide after tide. Talk about a starving artist!
The Art of Sand: Creature Comforts for 2-Legged Beach Lovers
Fortunately, we humans didn’t have to work as hard as sand bubbler crabs to find our food or drink on Ngapali beach. One standout example that was inspired by the crabs’ beachy artwork was the modern and decidedly grownup beach lounge appropriately named ‘The Art of Sand’.
As beautiful and elegant as the designs on the beach itself, this bar was a sophisticated place to relax on comfy lounges and watch the sun set, all while nibbling on a few snacks and sipping another little beach luxury: champagne!
In fact, it turned out to be the perfect place to spoil ourselves with a bubbly sundowner and take in the unspoiled beauty of a Ngapali beach sunset.
From sand-bubbler crabs to drinking bubbly on the beach, Ngapali beach delivered on everything Google promised – and more. If you ever decide to visit Myanmar, I’d highly recommend including it in your itinerary – if only to see its unique and prolific ‘artists-in-residence’.
TIP: Whatever your last stop is in Myanmar, make sure you change any excess local currency (kyat) back into another more widely-accepted currency, especially if you are returning right away to Canada. No banks or foreign exchange offices here in Toronto would exchange Myanmar notes.