Ngwe Saung, Myanmar

Two years after my last visit to Myanmar, I’m back. I have beaches to explore.

This started out as a dive trip, but since the Mergui Archipelago is better reached via livaboards or via Bangkok, we settled for quiet beach R&R at Ngwe Saung. It’s the ‘closest’ beach to Yangon (5 hours drive) and a popular spot for Burmese families.

The actions starts at 6am when families (loudly) set up picnics on the hotel grass with what seems like a whole household of kitchenware. Four generations of family rent inflatable black rubber tubes to play in the waves. They all remain fully clothed, wearing their $1000Kyat woven green palm tree hats in an attempt to keep their skin whiter than white.  For the majority of the day the beach is absolutely deserted. Everyone siestas to avoid the 40 degree midday sun. The beach only starts to come alive again for sunset where you can take $2 USD pony rides up and down the surf.

For sun-worshiping Westerners mad enough to brave the 2pm sun, there’s ‘Lovers Island.’ It’s quite a cool game to see if you can judge tide & 800 meter shallow channel walk / swim. Otherwise you could be there a while (hence the name.)

wpid-img_20140420_201209.jpgIf you rent motorbikes, you can reach a decent elephant camp 45 min inland.  The little Dumbos look cheerier and better kept than the ones you see in neighboring Chiang Mai. Apparently after they’ve done their tourist work in the morning, they release the herd into to chill the wild every afternoon. Their keepers sometimes have to walk up to 3 miles to round them up the next day. The crafty elephants have learn to stuff leaves into their neck bells so prevent against a dead giveaway!

Overall, there’s lots of talk of Myanmar ‘opening up’ after they hosted the 2011 SEA Games. Maybe. But very slowly. The music videos remain innocently non-MTV, and the 60 year old Korean cast off buses still rumble through the unpaved countryside. BBC’s Top Gear recently waved their magic wand with their Burma Special, so it’s yet to see whether this has the ‘Vietnam’ effect.

Along with Inle Lake & Bagan which I visited last time, Ngwe Saung falls into the ‘lovely’ Myanmar box; authentic, friendly, hassle free.  Yangon (after a quick second visit) still has a way to go. After a nice meal at Feel restaurant and $5 USD cocktails in the most amazing airport departures bar, it edges nearer though.

Where we stayed:
* AMBO Hotel – $35 Beach Bungalow. Rustic (cold showers, fan not aircon) lovely owners, $1 USD motorbike rides into the village or 15 min walk. There’s only a couple of budget options V’s the $150 USD resorts. It’s a long walk between each hotel along the 15KM beach.

Where we ate:
Ume Japanese Cafe – A unexpected wood-decked gem across the road from Silver Beach. Massive portions and kick-ass rum & lemon juice cocktails.

Getting there:
* Bargain flights with Tiger Air, even over Easter weekend – $160 SGD return.
* Private night car transfer from Yangon to Ngwe Saung (x5 hours) – $150 SGD!
* Bus tickets Ngwe Saung to Yangon (x6 hours) – $10 USD (Daily)

 

 

 

Myanmar Airport

So in summary.

I’m keeping Yangon out of this as I don’t want it to mar my memories of what is otherwise an interesting and beautiful country.

Myanmar surpassed my expectations in that it’s much easier, much safer, and much friendlier (kind of) than from the outside looking in. Bagan especially, is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been.

Thing is, everyone I know (all two/three of them) who have been here, claim it’s their favorite country. For me it’s nowhere near. Doesn’t even make my top 10. Actually it doesn’t even make the top 30.

Myanmar Round Up

Thumbs up to:

1)      The colours: Bright red tomatoes in huge baskets being shipped along the canals, purple skies, Bagan’s green fields.

2)      Women: If we wanted something doing ask a girl! From the Angle mercy at EverSky tours, to the women who found Jessica a bus ticket at 11pm at night, to our water bottle aid worker on the bus. The women of Myanmar are notably the most helpful, friendly, and motherly in the world.

3)      This is more a love to hate; the hilariously cringe MTV wannabe music videos that they played on the buses. Think Rebecca black but worse if that’s possible.  I’m going to try and U Tube a few and link them here. I sat through THE MOST cringe 90 min made for TV movie, in full Burmese but the acting was so Sunset Beach some things just shine through language barriers.  It involved a girl running over a dog, a dance routine, and then falling in love. Oscar worthy.

4)      Aloe Vera juice, and the nice apple toasties (who knew?)

Thumbs down to:

1)      The hard sell – The typical hard core harassment  that is distinctive to Thailand/India especially. One lady pinned us with butterfly broaches as ‘presents’ and effectively branded us as hers till we fought her off with her faux jade necklaces. The kids too have adopted an interesting – ‘I like your bracelets/pen/chocolate/water bottle- can I have it as present for my dying grandma?’ Which is one for the heartstrings and you have to admire their innovation.

2)      Internet access/state control. And with it inevitably everything that comes with Myanmar politics. Which i’ve taken the easy road and left out, it being much complex for here/I.

Where I stayed:

Joy Guesthouse, Nyaungshwe,
Pann Cherry Guesthouse, Nyaung U
Kumundara Hotel, New Bagan
The White Hotel, Yangon

Yangon, Myanmar

Most people still know it as Rangoon. Most people think it’s the capital.

(In case it ever comes up in a pub quiz, the actual capital of Myanmar is Nay Pya Taw. It’s restricted for foreigners to stay, like various parts of the country, but we pass through it around midnight on the night bus to Inle. )

I’m just going to say what you’re not supposed to. I loathe Yangon. More than north island New Zealand, more than Uruguay. At first I just thought it was an ugly place, but turns out its downright offensive.

Visually it looks like a huge volcanic ash cloud has erupted all over its sprawling streets. There are some flashes of what could be beautiful – pastel yellows, greens, purples, on the front of the 5-story European-esk townhouses, but this vibrancy is tarnished with blackened soot and grime that makes the buildings all look like wartime blitz victims. Its little India meets Chinatown in a big car crash of mish mashed mess. I keep expecting cockroaches and rats to crawl out of the cracked pavements and walls, but I don’t see either. Maybe they got together and decided it was too hideous even for them. I was hissed at, cackled at and generally gauped at none stop. One of the rudest cities I’ve ever been to. I wasn’t scantily dressed or touting pro-democracy flags or anything – so seriously, what is it?

So Yangon, I’m seeking my revenge by

a) Rising above it. By sticking my earphones, trying to exercise some grace, and refraining from screaming ‘what the f*ck is your problem?!’ Despite wanting to several times.

b) By leaving thank god, after just over 32 hours here.

C) By slagging off your most prised landmark. Ha. Just north of the squalor of Central Yangon’s vile streets sits the much worshiped Shwedagon Paya with its famous Stupa (pointy bit on top.) Vast numbers of Buddhists make pilgrimages here and it’s the defining landmark of the city. Well do you know what; it’s an extravagantly gold-clad monstrosity. Pure tac!

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, also spelled Pagan, on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, is home to the largest area of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. (That’s travelwiki talking.)

Brave statement alert coming up: its waay better than Angkor Wat in Cambodia! What’s the bets I’m going to be annoying and drop that into conversation every chance I get. It’s so mesmerizing in fact, I’ll say it in pics.

Nuang U

We rolled from bus-gate straight to the nearest $5 guesthouse we could find. Nuang U is the backpacker bit of Bagan, but in low season there is little to report, apart from lush Indian food at ‘A little Taste of and an equally scrumptious breakfast at The Black Bamboo cafe. Oh and this.

I’ll pre-fix this by saying, although you know Myanmar is an oppressive military dictatorship, you don’t necessarily feel it, as a tourist here for 7 days at least. I bought a bloody Monopoly set in Inle markets for god’s sake, there are adverts for pens all over Yangon billboards – dull as that is, it’s not exactly the best strategy for stifling creativity is it. In other words, you start to think it’s not that bad. Then we discovered Myanmar internet.

Apart from taking a full 18 minutes to achieve the dizzying task of logging in and one single status change, I swear a message I sent somehow got deleted from my message feed. Big brother is watching? Apparently it’s not beyond the realms of paranoia for this to happen here. Believe me, the possibility alone and even the concept of stifling your thoughts/private FB messages, is such an insane one.

It could be worse though. After logging into her hotmail and therefore sharing her password/login with god knows who, poor Jessica managed to spam the whole world, well her colleagues, (she’s a teacher in Korea) dad, grandma with offers Viagra pills. We joke that someone might have it in for her; see’s currency carrying around 1984! After that we both decide to fall into line, a little, a both purchase Orwell’s Burmese Days from one of the stalls outside Shwe San Saw Paya pagoda.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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