One problem with so many foreigners going to other countries is they often ignore the countries traditions. We try to be as respectful of this and follow them as closely as we can. When someone in Burma wants to get the waiters attention, they smooch their lips together like they are blowing a kiss and make smacking noises. To us it seems like they are making kissy faces. I never got too comfy with this technique, but still, when in Rome do as a Roman. So we were at a restaurant at Ngwe Saung Beach and I wanted another beer, so I turned, puckered my lips, and let out a loud “smack smack” sound. The only problem between the waiter and I were a bunch of lads that looked like the German Wrestling team. They were drinking a large bottle of whiskey at their table. They all got up and gave me their best “I am going to kick your ass” look. I tried to explain that it was typical here and apologized to them. Lucky for me, they were all expats here so they all just burst out laughing after scaring the heck out of me. I finally did get my beer to help with my humiliation.
Ngwe Saung Beach is a nice stretch of beach that is over 11 miles long, dotted with resorts and farms, you never feel like it is crowded here. When we first went out to the beach, we looked both ways and did not see a single person for as far as the eye could see. The water can be very wavy here, but it makes for good body surfing. The sand was very fine, perfect for lying out. If you don’t want to lie on the beach, you can sit on lounge chairs that were all set up with bamboo umbrellas. Along the water line there were lots of little blue jellyfish the size of quarters, but I never once got stung.
The bus ride here was horrible, not pleasant in any fashion. We took a ten-hour bus from Bagan back to Yangon, crashed in a hotel, and left at 5 am to catch the bus to Ngwe Saung. The journey was only 6 hours, but it was the worst six hours on a bus the entire trip. The roads were twisty and mountainous, and the driver whipped all those turns as fast as he could. The locals were all puking, giving the van that lovely sweet smell of some ones guts. I was nauseous and ready to vomit myself. Yvonne on the other hand got the window seat and said she felt great the whole trip. Lucky her.
Once we got off the bus we waved down two scooters and started the resort search. It’s always an adventure when you are laden down with massive backpacks, smaller bags, and random souvenirs and ride on the back of these small scooters. There’s a trail of sparks behind us as the frame of the bike scrapes the ground. The drivers are usually small Burmese men half the size of us, yet they still manage to get us to our destination with out crashing. The road runs parallel to the beach, but not close enough that you can see if through the palm trees and small hotels. We checked out a few and settled for Hotel Shwe Hin Tha because of price and atmosphere. It’s very difficult to negotiate here, and everything is in cash. I repeat, there are no ATM’s within an hours drive from there. After getting a bungalow I negotiated with one of the drivers to rent his scooter for the entire time we were there. This is essential to beach living. We settled on a price and we now had an air-conditioned bungalow, on the beach, with our own transportation. There is only electricity here twice a day, for three hours at a time.
This was still holiday time for Burmese, so we were practically the only foreigners there, but that made it all the more fun. We got invited in to hang out with large family parties, and they always had a fifth of whiskey on the table. The parties often started early, sometimes before we woke, but would be over well before we went to bed. Day drinking could be dangerous fun. They also were not too big on swimming, which often left you alone on the beach. Perfect!
We were at the Southern end of the beach near an island that could only be reached at low tide by walking on a sand bank or otherwise swimming. At the base of the island is a poorly made Mermaid statue. I decided to snorkel around the island, and though visibility was low I still spotted a stonefish and some other beautiful sea life. The island is not huge, but the ocean got quiet rough near the end, with currents coming from both ends. If you are not an excellent swimmer then don’t attempt it. I was dashed around the rocks more than once, and ended up climbing up to regain some perspective. By this time Yvonne had decided I was up to no good and was searching for me from the tree lined ridge above. I decided to head back with her through the center instead of snorkeling along the edge, too many chances of slicing myself up from sharp coral.
There is little to no nightlife here, just peace and quiet. We met a young man on the bus up who put on a fire show, so we stopped by to check it out. Even though he did an amazing job, and it was the only bar with open at night, there was only one other person there. After the show he told us how he learned fire eating in Thailand, and decided to bring it back here. But business was hard because there was just no demand here.
The rural tranquility of this beach cannot be understated. It’s not uncommon to see herds of goats being lead along the beach to different pastures, ox wagons filled with produce, and fishermen catching fish with nets. During low tide all the locals would go zipping down the beach in scooters along the water line. We decided it was high time to give this a try ourselves, but I was way more cautious than the locals. As we were going down the beach, waves crashing besides us, a Burmese couple was driving in front of us. They hit a soft spot in the sand and both flipped off. Luckily they were not hurt. On the other side of the coin though, it’s damn fun driving on the beach. Not something you are likely going to be allowed to do ever in the states.
After driving a few miles down to the Northern end of the beach we came upon the high-end ultra expensive hotels. There was an entire subdivision of luxury apartments to stay in. We climbed into an electric golf cart and were given the tour of the apartments. We decided to rent one for my birthday the next day. They were only around $150 per night. We figured a five star resort would take credit card and we were out of money, with no ATMs within a 100 miles. But they didn’t. Sadly, we had no choice but to leave the next day on a bus. The one thing they were good for though is Wifi. If you are down at the beach and want to connect to the rest of the world these 5 star resorts are the only place you can do it.
After looking around we stopped in to what we thought was a locals bar. We had enough for a few beers. There were only guys drinking at plastic tables and a woman behind the plywood bar. They were a rough looking bunch. The owner ushered us to some plastic stools, knocking some of his friends out of the way. He said something to the one of the kids and he ran down the street. We had a feeling that we were in the wrong place, and possibly not the smartest place to be. No one spoke English. We could not figure out why it was taking so long with the beers, so I took a napkin out and started sketching one of the guys. Next thing you know, it goes from a possible hostile environment to a super friendly laugh fest. Soon I was drawing everyone at the bar.
The kid came running back with two beers he had bought at another store, it was not a beer bar at all. Didn’t matter now though, because we were all friends. They were all eating some interesting appetizers. It was a wad of green leaves mushed together, kind of looked like weed, in a heavy sauce. They offered it to us. I’m not lying, it seemed a bit like cow dung, and had a barney flavor to it. Not horrible but still very odd tasting. They were all drinking out of bottles of coke, but it was not coke they were drinking. Turned out to be a moonshine bar. Soon we were drinking out of the coke bottles too, and feeling really great. We were all laughing and goofing around.
The thing about guys from Myanmar is that there is no personal space between men, so it’s not uncommon to see them hugging and touching more freely then we are used to. But with woman there is always a space, and very little touching. The best example is when I took pictures with the guys, they practically jumped on my lap. But with Yvonne they would not even put their arm over her shoulder. Just one of the many mysteries of Myanmar. Hanging out at that bar was a perfect end for our last day at Ngwe Saung Beach.
Wonderful post! I loved hearing about the joke the Germans played on you, and how having an artist around is a good way to smooth things over at not-a-local-bar.
Thanks so much for checking it out. I have gotten out of a lot of trouble using that trick. In Myanmar they love it when you sketch them. I always draw a crowd, no pun intended. It works to be a great ice breaker. Most of the time no one speaks English, but it all works out well. Here’s a link to a time when I was in the Philippines and I really was not sure how things were going to go.