In the words of Belinda Carlisle, Heaven really is a place on Earth (shame on anyone who fails to get this 1980s cheesy music reference – we are no longer friends). On Thursday, I caught the 6.30am bus from Yangon to Ngwe Saung, a tiny beach on the Bay of Bengal. A few years ago, there was literally nothing there. Today, there is almost nothing there still – a few low-rise hotels (mostly small bungalows) line the edge of the beach. Mine was right at the southern end of the beach, and there was barely 100 people on the 9 mile beach, I would guess. Picture the scene: white sand, blue blue sea, and clear skies. Oh and a tiny island called Lovers’ Island lazily lying in the lapping sea just in view of my beach hut. I am not a religious person, but this is how I would chose to picture heaven. And if that were heaven, it would sorely tempt me to go to church every Sunday to ensure I could spend the rest of eternity there.
The journey there was fantastic – beautiful farming country for as far as the eye could see, interspersed with winding lakes and meandering rivers. At times you could look out and mistake it for Europe, so green and lush is most of the farmland. Then you pass a giveaway sign that you are in Burma – a man driving a cart pulled by two oxen, a bamboo hut, or men and women crouching down working in the fields. So much of Burma is the country that time forgot. The last two hours of the journey were what might generously be described as ‘hairy’ – roads winding around hills, through valleys and usually at a speed that seems out of keeping with what might be termed ‘safe driving’… But I made it there and back in one piece.
My days ran something like this: wake at 8am, breakfast, lie on the beach til lunch, seafood lunch, activity after lunch (cycling, motorbikes, snorkelling), short nap and shower before dinner, seafood dinner on the beach, bed and reading by 9am. Sound good? Bliss. Needless to say, I read A LOT- finished Tortilla Flat (I now want to take a trip to California – any takers?), and read On the Road (a very different kind of trip to the one I am enjoying) and Heart of Darkness (brilliant). I might have to start the quartergapyear book club when I get back and will be auditioning for members on the first weekend of April.
I met a lovely guy called Ray, a farmer from Missouri whose family has been doing charitable work in Burma for 100 years. He raises money to fund an orphanage and health clinic, and he comes over every year to check on things, help them to build new additions, and also helps local farmers by doing things like installing solar powered irrigation systems for them. What an amazing man, doing so much good that must quite literally change people’s lives for the better.
I had enviously eyed up the local whizzing along the beach on their mototbikes and determined that I needed to find a way to do it as it looked like a hell of a lot of fun. Ray had a motorbike and when I asked him where he hired it because of my humble ambition, he immediately offered to take me. I hopped on the back and off we went for a couple of hours riding up and down the beach and exploring the local area. And then we stopped for drinks and he told me more about his charitable work. His FB page is ‘Not just next year, every year’ – check it out and send him some money for his good work. Just 200 dollars buys a family a solar powered irrigation system.
I got my fix of the sea – fantastic. Much swimming and even some snorkelling (glad I brought my gear with me).And talking of the sea, the seafood was great – many prawns and much else besides. The hotel has a small restaurant (well, a place serving food) and they did a mean Thai style prawn curry to blow your head off. I also took a bike out one day to explore the local area and justify the mountains of seafood I was eating…
It was with a really heavy heart that I took my bus back to Yangon this morning. Burma and its people have melted my heart, lifted my spirits and healed my soul. I took in every last scene of the countryside, drinking up the views, the atmosphere, the spirit of the place. I am seriously considering coming back at the end of the year on my way back from the wedding of the century in Australia. There are so many places I haven’t managed to see, and others I would love to return to. Next time, I might have to drag someone along with me as it feels bad to be here enjoying this without sharing it with someone I love.