Chaung Tha Beach, Myanmar
From the mountains, to the cities, along the rivers, through the crop fields, over the past month I’ve seen much of Myanmar’s landscape. But there’s one area, until now, I haven’t seen: and that’s the beach.
It’s no great surprise that Myanmar would have beaches. Its neighbouring countries – like Thailand and Cambodia – have sandy coastlines that tourists have flocked to for years. But it’s not what you think of typically when you think of Myanmar.
The closest beach to Yangon (and, incidentally, the easiest to get to) is called Chaung Tha. But just because it’s the easiest to get to, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a comfortable journey. Like most travel in Myanmar, things are not designed for foreign tourists. The only bus from Yangon on leaves at six o’clock in the morning and unfortunately I missed that. That meant a different bus to a town called Pathein and then an extremely uncomfortable trip in a post-war Japanese bus clearly made for post-war Japanese legs. The dozens of bags of rice filling the aisle didn’t help.
But with the discomfort comes some advantages. It means the tourist crowds are thinner – so thin in fact that it’s almost hard to spot white skin on the beach. All along the sand, in the shallows of the surf, in the shadows of the turf, are Myanmar faces.
“You want to join us,” the young man asks.
He’s with some other friends and they’re offering a chance to join a game. It looks like fun although I don’t have the correct attire, which seems to be a pair of wet jeans, no shirt, and a lithe well-toned body.
Like every day this time of year in Myanmar, there’s hardly a cloud in the sky. The sun beats down and the cooling water provides respite. Vendors along the beach provide even further refreshment. There are drinks and food and, if you’re feeling a more active, balls or inner tubes or kites to play with.
The resorts along the sand confuse me slightly. There don’t seem to be enough foreigners here to support them all (and this is the high season) so I have to assume they’re used by locals. Despite all the near-poverty I’ve seen in the rural areas, there must be some wealthy people in Myanmar who can bring the family down to Chaung Tha for the weekend or a week. I try not to think about it too much, because it would probably lead down a thought path involving rich and corrupt military officers… and that’s not what a couple of days at the beach should be about!
This may not be the perfect golden sands of some beaches in South East Asia. But it does mirror most of them in the flat surfless waters. It’s noticeably quieter than many of the ones I’ve been to and that’s refreshing. Things certainly seem more relaxed here than other parts of the country. Life is easy, life is slow.
As with many other places I’ve seen in the past few weeks, I wonder for how long will it remain so quiet. The backpacking drifters will find this soon enough.