“Relaxing beach getaway” isn’t a phrase generally associated with Burma, but we decided to give the Indian Ocean a try. During our two days at Chaung Tha in the Irrawaddy River Delta, we could count the number of Westerners on the beach on two hands—and there’s a reason for that. Southeast Asia has an abundance of easily accessible beaches and islands, and Chaung Tha is not one of them.
Serene, paradisical, restful after a week on the road (plus all the weeks of work preceding that). But not easily accessible. It took eight hours one way on a wretched excuse for a road, in a bus that should have been put out of its misery when I was in elementary school. Erin said that throughout the bus ride, she kept repeating to herself, “Crab and lobster, crab and lobster,” as a way of remembering that there would be something worthwhile waiting for us at the end of a long, hot, dusty day of travel.
And indeed, the seafood at Chaung Tha was delectable. Local fishermen walked up and down the beach, carrying buckets of still struggling sea creatures for sale. A lady pulled out a huge crab and dangled it before me as I sat on our bungalow porch the first afternoon at the beach—we opted to eat in breezy outdoor restaurants, though, rather than buy straight from the fishermen. Calamari with garlic and lime, crab in a masala curry, massive shrimp with a sweet and spicy Thai sauce. We made each meal on the beach count.
The morning of our second day, we took a small ferry out to an even smaller island that claimed to have whiter sand than the beach where we were staying. As we buzzed along in this tiny and probably overcrowded boat, I thought of all the times you read headlines reporting the number dead in ferries sunk in places like the Indian Ocean and hoped we weren’t about to become one of those headlines. The more I thought about it, however, I decided that while we might be overloaded, we were too small of a ferry to make international headlines if we sank. Then we reached the little island, and I became too busy scouting out a nice stretch of sand to take a nap on my new batik cloth to worry any longer about drowning.
There would appear to be a national ordinance in Burma that one stupa be built per every certain number of square feet of land. You could probably pick this little island up and plop it down inside my parents’ house with room to spare—but they still managed to build a gold stupa smack in the middle of it. Erin and I were the only Westerners on the island that day; the rest were Burmese tourists and families out for a morning in the sun. While some of the local men might wear swim trunks or fold their longyi up into something resembling shorts when they go in the water, the ladies go in dressed as they are, in jeans and t-shirts or in their longyi. Erin and I were the only women wearing swimsuits.
I had a good nap that morning on the island, before going back to our bungalow for lunch and another nap on our not-white-sand beach. I probably needed another three or four days of napping to be completely satisfied, but we had a plane to catch in Yangon. Chaung Tha Beach was a delightful two days of respite, but unless they widen the road and get new buses, look for me in Thailand or Malaysia on my next ocean-side vacation.
Next in the “Burmese Days” series: ”Why I Travel“