21 April 2011

Myanmar – Part 3

By Christian

In the mid-hours of the morning we were flying to Thandwe. Although oddly we detoured to Sittwe first which is somewhat further north of Thandwe. This was completely unbeknown to us until we tried getting off the plane after it had landed, luckily, just as we were stepping through the cabin exit, one of the hostesses asked us where we were flying to.

“Thandwe” I said.

“Ah, next stop” she casually replied, almost as if we were on a city bus to the local library.

This slight confusion aside, the on-board service was immaculate. The hostesses were amazingly attentive. Continuously offering us drinks of all sorts, plus we had 2 in-flight meals for the duration of 1 and a half hours. Go Yangon Air!

Thandwe airport is fantastically simple. You walk from the plane to a small building in front of you, show your passport to 3 locals in suits who pass it amongst themselves for a minute or two and then finally you wait outside the front gate for your luggage to be delivered. Perfect! If only Heathrow could be that easy.

The hotel we’d booked with had sent out an open-back land cruiser to collect us. The driver was smiley and helpful. We clambered into the back and drove along some bumpy roads for about 20 minutes until we arrived at the beautiful Ngapali beach. Along the entire beach front are numerous government-run hotels and resorts. Some of the hotels are beautiful and others are simply amazing but none of them are cheap. I couldn’t help but feel slightly uneasy about this. Myanmar is a very cheap country. All around you – and this area is no different – the local people are living in extreme poverty. Yet, tourists are flying to Ngapali beach to live in complete luxury and spending western prices to do it. A set-up like this in neighbouring Thailand, for example, would cost you half the price. Anyhow, I wasn’t going to let this fact ruin my holiday.

The hotel we’d picked was by no means at the top-end of the range in this area, but for us it was perfect. Set ever-so-slightly back from the beach amongst the shady palm trees. The room was spacious, clean and very homely. Somewhat reminiscent of a highland cabin accept it had a balcony that provided a view to a stunningly glorious beach. Bright white sand, clear warm sea, not a cloud in the sky…heaven! Within minutes of unpacking we were dipping our toes in the water and rolling in the sand. Days came to pass where we did very little more than exactly that. It was fantastic!

There are so many wonderful aspects to Ngapali it’s difficult to know where to start. Naturally the beach is it’s main attraction, it truly is all that you could hope for. As I write this I am sat watching the horizon from my hotel balcony, listening to the waves crash on the beach below me. Local fishermen are heading back to shore in their little wooden boats with their noisy rat-a-tat motors. The sun is turning a dark orange colour and nestling itself, as it always does at 5:30pm, behind the lush, hilly island to the south-west. The hotel generators are whistling to life for the first time in the day and immediately bedroom lights ping into action throughout the hotel. An entire orchestra of animals and insects are competing with each other. Their “caws” and “clicks” and “tweets” and “bleeps” fill the air. The sun is slowly disappearing now, this is turning the entire sky a haze of blue and red. The sea has now darkened to a glittering vast of purple canvas and the palm trees in front of me are fading into a secretive silhouette. I sit-up to have another sip from my cup of local herbal tea, this draws my attention back to the horizon which is now dotted with night fishermen who are casting their lines of orange bulbs that they use to attract the evening squid. This creates a beautiful glowing-web-like effect across the quietly lapping ocean. Ahhhh…..I draw in a deep relaxing breath….and a mosquito sinks it’s needle into the sole of my foot. Bastard!

One morning we jumped into one of the local rat-a-tat boats, manned by a friendly duo, and headed to the shores of ‘Pearl Island’ for some early snorkelling. Unfortunately the coral was somewhat sparse and very much ordinary but I was completely taken aback by the variation of colourful fish that happily swarm around you as you float above them. It didn’t take long until I abandoned the snorkel altogether and was diving as deep as my body would allow me. I didn’t get very far when I noticed huge waves of little blue fish swimming through me, these were followed by some curious larger fish with zebra patterns on their triangular bodies. Everything felt so calm and natural. Despite the pressure I kept pushing to the ocean bed in hope of spotting something new. My brow started to itch but I tried my best to ignore it. By now I had reached the ocean bed and so started inspecting the variations of rocks and shells all around me. During my search I glimpsed a bright white funnel-shaped shell that I decided would be my trophy for the day and so I grabbed it. However, it suddenly grew some spiny legs and scuttered away from my grip. For fear of getting a snip I thought it best to let this one go on his way, so instead I settled for a nearby piece of grey rock. Pants!

Our snorkelling dives were followed by some visits to the best beaches in the vicinity – possibly the world! The sand was the whitest I’d ever seen and visibly undisturbed. The water was like a layer of crystal that sat motionless around the island. All-in-all a fantastic morning’s adventure and for the agreeable price of $10 (we haggled slightly).

To be continued