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April 16th 2015
Published: April 21st 2015
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Southern Myanmar is amazing... with one exception of no fault of its own that ended up cutting our trip short and I'll get to that in a bit.

First off though, it is incredibly gorgeous. We spent our days checking out some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen. And, they are entirely deserted. There are miles upon miles of beautiful golden / white sand beaches stretching as far as you can see and we came across one foreign couple the entire time. The only reason there were even any locals besides those working at the few restaurants was because it was water festival. The desolate nature of the beaches comes at the price of being very remote. We stayed at the only guest house on Maunagaman beach, about a 20 minute cab from Dawei. Maunagaman beach is an extremely long beach that varies from narrow with high tide to massive when the water goes out. As such, the sand can be a gray silty color when the tide is out. While it may be beautiful most days, it was packed with people due to the water festival and unfortunately, as with many developing countries, the locals aren't the best with disposing of garbage so the beach was full of trash. We enjoyed it nonetheless by walking further up the beach towards the areas unaffected by the refuse.

On our second day we headed towards Nabule beach. We took a 2 hour tuk-tuk (while this means a different form of transport in varying countries, in Myanmar it is a motorcycle in front with a pick-up bed in the back and a few wood benches) north from town. Two hours makes it sound like we travelled a long distance, but in reality it is only a dozen miles or so. But, the nice paved road quickly gave way to roads that were once paved but were now in such disrepair you wish they had never tried. These then gave way to bare dirt roads for the bulk of the journey through small villages. Eventually we came across a vast stretch of beach that extended for several kilometers and we continued north up the coast until we came upon a large pagoda on top of the hill. We descended from there and came across one of the most beautiful beaches with several large boulders interrupting the white sand making it even more picturesque. We walked around, climbed along the boulders (some of which were topped with zedis), and spotted even more beach stretching as far as we could see in both directions. It was astounding seeing miles and miles of beautiful deserted beached without a hint of civilization, not even a fishing village around. We had an amazing lunch of seafood noodle soup directly on the beach and chilled out with several beers while we had our feet in the sand.

Our third day we decided to avoid the kidney crunching tuk-tuk ride to the other more remote beaches further south, though I've heard they are even more beautiful, and instead we opted to walk from Maunagaman beach to San Maria bay to the south. It is supposedly 20 km or so by more circuitous roads, but you could see the beach from Maunagaman so we figured we would give it a try. It was about a 2 hour walk south along the beach and across a quaint fishing village and a few rocky beach heads. Along the way we came across a few fishermen who had just captured a tiger shark. They were bringing it on shore in large chunks. They let us poke around at it, obviously I faked putting a fin in my mouth for the photo, and we were amazing at the size of the catch and how small their boat was. The shark had to be 1/2 the size of their boat, so props to them for landing a friggin shark and then riding back while having to sit on the damn thing. Anywho, we continued on for a little way, found some nice shade and enjoyed a couple hours relaxing on some fine white sand with not a soul around. On our way back that afternoon we stopped in the fishing village for lunch at the only restaurant they had. Unfortunately the guy couldn't speak any English, our Burmese was not working, and pointing at the foods written in Burmese our guidebook didn't produce any useful solutions. So we simply signaled food, he brought out a tasty noodle and egg soup and at the end of the meal he refused to let us pay, indicating it was on him. It ws a great free meal, though we left more than a little concerned we got a free case of food poisoning given the massive amount of flies covering the table.

We restarted the walk back when we were grabbed by a handful of local kids who indicated they wanted us to come to their village. We were in the midst of politely declining when this older guy (who looked to be in his 80s, had no teeth and a mouth full of beetle nut, but had the body of an incredibly jacked 30 year old and hands coarser than sand paper) walked out and grabbed us by the arms and pulled us to his hut. He and his wife had us climb up onto his bamboo patio and enjoy some local treats the village was sharing for water festival. One kid even climbed a coconut tree and grabbed us several coconuts so we could have something to drink. The entire village came out to gawk at the whities and the experience was complete with young kids petting our skin to see if the white would come off and pulling on my leg hair because most of the men don't have any. We took a ton of photos with them, initially because the kids thought it was hilarious and wanted their photos taken, but then all of the adults got in on the action and wanted their photos too. The conversation itself was very limited... or at least limited in understanding. The old guy talked our ears off, just jabbering away with his mouth full of beetle nut (similar to chewing tobacco in its affects, constant spitting, and general grossness) and we simply nodded and said okay. I did understand they were all fishermen and I think they said they were of the Mon ethnicity, but I'm not entirely sure. We were able to teach the kids to high five and I even got one to do the Fresh Prince of Bel Air high five (which has become my go to move with kids in developing countries who find the white person interesting and I want to connect with them and teach them something funny). Then after nearly an hour this we signaled our thanks and good bye and we headed off.

So, we had an amazing experience tooling around and checking out these absolutely beautiful beaches that remain completely untouched. It is paradise unspoiled by massive resorts and hordes of people. Yeah it is a bit difficult to get to the beaches, but when you are there the trip is entirely worthwhile and there is just enough on the beaches so you can find food and drinks. It is amazing... except we visited during water festival. As I mentioned in the last blog, it was extremely fun at first. But after 5 days of getting smacked in the face with water it got a little old. On our way from the Dawei airport to Maunagaman we had all of our bags with us in the back of a tuk-tuk. We had anticipated being in a closed taxi and it didn't occur to us that kids would stand on country roads and wait 20 minutes between cars to soak those idiots that were not expecting to get drenched. We were those idiots. We scrambled to get our electronics and most of our bags covered with mild success but we showed up to the hotel as if we had just been in a pool. On our two hour tuk-tuk ride to Nabule we were amazed that even on the most remote dirt roads miles away from any city people were still standing on the side of the road waiting for victims. People would stand in the middle of the street to stop cars as they passed so everyone in the damn village could run up with a stupid bucket and dump in on the passengers. At some points these little road blocks would be only a few dozen meters from each other meaning you could see a gauntlet as you drove up and had to putt-putt along from one drenching to the next. It was fun for a little while, and I understand it is a big thing for them, but damn did it get old. So many of the teens got so incredibly drunk (and it appeared to us as if they had some additional chemicals on board) that their normal fear of approaching foreigners was gone and we became the token whities for every group of Burmese we met. While I don't mind it to some extent, it got to be frustrating towards the end of the week as groups came up to you and pulled you in multiple directions at once. And while it would be okay if you could escape it, but you can't. Even at 9 at night after cleaning up and things are entirely calm, Katie got drenched as we walked down a desolate street by a group of teens that drove by on a pick up. And as opposed to Thailand where water festival is an understandable 3 day, in Burma it is functioally an entire week with escalating intensity. It got to be simply too much.

So, it was an amazing place. One of the most beautiful beach settings that I've seen and it is entirely untouched. It is extremely close to Bangkok (once the roads are paved it will be a very easy half day trip) so it will not remain so for long. I feel extremely lucky to have seen it while it was devoid of other people and intend to come back in a five to ten years to see how it has progressed. With a few more amenities and paved roads it could be one of the top beach vacation destinations in SE Asia. We wish we could have spent more time, but we simply had too much water festival and decided to move on to Bangkok.

Overall though our experience in Myanmar was sensational. The people in general were without a doubt the nicest, jovial, and helpful individuals I've met during my travels. People would go out of their way to help you, wait staff in restaurants did their best in the game of sherades that is ordering with a language barrier, people were quick to make a joke and share a laugh in anyway they could with us, and even the cab drivers were honest and didn't try to rip you off. The country itself is beautiful and would be interesting to see during the rainy season when the trees are lush and flowers in bloom. And, if you want to see a temple or two (or a hundred) this country is swimming in them.

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