Getting to Chaung Tha was possibly the longest trip I have ever had to endure in a single stretch, but I wanted to visit the beach before moving onwards so we put up with it. The plan was for the overnight bus from Bagan to drop us at the station at 7am, so we could catch the bus straight to our next destination. We arrived and started asking around. After a few failed attempts and crushed hopes, we figured the buses due East left from a different bus terminal, about 1.5 hours from the current one. We took the local ‘bus’ (pick up truck) to the other station, but as I mentioned on the first Yangon article, traffic was appalling so it was slow going. To make things worst, it was the 7th of November, the day before the elections, which meant the station was swarming with people trying to get back to their home towns so they could vote. The daily bus to Chaung Tha had already left by the time we finally made it, so we started looking for alternatives. The most convenient seemed to be going to Pathein, the biggest town in the south eastern area and try to find another mode of transport. By then it was about 10am, and the next bus would not leave until 2.30pm. With that in mind we asked a few taxi drivers and shared private cars. One agreed to take us for a decent price, so we packed our backpacks in the boot with relief and got on our way. He stopped for petrol 5 minutes later, and asked for money. Instead of the agreed price, he now wanted and extra 90USD for the ride! We laughed on his face and asked to be returned to the station. It was quite frustrating as I had confirmed the price over and over, making sure we were all on the same page. Hard to believe anyone would let that amount of money slide. It soon became apparent that private cars were taking advantage of the chaotic situation and charging small fortunes to move people. We opted for the local bus option then, but by then the earliest with seats was at 4.30pm. The day was ridiculously hot, one of the worst we had to endure on this whole trip, and people kept pouring into the station like ants. Finding shade was quite the commodity so we spent a few uncomfortable hours until the bus departed. Not only did they fill all the seats, they pilled people on the isle sitting on whatever was around and then the bus departed. By the time we made it to Pathein it was too late, so finding another mode of public transport was out of the picture. I spent a good 10 minute driving a hard bargain until we agreed to a semi decent price to pay for the last 1.5 hours of our trip. Finally, after 30 hours on 4 different modes of transport and a lot of waiting, we were at the beach!
We were not 100% satisfied with the hotel we found the night we arrived in Chaung Tha, so Tim went to look around the place and see if there was a better one. He did not find one, but what he did find, to my utter happiness, was a volleyball court. After breakfast I went straight for it. There were a few men playing 2vs2 and they were a bit hesitant to let me participate until I had proven my worth. After that, they were happy to be on my team and we had a few hours of good fun. Playing in the tropics was a whole new universe for me and by the time it was over, I was so red that I thought I had forgot to apply sun cream on my face. Luckily the blood finally left my overheated face and returned to normal. I got two battle scars, as the seemingly sandy court was not as soft as it looked. I opened my arm from wrist to elbow with a pretty impressive cut, but managed to keep the ball off the ground (well worth it). Interestingly enough, they kept score so they knew when to change teams, but there was no celebration for winning or heart feelings for losing: quite an interesting cultural difference. They also played with really old school rules: Serve cannot touch net, hand pass is allowed, old scoring system, etc.
The electricity in Chaung Tha only runs from 6pm so 6am, so you are literally in the dark during the day. The problem is not the light per se, but the lack of a fan to cool you down in tropical weather. This was not a huge problem for me, as I could swim in the ocean to cool down instead. The beach is very wide but mostly features hard packed sand. The sun is very strong so it’s not really the ideal place to sunbathe. Another point to consider is that 98% of tourists here are locals, which means no woman wears a swimming suit, and even go in the water fully clothed. Providing that they are such polite and lovely people, you could potentially get away with doing it yourself, but it is an insult to their culture and I just pushed the barrier (and still got a lot of looks) by wearing a strapless dress around the beach.
That afternoon I left Tim napping to walk along the beach and see the sunset. I walked mostly with my feet in the water, looking around and taking it all in. A big group of men had a full football game going on that it had nothing to envy from a South American beach in summer. I made it to a golden shrine thingy that sits on the beach, and was taking a few photos and relaxing when a lovely young monk came up to me and asked to take my picture. His English was quite good and we spent quite a while talking. He introduced me to all his family and we took a few more shots together. He was very friendly and we exchanged Facebook details before I continued my walk.
The sky went through the usual display of colours as the sun approached and went over the horizon. People slowly started picking up camp and leaving the place. I found a beautiful hat weaved out of a palm tree leaf that had been abandoned there for the tide to take away. Instead I picked it up, cleaned it, studied it (it was quite a cool weaving technique) and decided to take it with me as a gift to Katie, who would be hosting us in Yangon in the next few days.
The next day was very similar, though I played volleyball in the morning and in the afternoon. I also swam quite a bit and ate lots. We found an amazing restaurant owned by a wonderful family. They were constantly paying attention to our needs, and even started fanning us with huge banana leafs. We kindly turned them away and told them to relax multiple times, trying to convein that we did not need all the attention, but they showed us some of the most outstanding customer service I have ever experienced. All this considering we were spending about 4USD for both of us and stuffing our faces with food like pigs… What a country!