Monks also come to Chaungtha Beach to look for alms, but sunbathing is not really their cup of tea.
We have breakfast around 8 a.m. and in doing so we meet Aart-Jan who has been trying to catch up with us to show us the group’s shared expenditures. The bottom line is that we have to pay another US$98 and that makes us, together with another couple, the biggest debtors. No wonder, since we have participated in every excursion. Furthermore he wants to know what we would like to eat at tonight farewell dinner on the beach, so he can inform the cook what to prepare.
With breakfast and the financial intermezzo finished we go out for a walk on the beach.
We take is slow, have a few drinks (the price of a coconut here is only 500 Kyats) and watch the Birmese tourists and hawkers on the beach. An enormous diversity of people are about, from monks, to little children catching crabs, to grown men selling huge framed lobsters, to ladies selling grilled seafood on sticks. The loveliest sight, however, is a man with a weathered face selling a bright pink ice-cream to a little boy wearing an army hat that makes his ears fold slightly forward.
Lobsters that aren't eaten get framed and sold as 3D paintings.
On a given moment, near the end of the crowded part of the beach, we encounter a group of about ten people, all of them in their twenties, spending a couple of days of fun away from Yangon. Immediately we are invited to join them and before we know it we are holding a large jug of some glazy white liquid that we’ve never seen before, but those guys seem to enjoy it, so we probably won’t die of it either.
We don’t recognize the flavour of the drink, but it hovers somewhere between bitter and salt with a nasal aftertaste. I taste no alcohol, or if any, very little. The whole grilled fish on sticks that go from hand to hand I decline politely, but we really, really, REALLY must taste the nuts (or beans, I’m not sure) that all of them are eating. Just before we say goodbye I take a picture of the group of young colleagues (or “company friends” as the only girl that speaks a few words of English calls it) and in spite of that all of them are looking quite modern and are living in the biggest city in the country, with most acces to modern day gadgets, hilarity reigns for a while when I immediately show them the result of the shoot.
Grilled sea food on sticks is a common thing on Chaungtha Beach.
We walk to the restaurant where we ate with Anne and Rudolf yesterday, because we made an appointment with them to be there again at noon.
We get there by eleven a.m., but we kill time in a pleasant way with looking at the beach life, a drink and a reliving the last three and a half weeks by bringing back memories. Our lunchdate arrive fifteen minutes early as well and we start checking out the menu, to see what’s cookin’. We choose Prawns Tempura (large fried battered shrimps, twelve of them, with a bowl of delish chili sauce) and a lobster. The price is yet uncertain, because the animal must be fetched from the local market first and the price depends on the size. About fifteen minutes later, all of a sudden, there is a lobster on our table, alive and kicking, wriggling about until the waiter takes it away again after we have given our approval. We can’t get it much fresher than this. This probably will be our most expensive meal in Myanmar, because the lobster alone costs 23000 Kyats (about 16 Euros) and the shrimps and four drinks set us back another 4800 Kyats.
At low tide the men work on their boats to keep the seaworthy.
The catch of the day is dried on platforms on stilts that are high and dry, even at high tide.
After an extensive fingerlicking session (the lobster really was thát good) we go back to our cabin for a refreshing shower and a relaxing siesta. Anne and Rudolf gave us the tip to walk all the way to the end of the beach, they discovered a fishing village there, where every morning the fleet returns with their catch and the rest of the day is spent processing the fish. We start our walk at 3.30 p.m. and we catch our first glimpse of the settlement about 45 minutes later. Early this morning when Anne and Rudolf were here it was high tide and everything except the houses was flooded. Now with low tide ships lie on their bellies in the sand and the raised platforms on wich the fish is dried look useless, hovering more than two metres over a dry sandy plane.
On these platforms people are still taking fish out of the nets, while others sort them and occasionally toss the drying fish around to make sure that the catch dries evenly. When the workers spot us they don’t hesitate to invite us on their platform and point us to a very narrow, rather wobbly, bamboo ladder. We climb it and are free to look wherever we want. The people are extremely friendly, but by the looks of this place, they are extremely poor as well. We walk further into the village and we see that there’s rubbish everywhere, as well as small patches of drying fish, people plucking chickens and children playing in the unsealed streets. In the best part of town we manage to find a place where we can have a drink, but when we walk in the direction of the beach again reality strikes once more: houses on stilts built very close together over a thick layer of mud with clouds of insects dancing over the damp soil.
Some beach houses in the fishing village.
Rubbish all around, it looks like there’s no electricity or running water here and people are working with raw fish and meat out in the open. While we are getting closer to the beach, the air gets thick again with the smell of dried fish, it smells like the food I fed my turtles when I was a little boy. We walk all the way to the shoreline where men are working on the ships or are sailing off and on in tiny boats. There are a lot of shells here on the shoreline and every single one I pick up shudders in my hands. Upon better inspection all of them are inhabited by hermit crabs that are not amused when their house starts rocking and is held upside down, while some strange beast on two legs thunders in a low voice: That’s a nice shell...
Stilt houses in the poorest part of the fishing village.
We leave the startled animals to themselves and start our walk back, that we only interrupt for taking pictures of another magnificent sunset and for a drink in our, in the meantime, favourite restaurant.
Part of the fishing fleet.
We are back at the hotel at 6.40 p.m. and everyone is already sitting at the table on the beach, where at seven our dinner will be served. The dishes are all served at the same time, so nobody has to sit and watch other people eat, while being hungry themselves. Unfortunately all the dishes are cold, which stands to reason, because it is simply impossible to cook for twenty people in a kitchen without modern equipment at the same time. The food is far from the best we have eaten in Myanmar, but we still have a lot of fun. When everybody has had his fill we move from the table to a campfire that the staff of the hotel have lit for us a little closer to the shoreline, while elsewhere on the beach fireworks are shot up high into the air by people that are still celebrating Chinese New Year.
Over time more and more members of our group head off to their rooms until, at about ten o’clock, Aart-Jan, Trudy and myself let the fire alone to go out by itself (there’s no risk of anything else catching fire here) and take another refreshing (cold water remember?) shower and lie down to catch some Z’s.
Another magnificent sunset at Chaungtha Beach.