A short flight to Bangkok or a slight detour towards Myanmar’s southern shores using crappy old buses on some of the bumpiest roads in the country?
Hidden treasures in a crowded lake
Inle Lake was hot, crowded and, to be honest, a bit of an anti-climax following our three day trek from Kalaw. Yet there were some hidden treasures waiting to be found here. Bring back Indiana Jones again, it is time to explore more ancient pagodas.
What we found was something neither of us was expecting. While not exactly a well kept secret, Shwe Indein Pagoda is certainly less visited that some of the other areas around the lake. A cluster of ancient stupas, most of which in ruins with tress growing out of them. Believe you me when I say that some of the temples would not look out of place in Bagan.
It was a great way to finish our two weeks in Myanmar. Time to move on to our next country… or maybe not?
Let’s go south then
A short flight would have taken us to Bangkok in less than two hours. But flights are boring. The alternative was an overland crossing through one of the most remote areas in Myanmar, which was off limits for foreigners not long ago. That’s more like it! – and way cheaper too.
First, Mawlamyine, the former capital of British Burma. The atmosphere feels different here, a bit more chilled and the traffic is less frantic. From the very first moment we were keen on renting a motorbike and explore. What a great call that was. Starting with the city itself and its odd mixture of pagodas and churches.
Some 20 km south of Mawlamyine lies Win Sein Taw Ya, where as many as 500 monk statues mark the way leading to the world’s biggest reclining Buddha. The place is odd. There is another Buddha being built, which will face the existing one. And, you can actually step inside the Buddha and explore a selection of dioramas, both finished and unfinished, showing the teachings of Buddha. The place is a little bit odd.
Two types of beaches
A mere 14 hours away from Mawlamyine, by night bus of course, lies Dawei. This time we shared the ride with some 20 young monks and a bunch of locals. As is tradition in these journeys, there were toilet breaks in the middle of the road and loud folk music throughout the night.
In the morning, time to ride a motorbike again. No Buddhas this time. Just a challenging dirt road through tiny villages and lush vegetation that led us to an unfamiliar sight: a stretch of beautiful sand without a soul… well, there is always that one soul of course. And at some point there was a dog as well, but you get the point.
It was Nabule Beach. Kilometres (or miles) of undeveloped beaches, perhaps this is how Thailand looked like 30 or 40 years ago. And this is how it will remain, for a while: rumours say that, soon, the whole area will follow the example of neighbouring Phuket to become the next big beach destination in South East Asia. But until then, there is plenty of room here for the few locals that venture this far… and us.
Maungmagan, which can be found much closer to Dawei than Nabule, attracts the big crowds. That has consequences though: there was rubbish scattered everywhere and motorcycles cruising through the shores. But despite all that, there is still some charm to be found here.
One can grab an ice cold beer and order some fried rice and grilled calamari while enjoying yet another game of true football being played under a yet another gorgeous sunset. Myanmar is full of life.
Bye bye Myanmar
So this is it. Largely undeveloped, with most areas still off limits for tourists, there is plenty in Myanmar for everyone’s taste, especially those with a thirst for getting off the beaten track.
The border crossing at Htee Khee was rather uneventful, at least when compared to Central Asia standards. It took roughly one hour to cross the border, although most of time was spent waiting for our driver to finish its pool game. No kidding.
Relax, beach, best-food-ever. Repeat a few times. Yes, Thailand again 🙂