I count myself so lucky to have had a wonderful year with so much travel and having taken a few photos along the way. But it was not all sunshine and smiles as this sad photo demonstrates.
It was taken at Ngwe Saung Beach in Myanmar back in March. I was walking up the pristine and almost empty beach with my camera when I was approached by this beach vendor. It was very hot, there were no customers for kilometres and she was obviously hopeful that this one tourist — me — was going to make her day. I was wearing swimming shorts. I was carrying no money. I had nothing to give her. I took her photo. Her expression says it all. I felt really bad about it. I still do.
Ngwe Sang Beach was definitely the strangest place I visited in Myanmar on my trip in March. It is two hours by bus from the city of Pathein. The road is narrow and winding and progress was slow. It was not a fun journey. The very long white sandy beach is attractive enough but nothing special compared with most Aussie beaches.
Behind a short section of the beach there is a small village strung out along a road, with the usual seaside mixture of restaurants and shops selling beach stuff.
The strangeness comes from the fact there is one absolutely immaculate resort complex right on the beachside, guarded by large security gates. And in a field opposite the entrance is a helipad. Ngwe Saung Beach is the Generals’ playground and the resort is the ruling military junta’s resort. Vacationing military personnel whose rank does not qualify them for helicopter transport come down from Yangon in their black Toyota Land Cruisers with very heavily tinted windows. I saw two of them on the road to the resort and some others in the village. They had a very menacing air and seeing them made my stomach churn.
There are other hotels but most are very run down or abandoned — reminders of Myanmar’s recent hard times and strife.
The place had the feel of Bali when I visited it 40 years ago, before the overdevelopment and the cheap airfares. There was a solitary beachside bar blaring out the sort of music you would expect from a bar in a tropical resort (see photo below).
I went into the very warm sea of the Bay of Bengal. The beach was almost deserted, apart from a couple of European backpackers playing beach volleyball. I hope they were appreciating the special atmosphere as soon it will be gone. Dramatic change is about to happen. Chinese money is moving in. Chinese hotels will line the beach and a nearby newly constructed international airport will be full of Chinese tourists, charter-jetting in by thousand. Another paradise will be lost, but the lady on the beach will probably have more customers than she ever dreamt of. Hopefully she will then be smiling.
You can find more from John Shingleton at The Rolling Road and on Instagram at therollingroad.