Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Maung Ma Gan, Burma (Myanmar)

Beach at Maung Ma Gan
The beach stretches out my front door, endless and empty.  I feel like I’ve arrived at a mythical destination, the Holy Grail of backpacker travel, an empty, perfect beach.  How is it possible?  How can it be?

It’s really what I had heard, the rumors of the internet and of fellow travelers, but whenever I hear stories like that I disbelieve.  Every “untouched” Thai island I visited was already defiled by masses.  This one, Maung Ma Gan, is truly deserted.

This perfection is what I aimed at, the perfection I dreamed of.  And yet…  One forgets about certain aspects.  The plastic trash washed ashore.  On Koh Jum, another allegedly untouched island wonderland, hailed as an unknown paradise by a Finnish magazine, workers from the fancy resorts swept the sand of its washed-up flotsam, plastic and otherwise, every morning.  Here the trash remains, as does the natural debris that true beaches are scattered with.

I’m all alone—but that means I’m all alone.  No reggae bars with friendly travelers.  The locals swim at palm frond lean-tos a kilometer away.  The bungalows on either side of me sit empty.  I’m alone with my thoughts, the wind, the gnats, the sound of the water sweeping ashore.  No internet, no television.  One book of essays I bought (thankfully) in Kanchanaburi.  Whatever vestiges of internet I’ve managed to save on my computer.  A couple of movies I’ve seen already.  My Thai study materials, my Myanmar phrasebook, my Lonely Planet.  My sketchbook, half-full notebooks, unfinished stories.

Not even any restaurants in walking distance.  I have to walk to reception, a good quarter mile, and they call in my order and deliver it by motorcycle to my bungalow.  All this for eighteen blessed dollars a day.  My only company is the occasional Burmese couple in skinny jeans and trucker hats, on a motorcycle, zipping by and scooting forward, to use the beachfront lounge chairs.  They, at least, have each other.  Most of the time they don’t even notice me, sprawled in my American bathing suit, half-naked by their standards.  I have silence, and my own mind.

The silence is exactly what I’ve come here for, exactly what I wanted, exactly what I’ve dreamed of.  My friend Amy, who lives in Taiwan, was the first to tell me, years ago, that Burma was the new beach destination.  I don’t even know if this part is what she meant.  The beaches on the tourist trail are above Yangon—this section of the Andaman coast only opened up to tourist travel last year.  But I’ve longed for it ever since I noticed it, a string of islands and coastline stretching up from Thailand along the Andaman Sea, the most beautiful section of Thai coast, and here, a huge section of it, stretching into Burma.  Myanmar may have more Andaman coast than Thailand, even.

Maybe I’ve dreamed of this adventure for even longer, since I was a kid, and we went to a beach in the off-season, and a German writer was there, by himself, in a bungalow, at the other end.  He ate in the restaurant and spent his days writing.  I think I’ve written about him before, because he’s been in my imagination ever since, a mythical figure.  And now here I am.  Alone in my bungalow.

I’ve given myself a full week here.  A full week of quiet.  I can sit and watch every sunset, spend every day in the sun.  Spend the nights alone with my ideas, my words, my muse, my Spirit, my mind.

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