I recently spent a couple of days wandering the town of Myeik in Southern Myanmar. Since then, this place has been described to me as ‘a shithole’, and ‘industrial’, but I have to disagree. Myeik may have industry around it, but the city centre was, like all Burmese towns, bustling and friendly. A main road runs parallel to a road along the waterfront, and beyond these there are pagodas and endless side alleys full of cheerful, welcoming locals.
Just off the coast from Myeik is the Mergui archipelago, more than 800 islands boasting untouched beaches, mangrove forests, coral reefs, and the Moken people, who are sometimes described as Sea Gypsies.
Unfortunately, these islands are still off limits to foreigners, unless you join a very pricey dive boat tour from Thailand. I do believe it will only be a matter of time before the government and local people realize what a potential cash cow this is, and big time development will start.
There is, however, one island just off the coast that can be visited. I didn’t see any beaches, or mangroves, or coral, or Moken, but I did have a fabulous day wandering around between pagodas, villages, shipyards, sawmills, and brickworks, accompanied by a 12 year old boy who decided to join me, and later a 17 year old girl who also came along.
I arrived in a shipyard, then made my way up to the big pagoda on the hill. This was stupid, because I arrived in the hottest part of the day, and walking down a dusty, shadeless road and then up the HOT steps to the pagoda was not fun (you go barefoot in pagodas in Burma)
From there I walked down through a village, where I met Ta Pay Oo. We strolled along, chattering away to each other in our respective languages. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t speak any Burmese, or that he didn’t speak English. I’m sure Ta Pay Oo was telling me all about the area, or things I should see, or his life, or maybe just what he had for breakfast. I don’t know, but it was sweet that the language barrier just didn’t matter.
Finally, we came to the island’s Catholic church, which he was happy to show me.
We then wandered on through the village, stopping to take pictures of kids, cottage industries, and what seemed to be the local cinema!
It was HOT, so we stopped for a drink. He chose an energy drink, and when the woman brought him a glass of ice for it he was pretty excited to chew on the ice that was left when his drink was gone. In fact, when I finished mine, he promptly took my remaining ice and chewed that down too! I got the feeling he doesn’t get sweet drinks or ice very often.
Continuing on, we came to another pagoda on a small hill in the middle of the island. A bunch of kids were sitting in a breezy area at the top, so we joined them for a bit of a break. That’s when we met Ee Pyo. While she wasn’t as talkative as Ta Pay Oo, communication was more efficient as she seemed more aware that I could not understand what she was saying and so made an effort to use hand signals and the few English words that she did know.
The three of us decided to walk to the reclining Budda, visible from across the water in Myeik.
On the way, we cut through this creepy old abandoned factory, but I couldn’t figure out what had been made or processed there, and the kids couldn’t tell me. There were, however, beautiful flowers still growing on the grounds!
We finally made it to the reclining Buddha, which to my surprise, was hollow! Inside were THOUSANDS of tiny Buddhas in little recesses in the walls.
After the Buddha, they walked me back to the dock, where we found a boat willing to take me back across to the mainland for 500 kyats (about 50 cents). I didn’t want to say goodbye! I loved these kids!