Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The National Theatre and the crunchy noises

Yesterday evening we went to the National Theatre where we listened to a concert given by the The Youth Orchestra ASEAN-Russia to celebrate Myanmar's 2014 Chairmanship of ASEAN. We also watched some traditional Myanmar dancing and singing. Beautiful traditional costumes!

The room was not full even if the entrance was free. It was a good concert with young talented artists who played Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Bizet, Verdi...

But the reason I am writing this post is to tell you about the audience and the atmosphere.  

We had heard that when Myanmar people go to the cinema they bring food, drinks and enjoy the movie with loud comments or laughter as if they were in their living room. But we did not know that the same is true for concerts. We would have thought the locals would be, like us, immersed in music. We took our seats and listened to the introductory speech when suddenly, behind us, four ladies took out sunflower seeds and starting eating, making loud and crunchy noises. We looked behind and could not believe our eyes. We moved seats, luckily the room was not full. Nevertheless we could notice some other families with children who where around us and who happily ate and made comments during the performance.

Next time probably we will take a seat in the first row to make sure the music is loud enough to cover these sounds. And maybe the people in the first rows are more interested in the performance than in socialising and eating in a concert hall.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Visiting the Ngwe Saung beach

We spent the past weekend at the Ngwe Saung beach. It is situated west of Yangon, in the Bay of Bengal, Ayeyarwady Region. On the same shore, but up to the north, there is the famous Ngapali beach. The Ngwe Saung beach is not very developed nor very popular with tourists also probably due to the4h30 drive (260km) to reach the small fishermen village situated in the middle of the 12 km long beach.

The last stretch of the road is taking you up to a hilly and curvy road for almost one hour drive before reaching the seaside. The scenery is beautifully green but you can notice a lot of deforestation to plant instead rubber trees on most of the slopes. 

It is a place where the tourist will come to relax and not to party or do many activities. It is such a place we hoped to find.

We arrived late Friday evening. The place is ideal if you like to wake up early morning to take an hour long walk on the beach.  The beach is wide, quiet and almost empty. Sometimes you feel like on an endless deserted beach. It is a wide, silver-grey sandy beach with very fine sand. We noticed that on the beach, long time ago, there was a coconut tree plantation.  Many of the beautiful and tall palms are still decorating the hotel grounds. The seabed is very gradual which is nice as it allows to feel at ease and to enjoy the warm and clean water.
They say there are strong currents but at this time of the year we could have a nice swim. There are a lot of crabs, white and red, who rest at the edge of their sand holes when nobody is around. On the shore we found some very delicate and beautiful shells. Back on the sun lounger we watched the few locals passing by, either walking or riding a motorbike (scooter). Indeed they use motorbikes on the beach as it is very wide and the outgoing tide makes a stretch of sand quite hard and it is used as a local motorway. There are not many of them so it is not bothersome and you can hardly hear them since the beach is so wide and they are quite far away from the sunbeds. Sometimes, vendors sell you coconuts or fingerfood (small grilled fish or gambas). They are not pushy and will only approach you if you signal to them. One coconut costs 1000 Kyats (1USD). Drink the water and wait for another coconut seller and ask them to cut it open for you so that you can enjoy the coconut meat.

You can walk on the beach to the village or to the Lover’s Island in the southern end of the beach. At low tide you can walk from the beach to this island which can make a nice stroll from your hotel.

We stayed at Eskala hotels and resorts, a 46 days old resort, as the manager informed us upon arrival. We booked on agoda.com, had a reduction and got a good price for two nights: 195 USD all taxes included, with breakfast. We were really happy with our stay. The best things were the nice staff and the beautiful swimming pool. As for lunch and dinner we enjoyed some good fish and different salads in a number of restaurants which we can all recommend: Golden Myanmar, Jasmine, Family or the Silver Blue Sea (family-run) restaurant.

The village is small and many hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops line the main street. The tourists may rent a bike, motorbike or book an excursion for snorkeling and/or fishing. The price for a boat trip, for one full day (the same price goes for half a day), is 80.000 Kyats. We booked a fishing boat for half a day. The boys had fun fishing while all of us enjoyed the beautiful sunset. Two locals who joined the boat were fishing probably their evening dinner with some rudimentary and original fishing gear made out of bottles on which the fishing line was attached.

The road from Yangon to the beach is not in a good repair and is quite dangerous and narrow. There are animals, bicycles, pedestrians, motorbikes, cars, tractors, and buses on the streets. In fact, village life unfolds on this road as it passes through countless villages. The road takes you through the upper delta region of the country and at this time of the year they harvest the rice. It is done manually and the rice is dried at the road side. Once the sun sets and darkness sets in, driving becomes tiring and risky as many vehicles and pedestrians have no lights or the cars buses and trucks use their long beam headlights even if you approach them, blinding you in the process. Blinded you have to pay attention to your side of the road which is often a challenge as there could be a motorbike (without lights) and pedestrian or an animal...