Friday, May 30, 2014

A sneak-peek into heaven!

Exploring Ngwe Saung, a destination like no other

By Aswathy Kumar

    Ngwe Saung Beach: Heaven on earth!

'Sorry love, but we can't go now?' My husband sat beside me, a sense of sheer disappointment splattered all across his face. I lay half asleep and through our white curtains I could see that the sun had slowly started to rise. In a few hours from now we would be on a flight for our annual beach holiday. In a few hours from now we would be sun basking on the warm crystal sands of Pattaya sipping frozen margaritas out of fancy swirly straws. Our suitcases lay packed right next to us and we were ready to go.

It was only when I awoke the second time, a few minutes later to the sound of my husband calling his office to cancel our flight tickets and hotel reservations did I finally absorb it fully that our trip to Thailand had actually been cancelled due to the recent military coup. There wasn't going to be the holiday that I had so longed for. I felt sad, let down but most of all I didn't not know what I would tell my 6 year old once she woke up. I was unsure if I had the courage to tell her that she wasn't going to be able to cuddle up with her mommy in a fancy four poster bed of our lavish hotel or splurge at elaborate breakfast buffets or swim in a glitzy infinity pool overlooking the sea. I looked at my husband and immediately knew that we both couldn't do it!

    Ngwe Saung

It was then that we decided to head out to Ngwe Saung, a popular holiday destination in Myanmar. It was just a four hour drive from Yangon and fairly popular among the expats. But most importantly it had a beach and right now, that's all that we really needed.

I did have my share of fears and doubts as I exited the comfort of my lush green housing estate and into the chaotic, jam-packed and almost non-existent roads of Hlaing Tharyar industrial township. 'What if we get lost? What if our google maps don't work? What if we run out of water? Will there be any rest stops? What if the drive was too risky? I was nervous and who could blame me. I had heard my share of horror stories of people getting lost and taking 8 hours to cover a mere 150 mile distance. 

'We will be fine love,' reassured my husband. 'If we could handle the vast stretches of Masai Mara and the treacherous roads of Sikkim and Raniketh, this was going to be easy!"

And I was so glad he was right. So there were no highways and all you get were narrow roads stretching all the way to Pathen, the next big city between Yangon and Ngwe Saung and you were bound to have your heart skip a beat every time a truck hurtled at you at full speed or lose your patience every time you got stuck behind a slow-moving cycle rickshaw or unruly motorcyclists. But there was no better way to truly absorb the country in all it's rawness and charm, quite a change from the craziness of Yangon. Be it the lush green fields stretching on either side of the road, the innumerable little tea stalls embellished by their neatly aligned colorful plastic chairs selling chai and fried local savories or the quaint thatched roadside shops on stilts displaying an array of Myanmar snacks, baskets loaded with fried fish and luscious fruits like guava, papaya and mangoes, Myanmar was so famous for. The short 4 hour road trip offered plentiful for our curious eyes to feast upon. 

    A temple procession enroute to Ngwe Saung

As my little family of three kept making a long mental list of all the things we needed to pick up on our return journey including a hand woven hammock, a cane stool and a basket full of mangoes and guavas, we were amazed to see a procession of women clad in a traditional neon pink Longyi, children in colourful turbans on top of horses and men blowing trumpets aligning the sides of the road. It had slowed down the traffic significantly and definitely  added a few extra minutes to our trip. But we did not mind. Such temple processions were not rare on the culturally vibrant and pious villages located on the outskirts of Yangon, but it was our first time and it was well worth the wait. 

We reached our resort at around noon. Though the last 30km to Ngwe Saung was a bit of downer, courtesy the long winding road, we were beyond ecstatic to see the Bay of Bengal stretched out in front of us, in all it's glory. Be it the breathtakingly beautiful coastline, the crystal clear waters that almost seemed to coincide with the Azure sky above us or the gigantic waves that almost seemed to mock at the calmness surrounding it. There was something about this particular beach that made me feel almost certain that I had somehow magically found my way into some kind of scenic artwork during our short drive from home. 

    (The Emerald Sea Resort: The only one open during the long monsoon season)

I will agree, Ngwe Saung is nothing like your clich├ęd beach destinations. There are no bikini clad waitresses to serve you margaritas, no fancy street shops or open bar restaurants playing loud music. Here the only sound you would hear are the sound of crashing waves and the only shopping option would be a handful of stores selling hand made baskets, wooden trays, cloth bags, flip flops and shell bracelets.

But Ngwe Saung is a beach like no other, worth visiting to soak up the sheer beauty of the Bay of Bengal or devour the exquisite local cuisine served in the non-glamorous roadside restaurants in the village ranging from barbecued lobsters, grilled whole fish in  garlic sauce and Shark-fin soup to crispy fried soft shell crabs and my personal favorite the steamed fish in chilli and lemon.


   The seafood in Ngwe Saung is a must-try

 So what if it lacked glitz and the glamor of a Miami, a La Jolla or a Phuket. So what if it didn't have the noise or the sheer life that had made these a dream holiday destination across the globe, Ngwe Saung was special. She was raw, untouched, almost like a virgin. And as I dipped my feet into its warm waters watching the sky turn into scarlet orange, I knew that I had just gotten a sneak-peek into heaven!