The only thing that beaching in Bondi and beaching in Burma have in common is the sand and water. Otherwise, the two experiences are far apart, and indicative of the stark difference between the two cultures.
Firstly the attire – being a Buddhist country, modesty is key. This often means entering the water fully clothed, dresses, shirts, pants, belts, hats even shoes. All clothing items are welcome. Many people like to wear large hats made with woven green palm fronds. These are sold by vendors up and down the beach and seemed to be the way to declare that you are officially ready for beachside fun.
Secondly, judging by the action taking place in the water, Burmese people can’t swim. Although to be fair – swimming fully clothed would be difficult. Fortunately the beach is lined with piles of black rubber tires to use as swimming aids and most people don’t enter the water without one. There is also a range of plastic inflatables, including life jackets for sale at nearby shops.
Thirdly, the food. We were pretty certain we would be able to get some tropical fruit down at the beach – papaya, mango, pineapple perhaps. Unfortunately no, but if we were in the mood for chargrilled fish, crabs or shrimp skewered on sticks then we could have eaten to our hearts’ content. Other delicacies on offer included the traditional breakfast noodle soup mohinga. It was quite impressive how they set up noodle stands right on the beach. Of course the beauty of street food is that it so easily transportable – the easiest way being just to balance the little table on top of your head to walk to a new location.
Other beachside activities include riding up and down the beach on two or three-seater bikes, sitting in the sand and rubbing it over your friends and family or riding little horses, one which was painted like a zebra (very cute). Lying on the beach sunbaking didn’t seem to be an option anyone was interested in. Neither were we – way too hot!
We joined the majority of people in a walk along the shore, Roberto stopping occasionally to kick any soccer balls that came his way. The beach reminded me of Kuta, Bali, dark-coloured sand, and tepid water that was not particularly enticing despite the heat. After two laps of the beach our enthusiasm for beach time had waned. We snuck into a nearby resort and used their pool and deckchairs. Very nice indeed!
What was apparent was that as in other places in Asia it seems that wealth has its consequences. There aren’t many fat people in Myanmar – but many of the people staying at the expensive resorts were pretty chubby, children included. Here, the wealthy are fat and white skin is desired – the complete reverse to our culture where to be lean and tanned is revered.