The less travelled path

The journey is often better than the destination.

There are few places left in South East Asia where you truly feel that you’re off the beaten track. This is not always a bad thing, but it does make travelling a whole lot easier than I imagined it would be. I first dreamt of taking off with a backpack over ten years ago, when many of the places we’re visiting now were rougher around the edges. Although I suspected that my imaginings hadn’t kept up with the pace of global change, I still wasn’t quite ready to see a Starbucks on a beach front where it simply didn’t belong. So, within minutes of discovering Stephen’s blog and his post about the southern peninsular our minds were made up: we were going in search of some less travelled paths.

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There’s something about setting off without knowing where you’ll end up. That deep breath you take when you aren’t sure you’ll succeed, with no option to turn back. Close your eyes and jump. Run. Push.

Go.

We spent four days with little more than a hand drawn map and enthusiastic hand signals from welcoming villagers. No phones, no signal, no plug sockets. No clue if there would even be somewhere to sleep. The reward was a few hours spent on untouched coastline: white sand, crystal waters and the joy of knowing you did it. 8km of beach with not one bar, restaurant or person, just the chattering of the jungle behind and the wax and wane of the waves.

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Here, a few hours spent smiling whilst one man changed your punctured tyre and the rest of the village stood close and smiled back. There, a beautiful meal offered when you turned up to a beach hut with nothing but a mango to last for two days. We hacked through jungle, hurled up and down near-vertical dirt tracks, and watched lightening crash into a violent foaming ocean.

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The glow of burning waste at the roadside would guide us back through the inky night, sharp plastic smoke catching in our throats as we grinned and waved at the ember-illuminated children bidding us goodbye.

Back in the region’s biggest town, Dawei, we learnt that although the south only opened to foreigners two years ago most of the beaches we visited have been carved up and sold off already. Development will begin early next year. Even when I try, I can’t quite imagine a row of casinos and coffee shops along Grandfather Beach but change is inevitable. Environmental groups have learnt lessons from neighbouring countries, but although they’d like to retain Myanmar’s raw beauty money trumps conservation more often than not. We are certain that we will never see those less travelled paths in quite the same way again. Time will tell.

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