The beach was a perfect crescent of white sand backed with swaying palm trees and fronted by a handful of fishing boats tethered in the shallows. Two young children shrieked as they zig-zagged along the sand on adult-sized bicycles. Elsewhere the beach was empty. Deserted.
I searched through a stack of photo albums in my mind trying to land on a more picturesque beach and couldn’t. Devoid of hotel development and sun loungers Maung Shwe Lay, a small fishing community of 2,500 people in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, is just stunning.
After jumping out of the boat (Maung Shwe Lay is an hour’s gentle putter from Ngapali Beach – Myanmar’s premier beach destination and itself wonderful) I stood in the warm and gentle sea and let a huge grin crack across my face. Moments later an ox-cart appeared at the top of the beach and my guide and I clambered aboard. With hardly any cars in the village, the ox-cart is the vehicle of choice and its gentle undulations as we toured the village were very fitting.
I first visited a local school that we support. Despite it being a Sunday afternoon I was greeted at the school by the delightful head-teacher and forty of his pupils. They were adorable. Immaculately turned out, polite, eager, and brimming with enthusiasm. I fielded some questions about where I was from; what vegetables grew in my country, what animals we had, did it snow, and then asked some in turn. The most popular football team in that corner of Myanmar, my questioning uncovered, is Chelsea.
After visiting the school I went to the nearby library, a simple one-room structure made of corrugated iron, where the proud librarians showed me around and I vowed to donate some books on my return to the UK.
Having savoured a mouth-watering seafood lunch it was time to go snorkelling. We dropped anchor and I jumped in. Floating above colourful coral and fishes with no other tourists in sight was the perfect way to end the day.