On a recent visit to Myanmar, I followed my spirit of curiosity … and found a country poised at the edge of a moment.
It’s known as the Mergui or Myeik archipelago, a collection of 800 jungle-covered islands off the southern coast of Myanmar (Burma). It’s okay if you haven’t heard of it. Until a few years ago hardly anyone had.
I first encountered chinlone in one of Yangon’s back alleys. It was after seven pm, the working day was well and truly over, and a gang of middle-aged men had gathered for a quick pre-dinner kick around.
She has tiny hands.
Hands like small birds that flutter around the kitchen, gathering herbs, picking spices, covering her mouth to laugh. With those hands she leaves a trace of thanaka on my brow and grinds turmeric to a fine dust. Her name is Thein and she is the best cook in Burma.
People don’t have a lot of time for ugly when they travel. Markets that are more crowded than ‘bustling’, run down temples that aren’t as ‘glowing’ as they were described online, and waters that could never pass for ‘azure’ in a million years: these things exist, we just don’t want to look at them.
The path from Burma to Thailand is a dark one. In World War II the Japanese invaded British-occupied Burma and started looking for a more secure overland supply route to connect the neighbouring countries.
There are a lot of myths about sailing the high seas. Some people think you need to know the nautical names of every sheet (sorry, ropey thing) and smell of seaweed all day, others reckon you can only do it on a giant cruise ship with four cinemas and a pants-exploding buffet station.