Saturday, November 19, 2016

Silversea Expedition Cruises - Exotic Journeys Focus on "The Journey" - Silver Discoverer Indonesia/Myanmar Expedition: Part VII (Myanmar - No Complaints!)

The next day marked a rather dramatic change in our cruise on the Silversea Expeditions Silver Discoverer.  We left Indonesia and set sail for Myanmar; but not the Myanmar visited by ocean and river cruise lines.  We are headed to the Mergui Archipelago far to the south.

It was a lazy morning at sea, but there were still the snorkel and dive safety briefing and two lectures to attend.  Speaking of snorkeling and diving, if you snorkel Silversea Expeditions provides good quality equipment so you need bring nothing.  If you are a diver, you have to bring your own equipment, but oxygen tanks are provided.  (On this sailing there are only four divers, and most everyone else is at least giving snorkeling a try.)

Kawthaung, Myanmar
One of the only signs I saw written in English
We arrived off the coast of Kawthaung, Myanmar about an hour earlier than scheduled so as to give the two dozen Myanmar immigration officials the anticipated up to four hours to clear the ship.  Between the ship arriving early and clearing immigration quicker than anticipated we were off and ready to briefly explore this small port town. 

Silversea Expedition's Silver Discoverer
at anchor in Kawthaung, Myanmar
 A short zodiac ride to awaiting minivans brought us to a few monuments, but little to no explanation of what they were.  It was a combination of the guides not really speaking English (classroom English is one thing, but interacting with Westerners is a whole ‘nuther thing), Westerners being more aggressive (wandering around rather than staying by the guide) and, of course, the guide not wanting to offend by giving anyone instructions.  As the town isn’t large or of particular importance in recent history, it was fine.



We then were taken to a Buddhist monastery to walk around. 

I wish I knew how to caption this photo!
(After the groups left some from the ship that decided to just walk around arrived at the monastery and were welcomed into a local ceremony that surprised, and delighted not only them, but the locals.  Sorry I missed that!)  But as we walked out of the monastery I saw…Food!


I asked the guide if I could try some.  He was a bit shocked, but off we went.  Next thing you know I had a choice of pig liver or pig snout.  I figured the snout was safer. It was not bad, but not memorable culinarily either.  However, as a quick moment with the locals and seeing what they eat, it was.


We then were taken to a couple of souvenir shops, which just seemed to out of place in this ramshackle town, and were given the option to either be driven back to the ship or walk and explore.  Walk and explore it was!  While I will save some of my observations for the end of my trip, I will say that the town was clearly “something” many years ago.  The British colonial architecture is everywhere, usually still visible on the second and third floors, while the ground floor of most buildings seemed to a shop of some sort.  Intermingled were more Asian-type buildings.  Visually it was very interesting.




 As I walked I smelled Food!  I wandered quickly through the small market (it was later in the day so most of the day’s business had already been completed) and then saw a line of food stands along the pier-side.  



As I surveyed the stands, there was a young woman who never smiled, but made some sort of soup (which I now know is Mohinga, a noodle soup with a fish sauce base – sort of the national dish) with something like 20 or more ingredients.

Mohinga (a Burmese national dish) in the making.
Now:  How to get some for me?

 But I had two problems:  The woman wouldn’t look at me and I didn’t have any local currency.  After I solved the first problem through persistence (she was actually very shy because I am Western and also because she spoke no English) the second problem solved with a tap on my back.  A man, not saying a word, pointed me to the equivalent of a cambio (change maker) across the street.  I exchanged my remaining Singapore dollars for Burmese Kyat.

Back to the shop and I watched her deftly make this soup with a spoonful of this, a shake of that, a squirt of fish sauce (I could identify that!), and more spoonfuls of some other things.  To this she added two type of noodles that were cooked separately and the mixture was vigorously mixed.  Then a green thing I cannot identify and a hardboiled egg were added.  On the side a delicious brown fish sauce based broth.  It was spicy, smoky, sweet and just simply delicious.  A Top 10 of Street Food!


Mohinga - It it hard to capture the noodles and spices
in this dark, thick, soup
 When I told the young woman that it was fantastic with a rubbing of my belly and two thumbs up, she finally smiled…and it was a big genuine smile.

Complimenting the chef in any language
usually results in a big smile!
It was then time to return to the ship.  Upon arriving at the zodiac driven by Scuba Steve, from New Zealand, I said I could use a beer.  He jumped up, went into his bag and:  A beer for the ride back to the ship.  Definitely a Silversea Expedition Moment:  Laid back, but spot on!


The next day brought a dramatic change to the nature of our cruise.  We are exploring remote islands. First up is Lampi Island, which is part of a national park…and a very early morning as we headed out at sunrise to cruise the Lampi Channel which runs between two islands.  It would have been nice if coffee and croissants were provided by the pool as we waited for the zodiacs, but none was offered.  (Room service or the coffee station inside were available, but a simple thing like that would have made coffee on deck at sunrise a memorable thing.)

Early morning zodiac exploration on the Silversea Expeditions
Silver Discoverer


 We saw, at a distance, some crab-eating macaques and a few birds, but honestly just the natural beauty alone was worth getting up.  As we traveled up the channel we did come across an illegal Moken village (they are also known as Sea Gypsies that fish for squid and travel between Myanmar and Thailand).    

A Mokan village near Lampi Island, Myanmar


One of the hundreds of fishing boats that are seemingly everywhere
It was then back to the ship (a greeting with Mimosas and orange juice would have been nice) for breakfast and then a late morning zodiac trip to the nearby mangroves.  Early morning or late afternoon would have been better for birding and such, but there is only so much that can be fit into a day when there is significant ground (er’ um, water) to cover.  The expedition leader in our zodiac was excellent in teaching about mangroves and spotting the few birds that were out in the heat.

Mangroves in Myanmar


 The afternoon was spectacular with a visit to a remote beach that few, if any, have ever visited. The scuba folks dove, the snorkels snorkeled and those that just wanted the beach had that too.  The Expedition staff provided alcoholic drinks, beer, soft drinks, juices and water.  

My snorkeling buddy, Bonnie
Scuba Steve's charming daughter
I found the snorkeling (with my snorkel-buddy, Bonnie – Scuba Steve’s 12 year old daughter) to be quite good, but not great.  That is not a complaint, but rather merely noting the water was not perfectly clear and the diversity of fish was excellent, but the numbers of fish were just OK.   

Percula Clownfish (a/k/a Nemo)
Lampi Island National Park, Myanmar
That evening a woman that has made a sport of complaining got into a rant about how Silversea Expeditions should have had smaller zodiacs so that they could have gone deeper into the mangroves…but while she was in the mangroves she was miserable (dressed entirely inappropriately) and wanted nothing to do with it, wanting to just get back to the ship.  I had had enough!  I told her not to speak to me for the remainder of the cruise and that if she wants to be miserable all the time, she should do it on her time; not mine.  What a relief! 

Oh, and because of her protest about wanting to go back to the ship, rather than exploring a barrier island protecting the mangrove, she missed this:


 I didn’t!  And I got to say, once again, "WOW!"

Let me be clear, the Silversea Expedition Silver Discoverer is an older ship with a number of quirks, but it has a friendly, enthusiastic and talented expedition staff and a mindset of exploration and doing the things that will bring the guests real life memories; not necessarily of the spa or dining experience.  But that isn't why you go on an expedition cruise anyway, is it?


Just sayin’!

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