‘Sometimes I want to speak with them [tourists], just to make a conversation and practice my English. I approach them and say hello(!), but they just keep walking on without saying anything in return. Why is that?’ – Myint Thi Ha, a Geography student and for the time being our guide in Ye, posed us the question. We (the tourists) didn’t quite have an answer. Why would that be?
Visiting Ye now it seems a place of disarming innocence. Ye is only open to foreigners for two years, since 2013. Although there are still several places around the country where foreigners can’t go, most of Myanmar has been open a few years longer. Supposedly, Ye and its surroundings were one of the last places in the south where a ceasefire between the army and an armed military independence group went into effect. The armed conflict before the ceasefire has made this area until recently forbidden for foreigners. Visiting Ye now, we were one of the first tourists and westerners the local people saw.
‘There are so many tourist in Ye now, this year I have seen 100 already’, argued Myint Thi Ha, who is also one of the few people in Ye that can speak English. Ye is a small town between Mawlamyine and Dawei, situated on the long coastal strip of southern Myanmar. Although the coastal strip of Southern Myanmar is becoming a touristic hotspot, Ye is not really the place where tourist are expected to go. ‘Why you go there? There is nothing to do!’, where among the reactions of Myanmarese people when we unfolded our plans to visit Ye. There are no big tourist attractions (read: the beaches are not white enough) in Ye, so why on earth would we go there?
Even the people of Ye underestimate their pretty little town. Upon arriving in Ye, we asked some locals about the places of interest. The question was welcomed with a bit of a laugh. What a joke, tourist hotspots in Ye, ha ha!?
We ended up staying quite a bit longer then intended. With no expectations, much more to see than expected, a great guesthouse, but most of all friendly people is what got things rolling (Next to the human-powered ferris wheel on the fair in Ye, off course).
We got the feeling that we were still quite the exotic specie in Ye. Although a hundred foreigners might seem a lot, it’s only a fraction of all the tourists visiting Myanmar in general and the south in particular. Nevertheless, the people of Ye gave us a really great stay and the idea that they were happy with us visiting their town.
Ye I would guess fits precisely in the notion of an ‘unspoiled’ place. So far on our trip through Myanmar some tourists trusted us that they see Myanmar as an ‘unspoiled‘ or ‘untouched’ country. This notion of unspoiled that some people have incorporates a link between the tourist perceived beauty of the country, including its (still) very friendly people, and that Myanmar has been closed off to the outside world for decades, thus haven’t had a large inflow of tourists, yet. We ‘the tourists’, to date are still one of the firsts to visit Myanmar. In doing so we can visit Myanmar before it is ruined by some evil force of westernization.
If Ye would be unspoiled at this particular time, then what about its history? What about the ‘visitors’ who occupied Myanmar almost two centuries ago? Crowds of white Westerners, Indians and many others nationalities and ethnicities have been in Myanmar during colonization. Is Myanmar already spoiled for the last 200 years? And what about Myanmar’s military regime, that we in the West earmarked as ‘evil’ and who have ruled Myanmar for so long. The fightings that have been going on in and around Ye up until a few years back. That will have surely spoiled the place.
Ye have probably already changed quit a lot during the last two years. Not only because foreigners now come and visit the place, but more so because of the opening up of the country. A lady in Ye said it by words, ‘Since Ye is open, now two years, Telephone has come. People can talk to each other now. Until two years ago there was no Internet. ‘We had to go and find Wi-Fi, now Internet is easy. Facebook we have since last year’ said Than Soe who is running one of the shops on the local gold market.
Then again, aren’t things always changing. There is no status quo or security that something, someone, or some place is perfect. Places adept to new circumstances. One of the new circumstances that Ye and all of Myanmar has to deal with is the rise in tourism going on. More tourists are coming to Ye, maybe even 200 next years. It’s still not much, but for the people of Ye it is a lot.
Unspoiled is some kind of creation of the brain. If ‘unspoiled’ is perceived a positive feature of a place, it is selfish to go there. When it would be true that a place is unspoiled because there haven’t been tourists, then tourist are spoiling the place already by being there.
The people of Ye leave behind a very good image of themselves to us, but what image do we leave behind? Like in the case of Myint Thi Ha wanting to practice his English with tourists, but gets no reply. Why would a tourist not talk to him? In don’t know, there could be many reasons. And this is just the case of one person. What his story tells though is that I as a tourist always have a responsibility while visiting a place.
Ye is a beautiful town and now open for tourists. It is not unspoiled though, it just has to cope with a new circumstance, tourists. And the tourist have a responsibility as well. Traveling in itself is a selfish act, we should be careful not to leave behind a negative footprint.
We stayed at a homestay located on the shores of a beautiful lake in the middle of the town. The Starlight guesthouse is run by a friendly and helpful couple. The terrace of the guesthouse has a beautiful view over the lake. During sunrise you can see the monks from the Monastery on the opposite site of the lake feeding the abundant fish. The guesthouse helped us arranging a guide and scooter.
Adjoining the bend in the river, there is a daily market, including the gold market. Stream upwards from the market, also on the shores of the river, there is a beautiful neighbourhood with wood carvers.
Just north of the town, on a side street from the main road to Mawlamyine, lies an impressive four sided Buddha statue/building. If it is open you can climb your way up to the top to have a view on all the surrounding jungle and maybe see the friendly fluffy monkey inhabiting the building. Next to the statue is a monastery that has a vegetarian restaurant. Watch out for the not so friendly monkeys there.
To the west of Ye there is a road toward the sea. The road and its villages on the way are lively. Once you get of that road into the hills there are many paddy fields and farming villages to explore.