Day 51: Hard sell for Bilu Kyun Island tour

The island tour gave us our first glimpses of the local industries across the river. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

DELAYING the inevitable silence and isolation of the monastery, I join Carlton and a handful of other tourists on a tour of Bily Kyun Island, across the river from Mawlamyine. Originally, Carlton and I had considered doing the trip ourselves, without a guided. However, in a nearly magical way, Tony -- the manager of The Breeze Guesthouse, who is also a tour guide -- got wind of our plans and pounced on us.

Coming into the room, he explains that Ivan, the owner of the guesthouse, heard we were interested in visiting the island. The first several minutes of his pitch are convincing, but he continues with a hard sell, making it clear that he is only guiding because he needs the money.

He's old and tired and ready to be retired. However, his daughter in Yangoon isn't making enough money to take care of him, so he is forced to continue working. It was a theme that continued throughout the tour the next day, which we couldn't comfortably get away from after his pitch.

More unfortunate is that Tony, who at times is very sharp is going senile. Often it's unclear why we are looking at what we were looking at. If it wasn't for the articulate questions of climatologist from Columbia, I would have learned very little.

As it was only a few things of interest really stuck: 1) Monks are thugs, which given the history of the Saffron Revolution, isn't a far flung idea. 2) The Chinese and Indians have all the money and power.

I'm sure at one point Tony had the tour down pat, he is specifically named by one edition of Lonely Planet. But now it waxes and wanes with his focus.

He's an old man more interested in politely flowering the women in the group with little gifts such as lotus blooms for their hair and playing with the American youngster that was on holiday with his father, the climatologist, then digging into the culture and history of the island and the people we were meeting.

Our first particularly interesting stop was a shop with a handful of women weaving traditional textiles on large wooden looms. The first stop had actually been a rundown pagoda, with little explanation of why it was worth the visit. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

One small village is completely dedicated to wood working, producing bowls and boxes, but most famous for their pipes and pens. The springs from the pens are actually stolen from plastic pens (check out the last photo). Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

The women weaving these mats out of coconut fibers are paid less than a dollar a day. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

A group of young monks get the football out during some down time at the local monastery. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

A local fisherman casts his net in the still water near the rice paddies that cover large swaths of the island. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

A young Burmese woman reaches for her phone as she's taken back to the mainland. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

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