After a string of stays in the likes of Hpa-An and Mawlamyine, it was back to the start with the town of Thaton. Slightly bigger and exponentially more well-off than Kawkareik, Thaton used to be an important port town until the sea went away, leaving it high and dry and rather sleepy.
It was just after sunset when we got there, and with the sun rapidly going down, we swung through the main road and kept our eyes peeled for any signs indicating "Guesthouse." It was a long shot given the fact that virtually no tourists come through here, but we eventually found ourselves at the Tain Pyar Guesthouse on Hospital Street. Follow the main road into town until you see another guesthouse on the corner. This particular one won't accept foreigners, but if you turn right on that street and then turn left, you'll see Tain Pyar.
At $15/19,500 kyat a night, you get a small room with two single beds, and a special "Foreigners" toilet (i.e. not a squat job) and shower with hot water that you'll be given a key to get into. Additionally, Tain Pyar have a deal with the tea shop down the road (leave the guesthouse and go right, then left), and they'll lay on a generous breakfast of samosas and fried rice the following morning at no extra cost.
After a quick shower, we were out about town to see what Thaton had to offer.
As mentioned, it's a bit calmer than the bigger towns we've been to over the last few days, and pretty much off the beaten track. But that in no way means it's antiquated and stuck in the past. The only place where there's any significant activity here is along the main road, which is choked with traffic and lined with mobile phone shops, which cast shiny bright lights onto the sidewalk pavement and make you feel like you're at a carnival. They're so prevalent, it's weird to think weren't there at all just a couple of years ago. It makes you wonder what they've replaced.
We also found plenty of packed outdoor markets. And a surprising number of hair salons next to each other, all busy, full of gossiping women recalling the day's events in excited voices to their girlfriends. Same the world over.
Neil needed to get a haircut, and upon spotting a place called "Mr. Punk", decided he couldn't pass it up. The man himself wasn't busy at the time, and was passing the time of day with a lone old local who sat quietly and watched the TV pinned to the wall. It occurred to us he'd probably never cut a foreigner's hair before in his life. How would he fare?
Pretty good, as it turned out.
We also enjoyed a decent dinner at the Chinese restaurant directly across the street from Tain Pyar, where we ran into a German touring couple who we'd first met in Kawkareik.
He was in his 50s and an active cyclist throughout his entire life. She was an impossibly youthful-looking 71 and revisiting Burma after ten years. Together, they had two mountain bikes, a terrible smoking habit, and the desire to see something life-changing one more time. Experience had taught them that the days were short, but meaningful adventures made them long. So even though both were not in the best shape and were mixing up their journey with a combination of riding plus public transport, they were still trying. We don't know many people that age (or even ours, for that matter) who would do this. It was inspiring.
We spent a relaxing evening playing cards in the restaurant before heading back across the street for some rest. Unfortunately, our room faced the road so because of the constant noise and suspected bed bugs, we didn't have the best night's sleep. Too soon, the sun was back, taunting us. Time to hit the road again.