In February 2017, I could tick off one of my bucket lists, travelling to virgin islands of Burma, my mother land.
Mergui archipelago is located in the most Southern part of Burma bordered by Thailand.
The archipelago officially has more than 800 recorded islands. But according to my guide, there are 2000 islands and out of them, only 800 islands are officially recorded, and out of 800, only 200 islands are accessible to the outsiders.
There are not only islands but also lots of mangroove swamps enriched with diversity of plants and animals. ( the government does not allow foreigners to sleep on the islands. But you can arrange day trip tours. please check before you go)
There is still no proper rule regarding land ownership and the fishermen build the cottages on the island and can stay there without paying anything to government. The government approves most of the application to build settlement as the region needs to be developed.
To arrive Mergui islands, I had a flight to the town called Myeik with Myanmar National Airline ( unfortunately, it’s as expensive as the flight to BKK ). Myeik is a beautiful town, it’s clean and roads are spacious. There is not much traffic jams and lots of nice food. And if you are very much into birds, there is a lake where you can watch varieties of birds.
And to see the panorama view of Myeik, you can go to Thein Daw Gyi pagoda to watch the sunset and the amazing view of the Adaman sea.
If you wana try famous cuisine in Myeik, I would recommend “ Kyan Taw” restaurant and “ U Maung Win” Restaurant , phone 098763270. At U Maung Win restaurant, please try pork brain mixed with eggs, It’s yum. And you can order “ Kat Kyay kite” ( fried white color noodles ). For accommodation, I would recommend you “ Golden sky Hotel” ( telephone 059-41991),
it’s just 5 to 10 minutes drive from airport, very clean and has a pool. The price is 28000 kyats for Myanmar citizens and 40000 kyats for foreigners per head , if two people, they charge extra 10000 kyats. You can also ask them to arrange airport pick up for you. It is very easy to get motor bike for your transport if you are alone. They are not costly and bikers are very skilful. I think it’s more fun to ride on bike in open air than in the car. Afterall, the town is not big and you can go everywhere with bike .
From Myeik, you need to arrange boats to go to the island. It takes one and half hour to go to the nearest island. Mergui travel and tour has very nice boat and its more speedy than other boats.
We went there with Blue Ocean Star Resort and Travel. The project developer is Kyaw Moe. His cell phones are 09 451022389, 09420709547. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blue Ocean company is developing Harris island into a comfortable place to stay. They built a cottage where some staff live. They cook, clean the place, do some buildings, and organize the boats. The staff are multi purpose and one of them even massaged for us at night. They also have clean toilets and enclosed bath rooms. They developed a tube well for fresh water. Before blue ocean arrived that island, an old lady was staying alone selling fresh water to fishermen. Harris island is 1300 feet long and the water is crystal clear.
They built a bridge where you can look into deep water from the bridge.
You can also climb the hill where you can see the bird eye view of island.
You can also jungle trek and get lost in the jungles where there are rare flowers exist.
There is a very famous traditional drink . They keep the artichoke , squeeze their flash and oil , then mix with beer and drink it.
A lot of people like it. But we didn’t try because the locals told us it’s kinda fishy. In contrary to what people said, I didn’t see much fish there. It’s mainly because there are a lot of illegal fishing boats near by. ( I assume illegal and the foreign companies come and buy fish from these boats) I saw a few schools of fish in deep water. Near the bridge, the sea has lots of artichokes. They can be painful if you accidentally step on them.And if you want to go and see corals, you have to take risk of getting injured by spikes of shells stuck to the stones.
As most of us are not good swimmers, we end up getting injuried walking in the sea at the back of Harris island. I was bleeding profusely and had to get on the boat again.
Usually, it became hot after 9 am unless you want to sit under the shade.
The sand is very soft and velvety. The water is blue. It’s amazing. I went up the hill and although, I could climb uneventfully , on the way back, it’s quite a difficult descend.
In the end, I decided to sit down and slide as I was afraid I would slip and fall.
It’s a breezy day. So I decided to dip my feet inside the salty water and feel the tides touch my feet. Suddenly, the crabs ( very beautiful deep green color ) came under the stones and walked around me. They were fascinating. I always have a thing for crabs. If you want to watch them, you have to be very still. Once they can sense vibration, they run away from you. I savored my solitude with nature and thanked God for guiding me to come to that beautiful island.
At night, we were given two options to sleep, either we could sleep on the benches made of bamboo or sleep in the tents. As we are concerned about mosquitoes ( mind you, it is the malaria endemic area ), we decided to sleep in the tents.
So the staff prepared tents just in front of the sea. It was amazing. The highlight of the trip is we lie on the benches before going inside the tent and talked about a lot of stuff.
There was a starry sky, it was beautiful. The beach was well lit as a lot of fishing boats anchored near the island and we were surrounded by boats with lights. Luckily, there was no rain. The weather was perfect. I felt like I found out new friends during the trip because I could talk to my travel partners for a long time at night. So travelling is not all about finding new places, it’s also about finding new people who might become your long lasting friends in the end.
Our tour guide called Aung San Lwin is a cheerful guy, he has a very good communication skill. His cell phone is 09782667126, obviously a happy-go-lucky person. He was more excited than us when he saw a school of Nimo fish. He did not accept the tips and finally, I found out he is not a staff and one of share holders for the business. He is very helpful , but not a typical guide who will watch over you. He would rather enjoy himself. So you need to watch out danger for yourself if you are with him.
He brought us to fish farm ( on the way before we arrive islands ) to get fresh fish and cook for us at night.
The tour guide Aung San Lwin arranged all our meals with fresh sea food and the staff can cook very well. Surprisingly, the cost of all sea food meals’are only one tenth of ordinary price there.
We also went to the Main –ma- hla island meaning Beautiful lady island. There is a shrine and a small waterfall. I saw the fishermen are taking water out of waterfall. The water is very cold and refreshing.
The next day, we went to the stone island where you see lots of beautiful stones as if angles lay the stones there perfectly. The stones has smooth surface and rounded in shape. Some are transformation of shells mixed with lime , white in color. You can see lots of beautiful fish there although its difficult to walk on stones.
Then we headed to the famous Moken village.
It is quite famous for its native people called Moken or sea gypies. They are trained to be at sea since very young age. Their vision is much sharper than other people under water. They can swim tirelessly with grace. Some claim they can even sleep under water. They can dive up to 30 minutes without coming up. Previously, they are the only resources to supply famous Burmese pearls to the world as they can dive and know locations of clams more than other people. Still, they are struggling even to have a proper school and now the church is being used temporarily as the primary school.
When we arrived there, all kids came out from church and looked at us. They were singing in the church in Moken language. We distributed jellies and sweets and they gladly accepted the snacks. In contrary to what I saw in books, most kids have fair skin . I think may be the skin might change once they go out to sea more often. I am glad they are still learning their own language.
At times, one of my friends raised up question regarding loss of culture. We know Moken people know the sea like the back of their hands. But my friend wondered whether the tradition and culture is disappearing among young people. Then , the head of Moken village replied him that although the technology seeps inside the village, the kids still learn about the sea from their experience. At the time of Tsunami, the kids who were playing at sea noticed the change of color in the sea, they quickly ran back to the village and alerted the adults. Soon after that, the whole village shifted to the hilly area and escaped from the tides which devoured the whole village.
After that, we went to the two faced island. The island is 1800 feet long and very beautiful. By chance, we ran into a crowd who came to island with the ship. They were celebrating a party and even offered us some free food. And some tour guide caught crabs and did barbeque on the island. We were a bit hungry and glad to be able to buy some chicken and salad on the island fortunately. It was not all time event, and by luck, the snack were sold by visitors as well. The island is 1800 feet long and nobody staying on it except hornbills which I saw by chance. It was a big hornbill and flew just above my head while I was sitting on the rock.
We were supposed to go to a few more islands. But our boat was not functioning well because of polluted oil purchased from fishermen. When we arrived “ Don waterfall”, I decided not to go down as I know I am not a well balanced person to walk on the slippery stones. But the sight of waterfall is beautiful.
As our boat is not functioning, we came back with another boat and it was faster on our way back.
We came back with lots of memories and a few cuts here and there on our bodies. I am telling to my friends that I need to go back to the island with my guitar and a stack of books. This is a place which will be forever in my ” must go back ” list.