I am recently back from a trip to Myanmar, snorkelling around the Mergui islands.
It was not quite as good as I was hoping, the visibility was rather poor in many places and the marine life not as good as I have encountered at places in Thailand, such as the Similans not far south from Mergui. The Mergui Archipelago, like much of the old Burma was off limits to foreigners for many years and it has only recently opened to dive boats. This trip with Andaman Snorkel Discovery on the MV Reggae Queen was apparently the first commercial snorkel tour to operate in this area, and although we did have the compulsory Burmese guide who had done some diving and snorkelling in the area we were more or less venturing into the unknown on an exploratory trip as the dive boats go further south-west looking for the big fish.
Perhaps we were unlucky and just went to the wrong areas despite out guide’s “advice” or perhaps what we saw is typical of the snorkelling in this area ? They do have more exploratory trips planned so perhaps Andaman Snorkel Discovery will find some better areas. It may have been a bit disappointing overall, and perhaps not fully worth the money, but it was not a complete write-off….after all, even a bad day’s snorkelling on a coral reef has to be better than most, right ?
The meeting point was in Khao Lak, where 5 guests piled into a minivan for a 3 hour drive north to Ranong, where we met the boat and another couple of guests. Leaving Thailand without too much red tape we cruised across the estuary to Kawthaung (aka Victoria Point) in Myanmar to do the entry formalities into Myanmar and pick up the guide and two more passengers.
The red tape here took a bit longer as the harbourmaster and the 3 immigration officials meticulously checked the ships papers, the crews’ seamans books, our passports and anything else they could think of.
Eventually everything was declared OK, and we were on our way, with Bob Marley on the stereo to help the boat live up to it’s name….Ralf, the owner, fancies himself as a bit of a Rastafarian pirate !
I’ve done a few liveaboard boat trips in Thailand, and I have never gone hungry on any of them, this trip was no exception ….great food and lots of it ! Once underway the cooks brought up lunch, it really is amazing what they can conjure up in a tiny kitchen. We had 3 or 4 choices every meal, plus rice or noodles, fresh fruit, free soft drinks and snacks, plus alcohol at a reasonable price.
After about 3 hours we reached our first snorkel spot, on the map above it look as if the boat went overland but actually there is a small passage between 2 islands, which is where we got wet for the first time. The current between the 2 islands was churning up the sand, so visibility was not good here. After this stop it was a long haul to our overnight anchorage. The Mergui Archipelago has around 800 islands, many just numbered not named.
The second day was a shorter distance, and much more time in the water.
(click for a larger version )
Day 3 was shorter again, only 18 kms according to my GPS, and more time in the water. We also had our first encounters with the Moken sea gypsies today.
We pulled into one bay and 2 dugout canoes appeared, an old lady and baby in one, 3 young kids in the other. Our guide traded some fruit and a few snacks for fish and they paddled off again.
Later we cruised around to the other side of the island to top up our water tanks from a raft, with water pumped from a spring ashore, followed by a quick trip ashore.
Apart from a rather ramshackle temple there was not much to see, although we did find the local bar ! Myanmar Beer is a nice drop, although we did have to send the dinghy back to the boat for ice so that we could have cold beer!
The next day was some of the best snorkelling on the trip, along with a stop for a walk on one of the islands, and visiting another Moken village. Although the island beaches looked pristine from the boat, once ashore you could see the storm debris and rubbish washed up along the high water mark. Most of the rubbish clearly came from the local trawlers, polystyrene food containers etc that were simply thrown overboard.
This village had a large new temple, financed by the lottery winnings of a fishing company owner, even though the Moken are animist not Buddhist. This village was fairly large, with several stores selling all sorts of stuff, such as the Sea-cucumbers, clam meat and air bladders from Pufferfish in the photo above. All delicacies for the Chinese market apparently ?
That evening we anchored at the end of a long calm inlet on Jar Lann Kyunn Island, where some of the guys broke out the boat’s wakeboard and became probably the first people to wakeboard the Mergui islands, towed by the boats dinghy !
Next morning we snorkelled along the shore close to the boat, then headed to 3 more spots before starting the long trip back to Ranong, anchoring overnight at Zar Det Ngee island.An early morning start gave us time for 2 more stops, and included seeing yet more Lionfish and a couple of Cuttlefish which completely ignored us for several minutes, not a bad way to finish !
We were back at Kawthaung by early afternoon and the Myanmar immigration formalities were done quickly while we went for what was supposed to be a short stroll, but this is where the customer relations turned a bit sour, in my opinion. Most of us had to get back to Khao Lak, still several hours away, but owner and some of the crew wanted to stay drinking beer in Kawthaung “one last time”. I think they should have forseen possible trouble and delays with Thai immigration and got under way earlier. As things would have it, it took a long time to get our passports stamped, involving trips into town and back, waiting for immigration etc, nearly 90 minutes altogether. Even then we had to detour twice before heading back to Khao Lak,to drop people off at various places. Khao Lak closes up early, so people were worried about their accommodation being closed by the time we got there well after 9pm. In addition, after arriving at the office and picking up our bags left there, they would not give anybody a ride to their hotels even though the company van was heading that way ….just a poor way to finish the trip in my opinion.
All in all, while I do not regret going, it is not something I would do again unless the company finds some much better spots. And even without the US$250 Myanmar government entry permit fee it was not exactly cheap. For the total cost I could have spent 2 weeks on Koh Lipe and probably had better snorkelling ! Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained, you live and learn, etc etc.