Mergui MyanmarMyanmar Mergui
There are only a few small resort developments on the island - although there are reported reports of more development in the near term - so the only way to get around this semi-remote heaven at the present time is by canoe. There are so few places on the Mergui and so many places to visit that it is not hard to have the feeling of having found your own personal and paradisiac.
Myanmar Boating is one of four tour operators - among them Intrepid, Mergui Princess and Island Mergui Safari Tour s- that are authorized to rent ferries in the Arcipelago, a natural wonder. During the four day trip I am spending with the SY Raja Laut, a 30m sailboat from Burma Boating (www.burmaboating.com), which organizes sail trips in Southeast Asia, we see only one more small group of Burmese tourist also on a Burma Boating tour as we drop anchor in front of a fishermen town.
For most of the times, when we go into a cove for snorkelling or anchoring, our pretty nineteenth c. style sailboat with four cloudy canvases and an iron-wood hulk is the only ship there. If we are taken by a small fast craft to an uninhabited shore, our toe is the only one touching the crystal clear water and its sickles of pulverized sands.
There are no sunshades, wicker or tables. Only eight of us - a Bangkok-based married pair, four Germans, a Spaniard and myself - are on boat on the five-night yacht charters, enjoy a wide, untouched section of beaches, sit in the shadow of a deeply suspended twig and drift on water, which is the quintessence of water.
Kawthaung, a harbour town at the south tip of Myanmar, is the gate to the Mergui archipelago. When the Mergui is part of a larger Myanmar trip, you can take Myanmar National Airlines (www.flymna.com) to Kawthaung local airfield. Myanmar Boating is conscious of these challenges and is usually able to take into account short-term changes in itineraries.
It' cost ?140 (S$210) and can be organized through Burma Boating. Arriving at the long tail jetty, travelers must go through migration before taking a long tail vessel - which can also be organized by Burma Boating - for the 40-minute trip across the boarder and directly to the board. Myanmar Boating's 15:00 and 12:00 embarkation is due to early and early afternoons arrival to Kawthaung and Ranong.
Raja Laut can accommodate 12 people in six rooms below decks - three doubles and three doubles, each with en-suite facilities and small baths with warm shower and bath. We' re a perfect match around the dinner tables with our food, and when we're on board, each of us has enough room to find loneliness where we can literally literate or take a snooze while the ship is moving between the isles.
Sometimes we come past a fishermen' s vessel or see the light of a fishermen' s town in the faraway, but we seldom see any sign of civilization. Mergui Archipelago is so isolated that there is no Wi-Fi and telephone onboard. It' as if behind our ship and our sand no other realm is.
Our basic needs, from daily trips to snorkeling gear to delicious food, are met by the unbelievably kind people onboard. We will be taken from the tenders - the boat's fast craft - for snorkeling or to our nearest town.
Nevertheless, every one of the beaches and snorkeling destinations seems to be better than the previous ones. The last full moon we go to Say Tan Island, whose sands are so thin that it climbs in a milk coloured clouds as I pass through the waters and turn the clear ocean into shimmering opals. Later we will be visiting Cock's Comb Island (also known as Kyet Mauk Island), where at low dide a 1.5 m high, 10 m long passage protrudes into a steep crag.
It is a snorkeling excursion, but the area also offers a variety of top dive sites for those who like to dive more. Myanmar Boating has six sailing boats chartering three nights, five nights and six nights of cruising, costing between 1,700 (S$2,545) and 3,400 per passenger. Fees include lodging, snorkeling and dive equipment as well as meals and beverages, although liquor is charged separately - $2 (S$2.70) per gallon for a glass of ale, $20 for a glass of fine wines and $50 for a glass of liquor.
You can also rent the vessels privately, according to the dimensions and qualities of the vessel for 1,500 to 6,900 euros per night. For example, a personal Raja Laut charters is 4,500 euros per night, and the routes and meals are fully customizable to the needs and wishes of the passengers on the ship.
There is nothing better than snorkeling and jumping on the islands for a whole weekend or more. I sleep every evening with the noise of ripples hitting the body, sucked in by the soft swing of the sub. Mergui is the remedy for any kind of trouble, fear or trouble you never knew you had.
The author's journey was courtesy of Burma Boating. Tell token kids to go swimming before they leave. The first view of the mokens, one of the last hunter-gatherer population in Southeast Asia, is off Jar Lamm Kyunn, where a small fleet of ships is racing to us on the Raja Laut; half a half twentieth of them are nimble rowing by token kids at the helm.
As many Tokens have no nationalities or ID cards, their citizenships are not known. On the Mergui Archipelago they have been sailing for hundreds of years aboard Kabang's, small boat families that have been carved from the trunks of a rock. However, over the past ten years, the Myanmar authorities have restricted the Moken's ability to gain entry to their land for fish and have tried to move them to sustainable communities in the Mergui to free them from their one-of-a-kind migratory lifestyle.
Some 400 Moken now reside in stilts on the islands, and the kids welcome us with smiles on their faces, drawn in whirlpools of Thanaka, a sunscreen made of grinded woodrind. As we dare to go on land to their villages, the kids are eager to show us their shelters.
As our leaders, the kids take over and take us on a concrete road up a precipitous incline to their college and a new church; a whitewashed single room layout with fluorescing core motives on the roof, wall and centre-piers. It' s a lively, cheesy contrasts to another sanctuary, easy, cosy und sinister and made of wooden boards 15m down the hill, where a friar is offering us a cup of coffee and guiding us in prayers, the kids bow respectfully at our sides.
However, once the prayers are over, it is clear that the kids are more enthusiastic about the new sanctuary and are eager to point out the bohemian sculptures of heart and goddess and floral patches that will be placed along the way. Seemingly, the town hopes to become a tourism station, like the Moken town on Surin Island in Thailand, which earns most of its living as a favourite day trip for Phuketese.
In the past the Moken were fishers, but because their fishery areas were converted into protected areas, they are often imprisoned or punished for not having proper permission to fish. It is contradictory to see that our stay contributes to informing us about the distress of the Moken, but perhaps it contributes to their sinking.
According to estimations by the state and anthropologists, less than 3,000 Moken live in the water off Myanmar and Thailand, many of whom know little or remember little about their migratory lives. When we return to our ship, I look around the town and realize that the most worrying thing about the fellowship is that it is there.
It' s a pleasure to be able to enjoy sharing the smile with the Moken, so clearly at home in the waters and not yet exhausted by a tourist bolt, but it is also difficult not to be like an intruder. Bribery of the Moken civilization has already started and cabang - once an important part of Moken civilization - is nowhere in view.