Destination profile: Mergui Archipelago
Few people have heard of this undiscovered, largely unspoilt collection of islands off the coast of Myanmar, but it’s starting to appear on the tourism radar, says
We’re moored amid the emerald green waters of the Andaman Sea, surrounded by a scattering of lush jungle-topped islands, but all I can hear is a persistent tapping.
On peering over the rails, I spot a solitary lady in a dugout canoe, holding up a transparent bag of fresh squid which she’s keen to sell to our captain.
She’s one of the sea gypsies – or
Moken people – who inhabit the Mergui Archipelago, which we’re exploring on a week’s cruise with boutique line Pandaw. Aside from local fishermen, she’s the only other person we encounter all week.
This collection of 800 islands has been off-limits to outsiders for decades. Little has changed since British rule ended in 1948 and many outposts, such as Stewart Island, still carry the names of the colonial civil servants they were named after.
Aside from niche dive boats and yacht operator Burma Boating, Pandaw is the most prominent player in the area, having debuted October 2017 with its first foray into ocean cruising on the 20-passenger
Andaman Explorer, a former Norwegian coastguard vessel built in 1963.
It was made into a floating palace by its former Italian owners, who own the Carrara marble quarries and coated the interior with 15 tonnes of it, but after being acquired by Pandaw it had a multimillion dollar upgrade too.
A castaway dream
Mine is a round-trip passage from the southern Burmese town of Kawthaung on the Thai border. Guests mostly arrive from Yangon, having flown via Bangkok.
The week is largely spent exploring the Lampi Island Marine National Park, a natural wonderland of deserted, largely unspoilt islands that live up to the castaway dream of alabaster beaches dotted with shells. However, I’m shocked at the litter washed up on some shores – broken glass and bottles apparently tossed overboard by fishermen.
Thankfully, these were the exception, and memorable days are spent exploring islands and kayaking through mangroves and lagoons.
The crystal-clear waters teem with marine life and I catch glimpses of sailfish launching themselves out of the waves and predatory barracudas chasing glistening shoals of silvery fish.
Blazing sunsets are toasted by beach sundowners to the backdrop of calling songbirds, chattering monkeys and a chirruping chorus of cicadas, and with no phone signal or wifi it’s easy to feel completely relaxed.
For romantics, escapists and diving types, this region promises to be an ideal match. No wonder then, that Pandaw has expanded its Mergui sailings with 10-night voyages between Kawthaung and Yangon, plus seven and 10-night departures to the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
A SEA GIPSY SELLING FISH