With many of its 800+ islands still not fully explored and some of its reefs unchartered, the Mergui Archipelago is still one great big unknown to much of the world. This trip – essentially an extension of our 9-Day Burma Sailing Adventure – works in an extra week of exploring to uncover its treasures further.
One of the sailing’s many benefits is that each day has some flexibility to it. While we do have a destination to reach, if the weather changes or the opportunity of a detour presents itself, the itinerary of your trip is flexible. Your skipper will make the final call regarding any route taken (according to safety and berth availability), but over the next couple of days you should visit the following destinations:
Lampi island Ma Kyone Gallet
An undisputed highlight of sailing through the Mergui Archipelago is meeting the nomadic sea-faring people, the Moken. The Moken live out much of their lives on board a Kabang: a type of boat carved from a single tree trunk that’s construction dates back to the Stone Age. Traditionally, the Moken spend months at sea at a time, living and fishing from their boats and only coming ashore during the monsoon months. They are excellent divers, descending to depths of 20 metres without the aid of breathing apparatuses, and many can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes – some even longer. A number of studies have shown that the Moken have developed the ability to focus underwater; their pupils contracting instead of expanding to see great distances underwater.
In recent years the Myanmar government has encouraged the Moken to settle in villages by building schools and medical centres, though many still choose to live by the old ways. We’ll get the chance to visit the villages on Lampi Island that some Moken now call home, and meet with Oikos International representatives – an NGO who work with them. Even more special is the chance of meeting the Moken at sea around the 115 Island Group area. Many Moken have had little (or no) interaction with westerners, so we are mindful not to encroach on them, generally initiating any interactions through a bit of customary trading. If it then looks like the Moken are feeling comfortable in our presence, we might try to engage on a more personal level. Expect some shy giggles from the kids at first, and also to be asked to pose for photos yourself – once the barriers are broken, you’re just as likely to be a point of intrigue to them as they are to you!
Long Beach and Koh Phat
Spend a morning in Long Beach, maybe going for a paddle through the mangroves. Sail on to Koh Phat, where Brahamini kite birds can often be spotted in the surrounding trees. A community of Moken and Myanmar people also live in the area – we’ll probably see them fishing from our boat – but they’re notoriously reclusive and we won’t pay them a visit unless invited.
Lined by lush rainforest pressing in on either side, the cruise through the channel separating Wa-ale-Kyun and Lambi islands is a real treat. On Wa-ale Kyun itself exists a small Burmese village that, due to fishing boats coming in to restock their supplies of food, fuel and water, is a relative hub of activity. There are nice beaches in the area, freshwater springs and good kayaking to be had.
Warr Island (Local Lunch or Dinner on Shore)
Because Warr Island is rarely visited by outsiders, the people who live here are particularly open and welcoming to visitors. Children often rush out to meet arriving boats, and you’re sure to receive many warm smiles and greetings in pottering through the village and its shops. This is a great place to enjoy either lunch or dinner ashore, and there should also be time to stop in at the local school (so long as classes aren’t running), visit the monastery, and take a stroll through the countryside. Possibly the most remarkable thing about Warr Island is that the locals here have created their own currency from pieces of red and yellow plastic.
With its aquamarine waters and verdant hills of vegetation, the Gregory islands east of Lambi are more reminiscent of something you might expect to find in the South Pacific than the Andaman Sea. These islands are rarely visited by foreign yachts, and there’s a good chance of seeing the Moken people fishing from their kabangs. The snorkeling in this area is also good.
A note on snorkeling:
The Moken are not the only people to have fished the Mergui Archipelago; countless fishing boats have trawled though these waters over the years, many with a total disregard for the environment. Where the Moken have always fished on a subsistence basis, visiting fishing vessels have often resorted to ‘blast fishing’ – a highly destructive and indiscriminate form of fishing with dynamite. The practice is now illegal, though you might come across some of the damage done to the coral reefs while snorkeling. To prevent any further damage, please be mindful when snorkeling not to stand on the coral or brush it with your flippers.
Don’t be deterred by the name, Shark Island is so-named for its resemblance to a shark, not its abundance of them. This is in fact one of the best spots for snorkeling we’ll get to on this trip, so if you’re only looking to pop in for a dip once, make it here. We’ll spend a full day at Shark Island, meaning plenty of time for sprawling out on the beach also.
More exceptional snorkeling, plus a white sand beach that extends several miles long. More importantly, this is the location for our legendary Beach BBQ – a seafood feast prepared by the ship chef with ingredients freshly caught by the crew!
Kevin Point or west Side Swinton Island
The regions around Kevin Point and the west side of Swinton Island are considered some of the best places for spotting wildlife in the whole archipelago. Whale sharks pass through these waters during their November migrations, and there’s every chance we could spot some of these beautiful creatures drifting their way south. Even if we’re not so lucky however, this area is a haven for marine life, with dolphins, turtles, manta rays, sailfish, dugongs and huge shoals of fish regularly sighted.
In addition to marine life, the islands of Mergui Archipelago are home to several species of mammal. The most commonly spotted of these are the small-clawed otter, lesser mouse-deer and dusky langur (also known as the spectacled leaf monkey). Birdlife is another highlight – keep eyes skyward for glimpses of white-bellied sea eagles, plain-pouched hornbills and brown-winged kingfishers.
A note on wildlife spotting:
As with any wildlife spotting, please note that there can be no guarantee of spying animals during your trip. While many of our vessels have encountered the aforementioned animals on trips previous, wildlife can be both elusive and unpredictable, with varying weather conditions, changing mating seasons and increasing human encroachment on habitats all influencing where and when they appear. Very often, a bit of luck can make all the difference.
This being said, having the time and flexibility to alter our itinerary – not to mention a skipper who knows the area intimately – can go a long way to improving these chances.
In line with Intrepid’s stringent Responsible Travel policies, when viewing wildlife we adhere by strict guidelines. Never will we approach or pursue wildlife that might be bothered by our presence, be this life on land or in water.
Sothern Island Adventure
Due in part to its proximity to Kawthoung and also its spectacular limestone cliffs and caves, the Mergui Archipelago’s Southern Islands are a popular spot for weekend-trippers from the mainland. We’ll try our best to get you in and exploring these caves, though it ultimately depends on the permits available on the day. In the event that permits aren’t available, there are still some beautiful coves to sail into, and the snorkeling around here is sensational.
- Breakfast (11)
- Lunch (11)
- Dinner (11)