Having spent last year stuck in Yangon, working, over Thingyan, I jumped at the chance to take the final spot aboard the private boat my friends had chartered to sail them around the Mergui Archipelago on a 5 day/4 night cruise this year.
The Mergui Archipelago lies to the south of Myanmar in the Andaman sea, comprising some 800 islands, many of which are totally uninhabited and unspoilt by the sort of mass tourism that is currently plaguing other South East Asian hot spots.
The archipelago was only opened up to tourism in 1997 and still remains largely unexplored, although its wealth of beautiful marine life has seen it increase in popularity in recent years with our boat, the Mergui Princess, completing some 28 tours this past season.
The Mergui Princess sleeps up to 16 guests (in 8 cabins split between 3 bunk beds, 2 king rooms with ensuite bathrooms & 3 double rooms) and at 80 feet long is more than spacious enough to enjoy yourself without feeling overcrowded or cramped.
To get to the Mergui, you fly from Yangon to Kawthaung, an easy 2 hour flight on Myanmar National Airlines, after which it is around a 20 minute transfer to the jetty. As we arrived late, our first day itinerary was slightly altered and we ended up missing out the first island of the trip in order to make good time for the following mornings island hopping.
Here is the map of the route we took, with the undeniable highlights being…
115 Island (also known as Frost Island owing to its dazzling white sandy beaches) where we spent the afternoon snorkelling in perfect turquoise waters
Kyun Phi Lar Island (also known as Great Swinton) which is home to what is apparently one of the archipelagos longest, unspoilt beaches. The snorkelling here was the best we experienced during our whole trip with sightings of everything from clown fish and parrot fish, to stingrays, whilst the beach was perfect for sunbathing and relaxing without the annoyance of sand flies which can feature on some of the other islands
Lampi Island is the only national marine park in Myanmar and is home to a sweeping mangrove forest, perfect for exploring by Kayak (assuming you have more hand-eye coordination than I do, I fear I made it unnecessarily difficult for the others in my kayak who struggled valiantly with the currents before we made the wise choice to have our dinghy pick us up for the rest of the return journey!) Had we not have been laughing so much that we would have been spotted by any nearby wildlife from miles away, I am assured we could have seen not only a variety of tree snakes hanging from the mangroves, but monkeys and rare birds as well.
On our second day we moored alongside a fishing vessel, manned by the “Moken” people who inhabit the area, in order to get some fresh seafood. The Moken stay at sea for months at a time (the fishing boat we saw had been at sea for 4 months!) and naturally they were somewhat curious by our group. Whilst several of the men on our boat decided to go and have a closer look, much to their delight, it was undeniably the ladies aboard (more specifically the array of bikinis and swimsuits they were wearing) that created most interest, and by the time we left them, some 20 minutes later, we had received gifts to the tune of several kgs of fresh prawns and crab!
When we weren’t anchored off a beautiful tropical island, enjoying the spectacular snorkelling, swimming, sunbathing, exploring the island, or playing spike ball, we spent our days onboard catching up on some much needed R&R. The boat comes equipped with fishing rods, which we used with varying degrees of success, as well as plenty of reading, more sunbathing (of course!) and playing a variety of card and dice games, not to mention all the wonderful meals we ate (and the countless numbers of beers/gin & tonics and wine spritzers consumed!)
Our crew of 6, led by the wonderful Mr G (Kyi) could not have been more friendly or efficient. Our every need was catered for and they took our shenanigans in spectacularly good spirits, from engaging in a little wrestling with the more sporty amongst us, to joining in with our nightly singing & guitar playing. When the captain spotted dolphins on the horizon as we headed back to Kawthaung, the crew rushed to help point them out to us, ensuring our trip ended on a truly memorable note.
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper blog post if I didn’t show you some of the delicious meals we enjoyed now would it! Here are some of my favourite dishes from the trip!
I had a magical time aboard the Mergui Princes and cannot recommend the experience highly enough, just find yourself 15 friends (so you can enjoy a private tour) a guitar, some cards and a few (!) cases of beer, and satisfaction is guaranteed.