Mergui Archipelago, Islands and Pictures of Myeik

Myeik is about half way from Yangon to Kawthaung at the south end of the country and could be a great destination for tours and diving trips around the islands of south Myanmar in the archipelago. Connecting flight’s to the north and south are several every day it could be an easy trip since there are also some reasonable hotels in town. This place also has a rich

heritage since plenty of people passed through and many settled here. Until about 200 years ago this was Siam territory under the control of the court in Ayutthaya.

Tourism is almost zero although one of the best travel destination in the whole world is in the archipelago of the Andaman Sea. Until now only live aboard trips from Phuket are coming in for scuba diving. The almost 800 islands just in front have no infrastructure at all.

Some of the spots are inhabited by sea gypsies who came from somewhere east of Indonesia several hundred years ago, actually nobody know when. They make a living from fishing, hunting (there are plenty of animals on the islands) pearl diving and collection amber.

This is a secondary Andaman Sea port behind Kawthaung and upcoming Dawai. Connected to Yangon and Mawlamyine by sea, road and air, to further south are no roads. This small city is situated on a tidal cut-off connecting the Tanintharyi and Kyaukpya rivers. Plenty of secluded beaches are around and on the islands but all is quiet and no tourism nothing like Patong Beach further south in Thailand.

This is one of the last smuggling centers in Asia and has a abundance of marine life. Mostly ancient boats arrive continually to unload lobster, stingray and a great variety of other species.

Myeik or Mergui on the Tanintharyi coast Andaman Sea
The city has the Andaman Sea in front

Mergui Harbor

Fishing vessel in the harbor, this is the ship which is in the center of the first picture above.

Mergui Archipelago 17 Century and Chinese Junk
A Chinese Junk in the archipelago, around 17 Century

 

As everywhere in the country some pagodas are around, Payagyi Pagoda is an interesting place to visit.

The Pahtaw Phtet, on an island off the coast is well known for its annual festival conducted on a grand scale. Like the people of Dawei, the natives are Bamars and a blend Indians and Chinese, they speak the language with a distinctive accent.

Exports include tin, tungsten, pearls and from the harbor fish, prawns, ngapi or fish paste, salt and rubber which is particularly important to the regional economy.

This is Tanintharyi province

the country’s largest rubber producer since first introduced into the country in 1876.

Edible birds’ nests made from the protein-rich saliva of swift lets (Collocalia inexpectata and Collocalia lowi), are an exotic and valuable product of the region. Believed to be of medicinal value, birds’ nests are prepared in soups and fetch as much as $6000 per pound in the country and abroad. Especially Chinese buy and export them to all over Asia.

Swift lets nest are glued on the steep walls of the many rock caves, crevices and rocky overhangs in the hills of a few islands such as Mali Don along the South Tanintharyi coast. From May to October the weather is not good, wind, rain and wave take over. During monsoon which is also in this timeframe it becomes a real wet hole with incredible amount of rain bouncing down every day since the clouds from the Indian Ocean stall at the hill ranges and empty everything they carry.

The Archipelago

includes around 800 pleasant and enchanting islands in the Andaman Sea just off the city and all the way down to Kawthaung the southernmost tip of the country.

This is a island world hidden from most travelers, before the British conquered Burma only a few Chinese junk trade vessels came to barter pearl, amber, wood and other goods for earthenware and porcelain. Some European adventurer followed and reported in some travel diaries.

The first was a Frenchman who published a travelogue in 1675. After came some Portuguese trader and pirates, after the Dutch tried some trading but there was still nothing really going on. This changed when the British colonialist took over Burma and started to explore the coast downwards from Yangon.

Buddha Shrine outside the city
Buddha Shrine outside the city

Buddhist Nun
Buddhist Nuns

 

The islands of the archipelago

are densely forested with jungle and white untouched beaches with some limestone rocks and granite boulder. One of the very few ‘virgin’ places in the world. In 1990 the Myanmar government changed the English names of the islands and towns to native names, more or less to the names they had before the British came. This way Mergui became Myeik, Victoria Point became Kawthaung, Tavoy became Dawai Rangoon became Yangon and so on.

There are not hotels or resorts on the islands if one wants to stay there the best is to ask for permission from the local Sea Gypsies or Salone, also called Moken in Thailand to stay in one of the beach huts, sounds romantic but isn’t.

Only one island beach resort is operated by a Thai company opposite Kawthaung in close proximity to Ranong. Since the end of the 1990 – ties some diving companies operating out of Phuket, Thailand, got permission to explore the waters for liveaboard trips out of Phuket

Mergui Archipelago Sea Gypsies on Houseboat
Sea Gypsies or Salones in the Mergui Archipelago

Mergui Archipelago
Beach Cottages totally different to Phuket beaches but somehow similar to Cambodian beaches

 

“Siamese White” by Maurice Collis

is the book with the best information about this land in the old days, it was published in 1936, see the ebook version through the link above.

He wrote the very lively story of the area around during colonial times in relation with the British East India Company, the local people and the Thai Kingdom since at that time the area around was Siam.

Maurice Collis presented a incredible insight’ into the minds and actions of the earliest Europeans who have come to the east seeking to realize different goals, the idea was always trade and fortune. The area was Thai territory until the 19. Century.

From the end of British colonial times until recent days foreigners were kept away from south Myanmar’s Tanintharyi / Tennasserim province.

Mergui Archipelago Island in the Andman Sea
Off Lampi Island

Mergui Archipelago People
Salone

Mergui Archipelago Houseboat

Salone Houseboat
Pearl Diver in the Mergui or Myeik Archipelago
Pearl Diver in the Andaman Sea
Mergui Sunset
Island sunset in southern Myanmar
Mergui Archipelago Totempole
Totem pole on a island

The sea gypsies are still very backwards oriented somehow similar to Indio of the Amazonas. Since the British “fixed” them on with alcohol and opium in exchange for their pearls they are heavy alcohol user.


Exploring the Mergui Myeik Archipelago Andaman Sea Myanmar
Exploring the Andaman Sea by liveaboard
Salone Houseboat in the shelter offered by the Mergui Myeik Archipelago
Houseboat in the shelter of the Myeik Archipelago
Salon Houseboats on Makyonegalet Island Mergui Myeik Archipelago Andaman Sea Myanmar
Houseboats on Makyone Galet Island
Salone Harpooner Mergui Myeik Archipelago Myanmar
Salone Harpooner fetches the dinner for today

Salone Harpooning Mergui Myeik Archipelago Myanmar