It's the world's best kept secret
|Part of our new SG Great Escapes 2017.|
The Mergui Archipelago, an 800-island paradise in Southern Myanmar, has been generating interest worldwide as the latest best kept secret. Mika Itavaara journeys there to find out why it has been described by some as the next Maldives.
Up until very recently, tourism to Southern Myanmar was heavily restricted and only the most intrepid travelers made their way to the region. As a result, many of the islands remain virtually untouched. Its white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and lush jungle-covered hills are, without exaggeration, pristine. It sounds cliched and almost too good to be true, so my travel companions and I decided to embark on a journey to discover this paradise for ourselves.
These days, the archipelago is easily reached from the port town of Kawthaung, located in the southernmost part of Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region, just north of Thailands Surin Islands. To get to Kawthaung, you can choose to take a two-hour domestic flight from Myanmar’s capital Yangon, or travel to the border town of Ranong in Southern Thailand and take a short ferry ride over to Kawthaung. We chose the former option, spending a few days exploring the capital before our trip.
Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city life behind, we set off on an early morning flight to Kawthaung. Options for accommodation on the islands of the archipelago are still quite limited, and since camping is restricted, we had decided to spend our first night in Kawthaung while taking day trips to various islands. Upon arrival, we were greeted by our local guide and taken to our hotel, the Victoria Cliff Resort, to freshen up and prepare for our first expedition to paradise.
So we set off by speedboat to what would be the first of many spectacular islands we would visit on our trip. Our first destination was Cocks Comb Island, an impressive limestone formation with an astonishing heart-shaped lagoon hidden within. To get into the lagoon, we put on snorkeling gear and had to swim through a small cave opening on one side of the island. Swimming through the remarkable limestone tunnel, surrounded by thousands of colorful fish, was an incredible way to make an entrance.
After a blissful swim and some snorkeling in the gentle waters of the lagoon, we headed back out to our boat to continue on our journey. We’re headed to Horseshoe Island next. As our boat approached the island, a picture-perfect postcard scene began to take shape—a spotless white sandy beach, swaying palm trees and turquoise waters set in a secluded bay. We were stunned by the beauty of the place, and even more so by the fact that we had it all to ourselves. Once ashore, we spent the rest of the afternoon simply taking in the views, swimming in the crystal clear waters, lazing under the shade of the palm trees and strolling along the beach while forgetting the outside world—even if for just a moment.
The second day, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore more of the wonders of Mergui. We headed further out this time, deep into the archipelago for an overnight camping trip on Nyaung Oo Phee Island, located an hour and 45 minutes by speedboat from the mainland. The island is privately owned by Victoria Cliff Resort, and they have set up bungalow tents as well as a restaurant serving fresh seafood to cater to overnight guests. On arrival, the same breathtaking views we had come to expect awaited us. We spent the day unwinding on the beach as well as snorkeling in the water among coral reefs. We even managed to find energy to go sea kayaking after, to beach hop and explore some of the other stunning shores on the island.
In the evening, we dined on freshly caught seafood while gathered around the warmth of a camp re; toes snuggled in the sand, tender sea breeze blowing through our hair and listening to the soothing sound of waves gently lapping on the shore. In that moment, it truly felt like time stood still. The next morning, we set off on a trek into the jungle- covered hills in the interior of the island. After an enjoyable uphill journey through the verdant greenery, we arrived at an awe-inspiring vantage point from where we could enjoy brilliant views of the island and its surroundings. We made the most of our remaining time there by cooling off in the water nearby.
Sadly, our trip had to come to an end. In the late afternoon, we headed back to Kawthaung to catch an early morning flight back to Yangon the following day. Looking back, our time in Mergui had been simply unforgettable. The sheer beauty and unspoiled nature of the archipelago had left a deep impression on us. With over 800 Islands, there is so much to discover in Mergui and so many sights and activities we didn’t have a chance to experience on this trip. From diving with whale sharks to living aboard small sailing ships, there are plenty of reasons to come back and we cannot wait to do so.
Mergui travel tips
Free-and-easy travel there is not allowed and a special permit is required to even enter the archipelago. You have to organize your trip through a Myanmar-based tour agency such as DISCOVERY DMC which offers a broad range of packages. The best time to visit the Mergui Islands is from October to May when the weather tends to be sunny and dry and the sea is most calm. During summer monsoon season, storms are frequent and traveling between the islands can get rough and most boats stay away anchored to sheltered bays.