Burma Boating in Mergui Archipelago

 

Having had an overnight stop in the Strand in Yangon, we were driven to Yangon Airport, and from there boarded our plane which stopped at Dawei on the way to our final destination of Victoria Point - well it was Victoria Point in the days of the British, but has now helpfully been changed to Kawthaung. Victoria Point has an airfield which was built by the British before the war. On 9th December 1041, the airfield was raided by Japanese aircraft. Subseqquently, the Japanese invasion of Burma began with the landing of Japanese troops from Thailand at Victoria Point. With no forward airfield, the RAF was powerless to supprt ground troops in Burma

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At Dawei, a superior monk, we never found out who he was, got off and was enthusiastically met by a large throng of devotees, who escorted him from the aircraft steps, off into the distance.

Our plane went on to Kawthaung where we were met and taken to our hotel for the night , the Victoria Cliff Hotel, along with our 5 fellow passengers with Burma Boating

Victoria Cliff Hotel. "A newly-opened, locally-managed hotel in Kawthaung and definitely the nicest option you have if you plan to spend a night in town before or after your cruise. The hotel is located on the way to the airport, 2-3 kilometres away from the bustling centre of Kawthaung. The dozen or so Asian-style bungalows come with a view of the Andaman Sea. The Victoria Cliff has an outdoor pool in the pleasant palm garden. There's also a small indoor pool and a spacious gym, possibly the only one in Kawthaung, ". Victoria Cliff Hotel & Resort (good on TripAdvisor and 9.0 on Booking)

We stayed here one night on our way to pick up the yacht round the archipelago with Burma Boating. A mid morning start with the yacht meant we could not get down from Yangon on the day, so had to overnight. As it turned out our night at Victoria Cliff was a pleasant interlude. The hotel is close to the airport, so you get whisked there very quickly after landing. We had reserved a sea front villa, and a sea front villa we got. If you like views, it is worth the supplement for the stunning view of the mangrove flats with an array of islands beyond. The sea goes out a long way here exposing acres of mud, so you would not want to swim in the sea. But the infinity edge pool is a delight and in itself memorable. The villa comes with a terrace to sit and watch the world beneath you. Rooms are not large, but perfectly adequate. And are well furnished. Language is a bit of a problem. They take your passport on arrival , and appear very reluctant to give it back to you. All other hotels we stayed at in Burma, just photocopied our passports and then handed them back immediately. In fact I checked out the next day without realising that they still had my passport, and I had to go scurrying back to the desk to demand it.

Service with drinks was slow, I have no idea why it takes so long. On the three occasions I ordered drinks I though that they had been forgotten, but eventually arrived. The bartender was not overworked, I assume he was checking his social media. The restaurant also has the spectacular view out to sea. The menu is limited but perfectly acceptable. Breakfast was a bit of a disaster, both in quality and in choice. However this is a hotel trying to do its best with westerners in a very remote region, and if I were to be doing Burma Boating again, then I would stay here again

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Next morning we transferred to the SY Meta IV for our 5 night cruise through the Mergui Archipelago. Virtually unknown to the outside world, the Mergui Archipelago is located in Myanmar's remote south: a group of 800 deserted islands that lie at the heart of our sailing area. Each island has white beaches lined with palm trees and dense jungle. And you have this to yourself. You can sail for days on end and meet not a soul but the odd fisherman in a dugout canoe .

Meta IV has four guest cabins, each claiming to be "fully air conditioned " but in fact the run down a/c system only ran for 3 hours each night because of lack of power from the ship's engine. The en suite bathroom was basic. Our cabin had a queen-size bed against the side of the ship, leaving only a narrow passage way. The entire aft of the boat is shaded and fitted with dining table. The boat's centre is dominated by the galley and saloon dining area (which we did not use). My feeling was that Meta 4 was a bit run down, and no way could be called luxurious. It was basic, and needed a full overhaul. The trip was saved by the splendid scenery that we went through

The archipelago is remote, wild and fantastic. You see hardly another boat, only white sandy beaches on island after island. Plus the occasional village of fishermen. And throw in a few sea otters for good measure. We went ashore at one large village, plus the small family group with the sea otters.

Some of the other boats we came across from a millionaires motor yacht to fishing boats and to kids after cookies. Most of the local fishing boats in the area catch squid and cuttlefish, and one sees many fishing boats with their lighting gantries moored by day, and lighting up the night sky when they are using them to attract fish.

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Two problems were firstly very little sailing, perhaps an hour without the motor over 5 days. whilst I am sure that Burma Boating would plead "local conditions" at the time, I am suspicious that this is fact the norm, and the most trips use more than 50% motor.

My second problem was more serious. There is a crew of 4. The captain, deckhand and cook spoke no English. Therefore it was down to the Burmese guide to let us know what was happening. The nub of the problem was that his English was so bad that I could not understand it. Safety briefing - incomprehensible. Prices of spirit drinks and the form of Happy Hour - misunderstood seriously. Daily briefing - not an idea as to what the daily plan was. Meal times - never told unless you happened to be on deck. One day our cabin was not made up - guide said they did not have enough crew to do cabins every day. I feel that Burma Boating need to address this weakness

Apart from the scenery, a high point was the the cooking. The lady cook was a delight and produced really good meals from the galley

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Just across from the Thai border, the Mergui archipelago opened to foreigners as recently as the late 1990s. With only a few of the 800 islands sparsely populated and a couple dozen visitors to the entire area each month, the Archipelago remains one of the planet’s most unspoiled destinations. The Sea Nomads are traditional inhabitants of the Mergui Archipelago. They are the Moken, a people who live off, and on, the sea. Sometimes called "sea-gypsies", this ethnic minority group leads a traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyle, dominated by diving for sea cucumbers, fishing and bartering. Until the recent changes in Myanmar’s government, the relationship between the Moken and the central authorities was marked by tensions. Recently, however, things have started to improve and the Moken are somewhat less elusive..

Virtually all our cruising was under motor. I was not clear if this was because the crew were too idle to set the sails, or that they had too large distances to cover and the sails would be too slow. The yacht’s engine runs up to 8-12 knots

The Mergui Archipelago lies in tropical waters and temperatures are constantly warm and pleasant, with average highs ranging between 28-33°C and average lows between 20-24°C . Even when winds are strong and swells are sizeable, the numerous large islands provide hundreds of protected anchorages for any season. While some areas of the archipelago have not been entirely charted and explored, the region provides safe sailing, with few under-water obstacles or dangerous reefs. The entire island group is replete with good and safe anchorages in sandy or muddy grounds.

Looking back on it, most of our time was on the boat, with only one pr maybe two trips ashore each day. We had two short treks across islands, and a few hours on sandy beaches. The other 5 in the group preferred to snorkel, and that was wat the guide concentrated on.

We had one very short kayak trip in the mangrove swamps, and a visit to a village with sea otters.

The islands vary in size and are all made from limestone and granite and are covered in thick jungle growth, which drops into azure waters, interrupted only by beaches, rocky headlands, tidal rivers, and mangrove forests. Lampi, one the largest islands, is part national park and home to some of the earth's oldest mangrove forests.

The boat caught two fish from its trailing spinner.

This was a hike for about half an hour across an island, to get to a beach on the other side - which was much the same as the beach we had started from

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The only real village we saw was this trading village, where interstingly there was a "black magic" ceremony going on, very similar to the Voodoo rites in West Africa.

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One of 2 islands that were spent a couple of hours on. Glorious sandy beaches.

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And another short trek across an island to see a sunset.

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And a small family group had taken in 3 sea otters that had been orphaned. The sea otters, were as our American fellow travellers said, "cute". They probably were actually The Oriental Small-clawed Otter

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And on the last night we had drinks on the beach to watch the sunset

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Life on board. We had 5 fellow passengers, Americans, of whom 4 were friends travelling as a group. I did not have much in common with them, and caused a bit of a kerfuffle when I refused to take part in "dressing up" for the last night - as I said to them, if I had been a guest invited by them on their boat, I would have obliged. But I was not, so could make my own decision.

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Burma Boating's web site gives example's of voyages, but in the event, we had no idea where we went as the surly guide, "AK", was unable and unwilling to give us this information on a daily basis. Writing up the experience a few weeks later, I am not sure whether I enjoyed the trip on Meta IV or not. The scenery and the cooking were good, but the other aspects including the ropiness of the boat itself, left a lot to be desired.

 

Landing back at Kawthaung, we were taken to the Victoria Cliff Hotel for a few hours until it was time for our flight to Dawei. I enjoyed the scenery, but I was a bit sad that the trip was not better than it turned out to be.

On to Dawei by air

Burma Holiday