Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
The term 'archipelago' is used to refer to a collection or group of islands. Given that Myanmar's (Burma's) Mergui Archipelago holds approximately 800 individual islands, this region is the ideal use of the term. Largely uninhabited by humans, save for pockets of the Salone or Moken people — colloquially referred to as 'sea-gypsies' — and a burgeoning tourism scene, these islands are predominantly unspoilt.
As for their waters, it was only in 1997 that negotiations with Phuket dive operators finally lead to the seas being open to tourists. However, as this is still an area off the radar of even well-seasoned travelers, the Mergui Archipelago is a playground for adventurous types — both on land and in the sea. Oh! One more thing, the 'Mergui Archipelago' is also referred to as the 'Myeik Archipelago,' so expect to hear these two names as interchangeably as you do 'Myanmar' and 'Burma.'
Spanning approximately 14,000 square miles (36,000 sq km) across 800 individual islands, you'll find Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago in the country's southernmost region. Located in the Andaman Sea, to the north, you'll find Indochina; to the west, the Malay Peninsuala. All of the islands are beautiful in their own right because they are vastly unspoilt, but in terms of getting your bearings, notable islands include:
Kadan Kyun - At 2,516 feet (767 m), this is the archipelago's tallest and largest island.
Mali Kyun - The island that is farthest north.
Christie Island - The island that is farthest south.
Kanmaw Kyun - Nicknamed 'Whale Bay' due to the amount of whales, dolphins, and porpoises that frequent the waters, this island is part of an important migration path. Keep it in mind if you want to do some whale watching.
What Are The Island's Like?
The islands themselves are beautiful in their ruggedness; composed of granite and limestone, and topped with landscapes just begging to be explored. Beaches are uncrowded, with zero footprints to be found in the sand — save for the resident animals. Jungles are thick and lush, as there's no one around to fell trees. Freshwater rivers flow freely, with a precious degree of clarity. Mangroves are perfectly preserved, and the seas are teeming with life.
Largely Uninhabited, But Still Impacted By Humans
There is one unfortunate heads-up that you need to be given, and that's the fact that you may hear dynamate going off as blast fishing occurs. Even if you don't hear it, you'll likely see the effects of it — chunks of rock may be missing, coral may be displaced, there are underwater craters grossly out of place. Thankfully the region appears to be remarkably resilient despite this practice. Hopefully, as tourism to the region gains in popularity (and with it, tourist dollars), the government will discourage or even ban this practice.
Meet The Locals
The Moken/Salone/Sea-Gypsys that do inhabit some of the larger islands leave a very small footprint. They practice a traditional way of life and are almost mermaid-like in their culture. The sea provides for them; they fish and construct old-fashioned dugout boats. During the dry season, you can find them living the aquatic life on their boats; it is only during the rainy season that they take to the land. They can do this because the region's temperatures remain fairly comfortable year round — lows are 69-76°F (20-24°C) while highs can reach 84-92°F (28-33°C).
Who Else Lives Here?
Apart from the locals and the occasional visitor in the know (like you), the only other archipelago dwellers you're likely to come across are animals.
On land, you can see a wide variety of wildlife, including (but certainly not limited to):
- White-Bellied Sea Eagles
- Emerald Doves
- Montor Lizards
- Civet Cats
The sea is equally generous, offering plenty to see on diving, snorkeling, and boating (or yachting) expeditions:
- Coral Reefs
- Moray Eels
- Whale Sharks
- Irriwady Dolphins
Become a Modern Day Explorer
The Mergui Archipelago is a unique and beautiful region. Part of what makes it so special is that it proves there is still much to explore in this world; though we know of its existence, this collection of islands still remains a mystery. Its seas and forests are full of wildlife. The few people who do live there show that it is very much possible to live in harmony with nature (across more than one type of terrain), instead of interfering with her. This adventurer's paradise is waiting for you in Myanmar, and your Anywhere Local Expert is ready to help you discover just how easy it can be to explore uncharted territory.