While it’s been said repeatedly over the past five or so years, Burma (Myanmar) straddles a crossroads after opening its doors to tourists. A trip to this mysterious land has crept into streams of bucket lists, with pleas to get there sooner rather than later.
No-one wants to see this country’s charm denigrate into Thailand’s smoggy cities with backpacker-saturated beaches and tourist-weary locals.
Is it safe to go “off the beaten track?”
Having avoided becoming engulfed in a tourist tornado, there is a sense that rural Burma (Myanmar) must only be for only the hardiest of intrepid explorers. After all, the big city of Yangon, the pagoda-dotted landscape of Bagan, and Inle Lake’s stilted villages are big tourist draws, but still relatively new.
With Burma more than twice the size of Vietnam – and bigger than Thailand and Nepal combined – there are busy cities, jungle-clad areas, stretches of coastline and vast lakes that feel positively undiscovered. But it isn’t necessary to go “backpacking” to find them, and you certainly don’t need to be a seasoned traveller.
If you want to explore untouched reaches in comfort, there is a wildly (and wild) underrated and under-explored treat. A trip off the beaten track with the added bonus of cocktails made the way you like them and freshly-caught meals cooked to order. As well as a bed that promises sweet slumber.
Over to the east and into the deep blue of the Andaman Sea, your private yacht is waiting.
There are more than 800 islands in the Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago, ranging from tiny beds with rocky headlands, to country-sized forested expanses and sandbars that stretch into the sea. The word paradise may be cliché, but this area of unbridled beauty surely comes close.
Exploring these islands wasn’t always so glam – some were occupied by the British colonial government up until the 1940s. Vestiges of their rule include a deserted penal colony on Ross Island, now a tourist attraction with a fascinating, but sometimes gruesome, history. Other tiny islands still have exceedingly British names with Great Swinton (Kyun Pila), Lord Loughborough (Jarr Lan) and Hastings (Za Det Nge Island) among them. Bar this, any remains of this dark history are long gone.
You may well feel like you have the islands to yourself nowadays; many are entirely uninhabited, but there are 2,000 Moken people, or sea gypsies who live between them (read more about them here). These areas were off-limits to visitors until only twenty years ago, and even now attract a very small number of tourists. Restrictions still remain to avoid a gargantuan influx, so local people are inquisitive and happy to see tourists.
Today, the islands are ideal for island-hopping – of a sort; all-inclusive resorts and waterfront bars are absent. This landscape is an idyll where your footprints are likely to be the first of the day. The best of both worlds may sound like a trite sentiment, but the opportunity to spend days getting back to nature before clambering aboard a yacht equipped with everything to eat, drink and rest in style is surely the definition.
Should I skip Burma’s tourist hotspots?
I’m not suggesting for a moment that the mainland should be absent from any trip. There is no reason why you can’t balance time discovering Yangon’s glittering Shwedagon Pagoda, or sipping tea at a colonial hotel with days lapping the waves away from pagodas and temples.
Day to day on the Myeik Archipelago – is it just sunbathing?
In a word, no (although there is plenty of opportunity to). Come down from your elegant floating hotel to swim in serene waters and put on a snorkel to see an incredible world beneath the surface of the sea. While flora and fauna seem to be flourishing as though modern life doesn’t exist beyond, these beautiful waters are at risk from dynamite fishing. Some of the coral has already fallen foul to its impact. But reputable charters are dedicated to responsible tourism and leaving without a trace to avoid further damage.
Each day, jumping down from your yacht promises a new adventure. Take to a kayak to weave through mangrove forests with soupy green waters. Or head inland to hike through tangled jungles surrounded by a cacophony of bird noises.
Mooring up, perch on the end of a wooden jetty, the closer you get to shore, the clearer the water gets. Spot birds swoop and see longtail fishing boats glide over serene waters – a rare glimpse into everyday life. In the evening, peer over your deck to see illuminated plankton dancing beneath the surface. Or look up to see a sky, unspoiled by light pollution, studded with stars. There’s quite a bit more to this trip than sunbathing.
Whether it makes the bucket-lists or not, there has never been a better time to explore the Myeik Archipelago. Take our Sailing in the Andaman Sea tailored holiday; see some of the best of the Myeik Archipelago aboard a luxury yacht.
All photographs courtesy of our Myeik Archipelago charter, Burma Boating.