Burma's Mergui Archipelago
The gorgeous and remote Mergui Archipelago (Myeik Archipelago) lies in the Andaman Sea off the coast of southern Myanmar. Made up of more than 800 islands which vary in size from smaller ones with just a few palm trees to larger islands of several hundred square kilometres, the archipelago offers great opportunities for exploration and diving amongst spectacular marine life and untouched coral reefs.
It is not just the scenery (under water or over water) that makes the Myeik Archipelago such a fascinating place to visit: the Moken people, also known as the Salone or sea gypsies, are one of the most distinct of Myanmar’s many ethnic groups, living a nomadic, sea-based life here.
A hugely diverse range of wildlife can be found on the islands, including monitor lizards, pythons, civets, chevrotains, gibbons and crab-eating macaques. Up in the air, the colourful diversity is perhaps even greater: you can see hornbills, white-bellied sea eagles, while kites, kingfishers, eastern reef herons, emerald doves, to name but a few of the species that circle the islands.
Fishing in the archipelago
Whether it is barracuda, Spanish mackerel, tuna, snapper, or even marlin and sailfish, the archipelago offers the opportunity to enjoy catching your own dinner! Many of the boats that sail here have their own rods, but you are also free to bring your own. Local fishermen also catch cuttlefish and squid, which will often be bought by cruise boat crews and served fresh.
When to visit
As with much of the rest of Myanmar, November to April is the high season for visiting the Myeik Archipelago. December to February offers the most beautiful and comfortable weather conditions – with warm, sunny weather, steady winds, and calm seas. There is less wind and higher temperatures in March and April, which also makes for clearer waters and the best time for diving and snorkeling.
From May to July there are strong onshore winds and a larger swell (with occasional hurricanes) and the rainy season is from June to October; cruises of the Archipelago do not operate from the beginning of May until the beginning of October. If storms do arrive during the monsoon, the region has numerous large islands which provide protected anchorages at any time of year – and in general the area provides safe sailing, with few dangerous reefs or obstacles.
A special permit is required to visit the Myeik Archipelago on a multi-day live aboard tour - it is obtained as part of a cruise package; processing is straightforward, but usually takes around one month to complete. It is not currently permitted for foreigners to travel to the islands
independently, and there are naval patrols through the islands that check visitor documentation.
It is now also possible to go on day trips to the archipelago from Kawthaung and from the town of Myeik, further north - as well as multi-day trips with overnight camping on the islands. These are fun but it can take a long time to get to the outlying islands.