How to explore Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago

Lauren Hill

Senior Contributor

A vast expanse of isolated islands off southern Myanmar and Thailand's Andaman Coast, the Mergui Archipelago offers eco-luxury, wildlife and adventure in abundance. Find out how to get there, where to stay and who to sail around the islands with.

Eco Luxury

Even when tourism opened up here in the late 90s, this archipelago remained largely untouched due to its isolation and size. It’s only in recent years that luxury tourism has started to make its appearance here. This has come with the recent arrival of luxury eco-resorts tucked into the wild beachfront forest of the archipelago’s isolated islands. Wa Ale Resort in the archipelago’s far-flung Lampi Marine National Park is among the prominent, having opened in 2018 after establishing the Lampi Foundation to set up a number of conservation and community projects in the surroundings. This eco-resort sits on the wildest side of a 5,000-acre forested, beach- and mangrove- fringed island. Just 11 beachfront safari-style tented suites back the island’s sandy shores, with three treetop villas peering out from the canopy, while the open-sided pavilion provides uninterrupted views of the waves as they come rolling in. Days are spent exploring the surrounding environment on land and both above and below the water, while finding out about the resort and foundation’s conservation and community projects. Even in the wildest of settings, with sustainability proving the priority, the level of luxury shows no compromise. Interiors and furnishings are beautifully crafted and the dining experience is as impressive as the unspoilt views.

Adventures at Sea

A memorable way to see the region is by booking a cabin or chartering an entire yacht for exploration of the jungle enshrouded islands and remote dive sites. The high-end yacht company Burma Boating began offering sailing trips through the archipelago in 2013. Just like the island resorts, Burma Boating strives to benefit the community and environment through projects like the Sailing Clinic, which invites doctors and nurses to sail to island villages where they can offer medical assistance. The yacht specialist aims to have a zero carbon footprint too, using wind power and solar panels over the engine and minimising waste. A range of different sailing yachts are used for multi-day journeys encompassing daily activities like island hiking, mangrove kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing.

Island Wilderness

The archipelago is as rich in wildlife on land as it is in the sea. While staying at Wa Ale in Lampi Marine National Park or at the also 2018-opened luxury resort, Awei Pila, exploration of the land is a part of the experience. Winged lizards, long tailed macaques, mouse deer and palm civets inhabit the forests, along with kaleidoscopes of blue tiger butterflies, tree-dwelling vipers and birdlife including the hornbill. Trails cut a path through this dense wilderness, passing coastal ridges for views out to sea. To see more of the wildlife, take a kayak or stand-up paddleboard into the mangrove and see turtles hatch on Wa Ale’s shores. From both Wa Ale and Awei Pila, exploration is in the company of a naturalist guide. 

Underwater Exploration

Dive companies of Thailand’s Andaman Coast were the first to lead sailing and diving excursions here, but with around 800 mostly uninhabited islands these excursions still left much of the archipelago to the imagination. The more recent addition of its eco-conscious island resorts and Myanmar-based sailing outfits have made it easier to reach these largely unvisited areas in addition to the more popular dive sites near the port town of Kawthaung. This means reaching dive sites very few travellers have seen — divers here can expect to see eagle and manta rays; nurse, grey reef and bull sharks; and shoals of reef fish such as anglefish, frogfish and pipefish. In 2020, Wa Ale Resort is adding two new dive sites, which no other resort can reach, to its choice of excursions, and if you’re looking for PADI certification, you can do the Open Water course while staying at Awei Pila.

Local life and culture

One of the Mergui Archipelago’s distinguishing traits is its unique local culture. The semi-nomadic Moken people traditionally lived on hand-built boats known as kabang for most of the year. They moved between islands with the wind before using temporary stilted houses sheltered by the islands during the monsoon season. Much of the community is now based in small fishing village on the islands but some Moken still live this semi-nomadic lifestyle. From both Wa Ale and Awei Pila, it’s possible to meet some of the neighbouring islands’ fishing community. Wa Ale supports the people of the nearby village Salet Galet through Lampi Foundation education and medical programs. A visit here takes you into the hilltop village monastery to meet the resident monk and to the school where children line up outside to sing the national anthem each morning.

Getting There

You can reach the port town of Kawthaung by flying in from Myanmar’s capital Yangon, flying via Bangkok and Ranong followed by a short boat drive, or flying into Phuket before taking a three-and-a-half-hour car ride to Ranong, followed by the same boat ride across the border. 

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