Sailing Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago

Sunrise on the SImilie
Sunrise on the SImilie

It’s late; on board the Similie everyone is asleep but me. I can’t find sleep this night so I sit on the deck and ponder. We’re anchored in a small bay. Above, the stars twinkle, seemingly reflected in the odd phosphorescence sparkling in the water when disturbed. From the jungles covering the nearby island the sound of frogs and cicadas drift over, along with the gentle lapping of waves. It is tranquil and I am happy.

Pier from a half-built resort
Pier from a half-built resort

We’re a few days in to a weeklong sailing trip around the remote Mergui Archipelago in the far south of Myanmar. These islands, home to Moken sea gypsies, have not been open to foreigners long but the signs are there that it is an area set to grow in popularity with a number of resorts planned and an increasing number of boats, like the Similie, doing charters around the islands.

Fishing boat at dusk
Fishing boat at dusk

For now, however, it still feels very untouched by tourism. All week the only people we come across are Moken and fishermen. As we sail we visit deserted islands with long white-sand beaches and dense jungles. On one island, known as Snake Island we spot monkeys on the beach. On another we are told wild elephants have been spotted coming out of the trees on to the beach.

Typical white-sand beach
Typical white-sand beach

On this same island there are mangroves and early one morning we gather the paddleboards and kayaks and head for a peaceful paddle amongst the trees. The sun is gentle and warm as it breaks through the branches above and the water is still in mangroves. We paddle till the waterways are blocked and turn around. As we approach the beach at the mouth of the mangroves we stop briefly and spot what looks like a large cat paw-print in the sand. Whilst we don’t know what animal the pugmark came from there are tigers on some of these islands. There are also sand flies and these send us off rushing back to the water and the boat.

Paddleboarding in the mangroves
Paddleboarding in the mangroves

Sand flies, in fact, are the only shortcoming of the week but even they don’t prevent us from enjoying a barbeque on a beach one night. The menu includes fish, freshly caught by the captain, along with delicious sides prepared by the cook who, despite being English, has learned numerous Thai and Burmese dishes. One such dish, new to me, is tealeaf salad which is fantastic.

The view from the top
The view from the top

This trip is a relaxing one, we spend our days lounging on deck as we sail from one island to the next, going for refreshing swims when we set anchor. At times we don mask and snorkel and explore reefs, or offload the paddleboards and mess around a secluded bay. One day we arrive on an island where there is already a resort, though the resort is currently closed. From the back of the resort is a trail through the jungle leading up to some viewpoints. It is a hot hike up the path and ropes have been set up in places where the muddy trail is particularly steep. A couple times we have to climb over trees that have fallen over during the recent monsoon season but reaching the summit is worth the effort. The view is breath-taking: below, the trees lead to the long empty beach and beyond to the turquoise waters of the bay, the shadow of coral reefs beneath and in the middle of the bay Similie sits alone. From a viewpoint, higher up, some of the other islands appear stretching across the Andaman Sea.

Snorlelling selfie
Snorlelling selfie

Clown Fish

At night some people head off to bed early, whilst the rest of us share a few laughs and a few drinks of Myanmar Rum and coke. This is one of those drinks which when on boat in the middle of idyllic islands tastes heavenly, but no doubt, were I to bring a bottle home it would taste sickly and unappealing. Still it lubricates jovial conversation until, finally, we all disappear down our rabbit holes, as the cabins on Similie are all accessed by different hatches.

Paddleboarding to the Similie
Paddleboarding to the Similie

And then, one night, when everyone is asleep but me, I find myself enjoying the peace and quiet of the deck, staring up at the stars and listening to the cicadas.

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