Myeik Archipelago diary
We found the idea of a four-day cruise in the warm, sunny and isolated Myeik Archipelago – visited by so few tourists – immediately appealing, and put it at the top of our list of things to do on our four-week stay in Myanmar.
Only a limited number of authorized cruises have access to the archipelago, and to get there you need to go via Kawthaung, right at the southern tip of Myanmar on the border with Thailand; make sure that you’re in Yangon in plenty of time to catch the plane to Kawthaung: the flight takes three hours, including two 20-minute stops in Dawei and Myeik. Going by road takes a tortuous five days by bus and may sometimes not even be possible at all.
In Kawthaung, we were met by a friendly and efficient link-man to our boat: he talked us through a deskful of police bureaucracy before taking us to our boat at Myoma Jetty – The Wanderlust, an elderly and leaky catamaran. We found to our surprise that we were the only passengers, but soon realised that there certainly was no room for more: we found it difficult to squeeze in tandem into our oddly-shaped cabin. But we were taken excellent care of for four days by the skipper, Mo; the guide, So-So; the engineer, Aung Min; and the trained cook, Mew-Ah.
The Wanderlust’s aging quirks, one of which was to occasionally drip on us as we slept, were compensated for by Mew-Ah’s excellent meals and our being generally pampered by the crew. We had a lot of interesting chats with So-So, who told us, among other things about his life, that he was going to send his five-year-old son to a monastery for a year when he became six, and that he himself had done so at the ages of eleven and seventeen.
We travelled in November, at the tail end of the rainy season – and it poured steadily for two days, which caused us to miss some planned snorkelling, fishing and jungle trekking; our first morning was spent on the scheduled stop at Nyaung Wee Island. We were interested to find that the large number of open-fronted shops/family dwellings were geared to only selling daily necessities to the crews of local fishing boats; we never saw as much as a shell necklace or any concession to the occasional tourist during the whole of our cruise.
It was interesting to talk (in translation) to these islanders about their way of life, particularly when we went by dinghy to a Moken (or ‘sea gypsy’) village, which was steadily getting larger. It was sad to hear that the government is now prohibiting practices central to Moken culture, including their tradition of fashioning boats from island trees. They told us that the government is keen for their children to have primary and secondary education, the latter being given on the mainland up to the age of 14, after which many of the children return to a life of fishing or shop-keeping.
On the way back to The Wanderlust, water got into the dinghy’s engine, which stopped; the skipper came in a kayak to explain that they couldn’t come to tow us, as the engine had seized up. Eventually we wheezed our way back…the crew’s mantra ‘It will be okay – no problem!’ did prove effective against all odds!
The next day, which was sunny, we kayaked up the exotic Lampi river, and later anchored at the idyllic Nga Mann Island, where we swam in picture-perfect turquoise seas and wandered on white sand on the edge of a jungle sporting wonderfully colourful fruits and flowers. Next we visited a village on Myauk Ni Island, again to have a most interesting conversation about the islanders’ daily lives – they see very few foreigners, only usually conversing with the fishermen who come for provisions.
The next day we awoke to cloudless sunshine, and again ambled along beautiful island beaches, always entirely to ourselves. For our last meal Mew-Ah excelled himself by producing a sumptuous lunch of soup-filled pumpkin and prawns in a delicious sauce. Then back in the sunshine to Kawthaung. This is an interesting town in itself, and people who come here to go on a cruise should allow time to wander through it: there are strong influences of India and Islam, which we hadn’t expected.
Despite the rain and the Wanderlust’s tricks, we found our cruise all we’d hoped for – fascinating, informative and above all, fun.
Sally Allender, 10th August 2014
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