Mergui Archipelago

NEW DAWN FOR SMALL-SCALE SUSTAINABLE TOURISM IN SOUTHERN MYANMAR

published by Mekong Tourism online magazinge and contributed by Keith Lyons

13th of March 2020

A tiny village in the backwaters of southern Myanmar is cleaning up its act and laying out the welcome mat, as Keith Lyons finds during a visit to a remote settlement sharing an estuary with Thailand.

Mergui Archipelago / Myanmar

Long-tail boats are used for transport, cargo and fishing in the estuary which divides Myanmar and Thailand at the southern-most tip of Myanmar.

As tourist destinations go, it would be hard to find any place smaller than ramshackle Wae Ngae. The tiny Burmese hamlet of a dozen rickety wooden stilt-houses looks out across a wide estuary to its more prosperous neighbour Thailand. The sleepy village, where small fish dry on racks in the fierce midday sun, is an unlikely test-case for a responsible tourism project which ambitiously aims to better lives, while conserving neglected habitats, as well as providing intrepid visitors with an authentic non-touristy experience, an antidote to commercial tourism and the catchphrase of 2019 – over-tourism.

Just launched is a new Community-Based Tourism (CBT) initiative along with efforts to improve waste management. “This is part of our efforts to promote responsible tourism models and practices in the Kawthaung area, involving small communities, civic groups, local government and the private sector,” says Istituto Oikos Country Director and STAR Project Manager Daniele Alleva. Italian NGO OIKOS (www.istituto-oikos.org/en), which employs European and Myanmar biodiversity and sustainable development experts, launched its STAR Program in 2018 in the southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region, having initially focused earlier efforts on Lampi Marine National Park in the Mergui Archipelago before extending its outreach to the mainland’s Kawthaung district. Funded by the Italian government and private donors, the three-year project aims to promote well-being and social inclusion, as well as working alongside communities to protect soil, water, forests and wildlife.

While the Myanmar partly-democratic government has recognized the important role of tourism in the nation’s post-dictatorship economic development, the southern (and largely neglected) region has been identified as an area with untapped potential. Past exploitative forestry, mining and fishing practices have damaged the environment, with vast plantations producing palm oil and rubber and a smuggler economy meaning little of the region’s wealth from natural resources trickles down to ordinary Burmese.

There is no road access to Wae Ngae, a ‘new’ village established by Burmese from further north in search of new opportunities in fishing, farming or manual labor. There is no boat or ferry service to the villages dotted beside the estuary or up tributary rivers, says Shwe Fun from the partner organization Parchan River Conservation and Development Association (PRCDA). There are many challenges, including lack of facilities and infrastructure. Neither his organization, nor the government’s fisheries department (part of the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development), are adequately resourced or empowered. The only way for him (and the fisheries officer inspecting the oyster and mussel farms) to reach the settlements is to hitch a ride from the port of Kawthaung on a long-tail boat for the two-hour journey upriver.

longtail to the remote villages Myanmar

There aren’t enough resources and the estuary area bordering Thailand is lacking infrastructure, says Shwe Fun partner organization Parchan River Conservation and Development Association (PRCDA), who is working to improve livelihoods and protect the environment.

Passing the large flotilla of fishing boats docked at Kawthaung, most which catch squid and fish for the Thailand ‘grey’ market (there are no processing facilities in Kawthaung), any visit must be timed with the tides. Across the estuary of the Panchang river, which is sometimes turbulent in windy conditions, Thailand is tantalisingly close. On the Thai side, the river is known as Kraburi, and beyond Thailand’s largest preserved mangrove forests are the bright lights of Ranong, with its 7-Elevens, and menial jobs for those lucky enough to be able to work legally (or illegally).

The inequalities are highlighted at Wae Ngae village, where residents struggle to survive, fishing at night the river estuary, trapping crabs and farming oysters and mussels on the tidal mudflats and mangrove forest riverbanks.

Despite the subsistence existence of the inhabitants of Wae Ngae (and its larger twin settlement of Wae Gyi), a banquet of freshly-prepared dishes is served for visitors upstairs in a newly-constructed stilt-house. A locally-harvested medicinal root, similar to cassava, is served in a tonic drink with honey, preserved in whisky.

As brahminy kites and sea eagles soar and circle on thermals, Alleva says for adventurous visitors there are opportunities for bird-watching, spotting dolphins, visiting fish and shellfish farms, and kayaking in the mangroves. “This project is ultimately run by the community, to ensure sustainability,” he says.

As well as the CBT initiative OIKOS has undertaken waste awareness campaigns in many villages. “Wae Ngae is one of five villagers where we are promoting social inclusion by income-generating activities including a waste management project to enable participants to earn money instead of discarding trash,” says ecologist Cristina Tha, an assistant project manager with OIKOS, showing the area behind the settlement set aside to consolidate the rubbish.

Waste Managment program - Mergui Archipelago

Trash is separated for re-use, sale, recycling and disposal at a small estuary village in southern Myanmar, as part of a waste management program and community-based-tourism project by Italian NGO OIKOS

Later the open-air downstairs area is used for a meeting about the village’s waste recycling program which sees rubbish sorted for re-use, recycling, or disposal. Plastic which cannot be re-used is burned at high temperatures, while glass and cans along with scrap metal are ferried to Kawthaung or across the river to Thailand, where it can be sold. “It has been a challenge to get community buy-in, but at Wae Ngae they have an incentive to sort the trash, as the village makes money by selling it, mainly to Thailand, if the price is better than available in Kawthaung,” says assistant project manager Giulia Cecchinato, who has a background in forest and participatory forest management.

From Wae Ngae it is a pleasant 15-minute walk through leafy areca palms which yield betel nut, and rubber plantations where the bark is cut to bleed white latex into coconut shell cups, to Wae Gyi, where an open rubbish dump sits between the shoreline and the primary school and hilltop Buddhist monastery. Visitors to the area will be able to venture up a tributary of the Panchang River where ancient mangrove forest line the tidal stream, and clamber up a hillside for a panoramic view of the tropical jungle, before heading back to the bright lights of Kawthaung or Ranong, or the Andaman Club Casino on a nearby island.

Visitor numbers to Kawthaung have increased in recently years, as the border port is the gateway to Mergui archipelago’s new resorts, though many of the visitors are day trippers from Thailand, or foreigners on a quick visa run. There’s hope that backwaters on the estuary and among the mangroves such as Wae Ngae and Wae Gyi might benefit from the growth in tourism. Last week, the village of Wae Ngae received its first guests.

Interesting in visiting this amazing area?

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How to cross the border from Ranong/Thailand to Kawthaung/ Myanmar

To cross the border in Ranong / Thailand to Kawthaung in Myanmar is quite easy and a great start into your Mergui Archipelago adventure. You must cross the border river which separating the two countries. For those who try to make this way by themselves we did a step by step guideline how to do and what you need 😊

Kawthaung in Myanmar

There are a few things you need to bring along with you on the journey. Bring your passport, a copy of your passport and the little white departure card, you received when you entered Thailand (TM6). For the Myanmar side, you need the printout E-Visa form or the visa which is already stamped in your passport from a Myanmar Embassy, as well as some new, nice, and crisp US$ Notes. The officers do not accept any other currency or old US$ notes. The amount payable depends on the length of stay in Myanmar. The Myanmar Authorities do not accept any other currency than US$.

Start point is the Saphan Pla Pier and Immigration Checkpoint in Ranong.

The Saphan Pla Pier in Ranong is a small pier hidden behind the PTT petrol station and the 7/11 convenience store.

Ranong Immigration Checkpoint   Immigration Ranong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google map: 9.948098, 98.594781

Here are the directions in Thai, in case you want to show them to your driver:

กรุณาไปส่งที่   ท่าเทียบเรือ
เทศบาลตำบลปากน้ำระนอง
ถนน เฉลิมพระเกียรติ

As soon you arrive many of tout will offer you a boat to cross over to Kawthaung, the gateway to the Mergui Archipelago. The prices are different and most of the time these guys are trying to fill up their long tail boat with more people, so maybe it can a little bit time to departure.  But you can also negotiate for a private boat.  The usual price is around 300-500 THB per longtail or if you join in the prices per person is between 50 – 100 THB.

But before you jump into one of the longtails, do not forget to visit the officer at the Thai Immigration Checkpoint as you must check out of Thailand.  The Immigration office are 2 small windows on your right side when you come in. Please make sure you have your passport ready.

The Officer will ask you where you are going and how long you are going to be away for, because they are looking for people who try to do multiply visa runs by crossing the border. By Thai Immigration Law, every foreigner can cross the Thai Border per land only two times per calendar year.  If you needed a visa to visit Thailand, please make sure to get a re-entry visa before leaving Thailand, if you are planning to return to Thailand after your trip to Myanmar and your adventure within the Mergui Archipelago.

After you got your passport with an exit stamp in it back, just walk to the Longtail boat pier. The small and somewhat adventurous looking boats there, are the only available transport option to Kawthaung.

A tip: Bring a copy of your passport as the little boats need a copy for the passing checkpoints.  Otherwise you can make a copy at the little shop next to the Pier in the little kind of supermarket, the longtail guys are also happy to make a copy for you the prices are usually between 5-10 THB.

Crossing the river

The Longtail boats have a cover, so you are protected from the sun. Please put one of the life Jackets before the boat departs.

On the way to Kawthaung, you will stop an Immigration points, where Thai passports were taken up to be stamped. There was a Customs checkpoint next to it. Sometimes they will ask you to show your passport, sometimes not. The process is always different, but you do not have to leave the boat as your captain and crew will take of this whole process, just hand them over your passport which you will get returned as soon as they back.

30 – 40 minutes later you will arrive in Kawthaung, the entry point to the Mergui Archipelago.

On the Way

 

 

 

 

 

After this quick stop at the Thai Immigration Checkpoint you will pass the Thai Customs before you get out to Ranong area to cross the river between Thailand and Myanmar. Enjoy the cruise along stilt houses on your way.

 

On the way you will pass on a tiny island the Thai Army station.

Before you reach the mainland of Myanmar you will stop or slow down at another tiny island with Myanmar Army present, also here you must show the passport by just holding it up, you do not have to get of the boat.

 

Sometimes the driver just must show the passport to the officers by collecting your passport, but you will get them back immediately as before.

Arriving in Kawthaung, Myanmar

In Kawthaung you will be welcome from many touts and men on motorbikes.  Just ignore them and make your way to Immigration.

After disembarkation, turn left along and walk along the road until you get to the:  Walk along this road to get to the Immigration Office which is located at the Myo Ma Jetty also called the Myanmar Immigration Pier, on your left-hand side.  Just have a look for the sight that says, “Warmly Welcome and Take Care of Tourist”.

Enter the pier area and turn behind the little building left to the small Immigration Building.

Get in and give the officer your passport, a copy of your passport and visa. They will stamp your passport and take a picture from you, same as they do in Thailand. If the camera is not working, what can be happen sometimes, have a passport picture ready.  After the Check in process you are ready to enjoy your time in Kawthaung.

Outside the Mya Ma Jetty English-speaking touts will await you to give directions and be waiting for you to exit the office to offer a taxi ride, hotel, guide or suggestions on things to do in Kawthaung.

Welcome to Kawthaung and the Mergui Archipelago!

 

Kawthaung Border Crossing Wrap-Up

Paperwork to bring:  Passport, 2 copies of your passport and proper Myanmar and Thailand Visa, one Passport picture (just in case)

Price of boat: 300-500 THB for a boat or 50-100 THB to join in

Time on boat: 30-40 minutes including all the Immigration stops around 60-75 minutes

Time Zone:  Myanmar is a half hour behind Thailand time : 7:00 pm Myanmar is 07:30 in Thailand

The Myanmar Immigration Office is open from 7:00 am to 5:30 pm local time

 Explore the amazing Mergui Archipelago on one of our amazing Cruises or unique Resort. Combinations between them is also possible

How to cross the border from Kawthaung / Myanmar to Ranong / Thailand

Kind of the other way around.

  • Check out at the Myanmar Immigration office (Check your exit stamp)
  • Make your way back to the Myanmar Longtail pier and find a boat to bring you to Ranong
  • Arriving at the Longtail pier in Thailand, go to the immigration office and collect your TM 6 arrival form
  • Fill out the form and see the officer again to check you into Thailand (Check your entry stamp and expiration date)

If you need any transfer to or from Ranong within Thailand visit below link with many option of taxi, van, bus and train

Your booking engine for land transfers around asia

 

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Welcome to the Southern Islands of the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar

Visit the southern Islands of the Mergui Archipelago including the famous island of Horse Shoe Island and Comb Island with its amazing heard form blue lagoon.

southern end of the mergui archipelago

1 Say-Tan Island – Dunkin Island

South of Za-Det Island and northwest of Kawthaung lies this beautiful island, which is a great place for snorkeling. At the southern part of Say-Tan Island is a small rocky hill, which is a nice place for scuba diving. The waters around island are so clear, that you can see the seabed at 20 m of depth from the boat.
On this island you can enjoy a picnic style packed lunch on a beach. The fine white sand is a perfect place for your beach holiday photos. Feel free to take a stroll along the beach and listen to the sounds of the ocean and jungle.

Sunset over the Mergui Archipelago

2 Myin Khwar Island – Horse Shoe Island

Horseshoe Island is formed like the namesake and is one of the hidden beautiful islands in Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago. It is a small island near Zadetkyu and Cock’s Comb Island, which is also known as Emerald Heart Island. The island is also known as Myin Khwar Island in the local tongue and has a unique characteristic. It’s a breath-taking place, with crystal clear waters and powdery white sandy beaches.

Myin-Khwar-Island-–-Horse-Shoe-Island

3 Kyet Mauk Island – Cocks Comb Island – Emerald Heart Island

The island consists of limestone and does not have a beach, but a stunning lagoon that is shaped like a heart. The inlet changes the color of the water and that is why it is also called Emerald Heart Island. The water inside the inlet is very calm and perfect for snorkeling. The entrance to the lagoon is on the east side of the island and it is only possible to get through the opening on the surface when the tide is low enough. Often numerous sharks and lobsters can be found here too.

Kyet-Mauk-Island-Cocks-Comb-Island-–-Emerald-Heart-Island

Why not check out one of our amazing packages to visit a few of southern Islands of the Mergui Archipelago or even all of these amazing Islands.

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.Welcome to the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar with its amazing island

Visit one of the mergui archipelago resort islands either Back to nature or One Island – One Resort retreat, the Mergui Archipelago cater for all

island of the Myrk Archipelago

1 Nga Khin Nyo Gyee Island – Boulder Island

Nga Khin Nyo Gyee Island is one of the farthest islands in the archipelago and located on the western side of the Mergui Archipelago. The island is covered with tropical rain-forest and invites guests to some easy to medium challenging hiking and trekking. On one of the many beaches around the island you will find a small resort with 20 bungalows. Besides sandy beaches there are many rocks and large boulders around, which give the island also the name “Boulder Island”. The island comprises of a mixed vegetation and is home for many birds, such as the white bellied Sea Eagle or the Brahminy Kite. The island is also the domicile of some monitor lizards, pythons, jungle mouse and many other animals. Nga Khin Nyo Gyee offers many opportunities for hiking, trekking, sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and scuba diving.  Enjoy our back to the nature experience

Nga Khin Nyo Gyee Island - Boulder Island

2 Kha Yinn Khwa Island – Macleod Island

The island lies about 40 miles to the west from Kawthaung. The Andaman Resort is the only man-made construction on the island. The cottages and suites of the resort are strewn across the forest, but only just meters away from the beach. Macleod Island is still one of the unspoiled islands in the Mergui Archipelago and boasts great scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking and fishing near and around the island. Amongst the many activities here, you will also be able to enjoy bird watching, trekking and jungle hiking on the island.

Kha-Yinn-Khwa-Island-–-Macleod-Island-Andamanresort

3 Nyaung Oo Phee Island

Nyaung Oo Phee is a secluded private island in the southern part of the Mergui Archipelago. The island’s more than 500 acres of land area include pristine white beaches and dense forest. Nyaung Oo Phee’s location in the Mergui Archipelago and its private setting make the resort very appealing to families. The island is a great place to discover a vast array of wildlife and sea species amongst untouched and colorful coral reefs during snorkeling, kayaking, hiking and even scuba diving.​ The Island is also known for its One Island – One Resort packages

Nyaung Oo Phee Island

 

4 Zar Det Kyee Island – Saint Matthew’s Island

Zar Det Kyee also sometimes written as Zadetkyi or Zadethyi Kyun Island, is also known by its British name Saint Matthew’s Island. This is the largest island of the southern group in the Mergui archipelago. The two prominent peaks, the highest being 864 m and located in the middle of the island and the other peak at 858 m rising at the southern end, give visitors entering the southern Bay a feeling of arriving at King Kong Island. The island is hilly and thickly wooded. Its northern side forms the southern shore of Hastings Harbor, where the Myanmar Navy base is located.

fisherman-mergui-archipelago0

5 Zar Det Nge Kyunn Island (Hastings Island)

This Island lies about 60 meters above sea level and is located near Kampong Mah Puteh, a town on the west coast of Myanmar (Burma). This region is not really a tourist destination yet, but it is becoming more often visited and it does have a harbor, where vessels can anchor near a naval base.

Hastings Island is a narrow Isthmus with thick mangrove jungle and most of the natural vegetation is still intact. There are also white sandy beaches on the western side of the island and this place is great for scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and kayaking. Some fishermen’s families live on the beach, surviving on what they catch from the ocean and hunting in the woods.

Zar-Det-Nge-Kyunn-Island-Hastings-Island-Myanmar

6 Taung La Bo Island

There are no scuba diving spots around the island. But it is a great spot for some amazing snorkeling and strolling on the pristine beach. Always keep your eyes in the sky too. You might be able to spot some sea eagle or kite hunting for lunch.

Why not check out one of our amazing packages and the other mergui archipelago resort islands or even all of these amazing Islands by one of our cruises.

 

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Discover the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar with its amazing island

Explore the island below the Lampi National Park including the famous Philar Island mergui archipelago.

island south of Lampi National Park

1. Kyunn Phi Lar Island (Pheela Island or Great Swinton Island)

Philar Island mergui archipelago.  Natives call this island the “diagonal island” because it stretches mostly diagonally from east to west. The island is from east to west around 6 – 7 miles long, but pretty narrow from north to south with just 2 miles.  There are three beautiful beaches. The northern beach, called Long Beach, is the longest with a length of 2 – 3 miles, the eastern beach is called Iguana Beach. All three beaches are very beautiful with white and soft sand. Multicolored birds, such us Kites and Sea Eagles, are always around in the skies over this island.

The Coral life is great, the water quite clear and the beaches are most attractive for snorkelers and beach lovers alike. It is the best place for snorkeling in the Myeik Archipelago and the coral reef can be seen under water as a colorful floral bed. Fire fish and clown fish can be found here, by just swimming between the coral reefs. Sometimes visitors might have a chance to see land animals too, such as monitor lizards, monkeys, boar and snakes and watching the inhabitant birds is great fun too.

There is also a very thicket tropical rain forest on the island, which is home to wild pigs, monkeys, mouse deer, wild cats, civets and hornbills. At the southern part of the island, you can find some small and short tidal rivers and thicket mangrove. A perfect place to kayak, trekking and watching some of the very shy tidal animals, like monkeys, monitor lizards, Myanmar python, crab and kingfisher.

There is also a very famous dive site on a mount, just three miles from the island. Mainly known as Shark Cave, after the cave and sharks which are found in 8 to 10 meter depth here.

Great-Swinton-Island-Kyunn-Philar-Island

2. Nga Mann Island (Pula Set or Shark Island)

Pula Set or Nga Mann Island is an island with a small forest and a beautiful beach. Nga Mann is not so interesting for scuba diving, but a great place for snorkeling. The beach in the western part is one mile long, with white and smooth sand. This place is often used for a beach BBQ. The waters are crystal clear, with colorful hard and soft corals, parrot fish, trigger fish, sea urchins, lobster and plenty more to be encountered here.

3. Nyaung Wee Island (Pu-Lu, Buda Island or Palau Bada Island))

Buda Island, also known as Nyaung Wee Island, lies south of Lampi and is part of the Mid Group. These islands lie south of Lampi and offer plenty of overnight options for stop overs. The three islands form a kind of a triangle and offer plenty of hiking, snorkeling over coral reefs or kayaking.  Nyaung Wee Island is home to a small village called Makyone Galet and offers some hikes and great views across the nearby islets. Local fishing boats like to refill fresh water at a stilted house in front of the beach and the local fishing families would be happy to cook meals for visitors and their kids are always excited to see foreign visitors. You will also find a small Moken community here, where you can see what it might feel like, to in a hunter-gatherer society. Moken people often inhabit stilt houses over the water and on Nyaung Wee you can also play around with the local kids or discover the undergrowth on the island. A river, in the northern part of Nyaung-wee is a great place for bird watchers and wildlife explorers.

Nyaung-Wee-Island-Moken-Village

4. Poni Island

Poni Island has three sandbanks at the western shores of the island with only around 12 meters of depth. There are only a few corals, but the area is good for fishing. There is a small mount with coral reefs in the southern part of the island as well though. Small caves are also found here, but no wild animals, apart from some sea otters spotted in 1998.

Po Ni Island

5. Island 115

Around 40 miles north of Kawthaung you’ll find Island 115. Located on the eastern shore and surrounded by crystal clear waters are several sandbanks. With some luck you might see some Monitor Lizards and snakes. Keep your eyes also in the air, to possibly Horn Bills, Kingfisher, Swallow birds, Bat, Kites and Sea Eagles.

On the south side of the island is a Swallow Bird Cave, which you can enter by kayak, since it is around 16 feet in height and 9 feet wide. The island is a great place for snorkeling, as there are a lot of hard coral reefs and colorful fish.

Island 115 myanmar

6. Hlaingu Island

This island has a lot of caves and lies a distance of about 40 miles away from Kawthaung. There is a freshwater stream on the island, so ships anchor here overnight and often freshwater prawns can be seen as well. Many visitors to the island explore the caves and sandbanks by kayak and enjoy the fantastic sunset between the rock formations.

Sunset over the Mergui Archipelago

7. Steward Island (Ba-wei Island)

Stewart Island, or Ba Wei Island is situated due north west of Cavern Island in the Mergui Archipelago. Its main feature is a smaller islet at its southern end, with a large hole in it, offering great photo opportunities, even above the water. There are many swim throughs here underwater as well, where often you can find large schools of fish hiding from predators such as white tip and black tip reef sharks hunting around the coral reef. Clams and sponges cover the walls and little crabs and all sorts of shrimps make a living in the many crevasses. Dive sites like this are a popular spot for a night dive, conditions permitting.

Why not check out one of our amazing packages to visit Philar Island mergui archipelago or even all of these amazing Islands.

 

 

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