5 Days in Paradise – Myeik and Mergui Archipelago
Guest post by my good friend Dani:
Since I moved to Yangon, Myanmar has been spoiling me. This country has treated me really well and I got the chance to discover really interesting corners out and about the country. Big time now, after having the chance to travel down South and visit the town of Myeik and the Southern region. I can’t really find words to express my gratitude. Though this story is a big thanks to it.
I will start thanking my friend Juan, he couldn’t join the trip offered by Asia Whale and asked me whether I could and wanted to go. I am specially attracted to remote and off the beaten track destinations so this was like a little dream coming true.
The whole country of Myanmar had been neglected during the bad times of the military junta, but imagine Thanintharyi region, the far south, considered as the last frontier. As soon as I arrived in Myeik I could discovered that that oblivion has paid its toll in two ways, a negative and a positive one. Myeik it’s not a pretty town, but hey, that was only the first impression. After discovering what the people have done here, I changed my mind.
Myeik people got themselves into the titanic endeavor of surviving by themselves during the dictatorship and that’s why the city has developed a witty little local industry. Today with this charming industry Myeik seduces the first tourists who venture to down here. It’s a place where things are still made the way they have always been. So after leaving the luggage at the hotel (Ein Taw Phyu, White Hotel, Kan Phyar Rd.) we go for sightseeing.
Myeik is the city where the Tenisserim river runs into the sea and in the middle of this merge, on the picturesque islands of Pahtaw-Pahtete, there is a well known soft shell crab farm. In a few minutes we crossed the last stretch of the river to learn how this rare delicatessen grow and taste… After the visit we had lunch at Yadanaoo, the restaurant of the island, where soft shell crab along with other seafood from the region is served.
On this banks of the island we can also see closely traditional shipyard works. There are two main shipyards in Myeik, being this one the biggest and more active one. I was able to mingle with carpenters, blacksmiths, turners, sailors and captains and discover the traditional but again booming industry of making ships the Myeik way. This might the only place on earth where you can see so close how ships are made. I was even allowed to go up to a ship on the making. Ok I did that totally at my own risk!
Those ships made in Myeik are the ones crossing back and forth to the city. Once again in the city the tour headed my steps to a lobsters farm where it’s possible to buy a huge lobster for a reasonable price and have it grilled for dinner at one of the popular Strand Road street restaurants.
Dinner was still a few hours away, so until then, time to stare at the swallows zigzagging the sky with their fast flights. Myeik is full of them and have offered another prosperous activity to the city. The best example is The Natural Edible Bird Nest House, also on the Strand Road. It’s a shop and a living museum. Here you can taste and buy swallow nests, that Chinese delicatessen that also pleases the Myanmar taste.
Walking distance from the birds nest house, it’s snack o’clock at the Myit Nge market! It’s also known as Dawei Su market and it’s the perfect place to sip one of those delicious Myanmar sweet cup of tea together with popular Myeik traditional snacks. I totally recommend “Ar Pone”, a kind of crêpe that once is almost baked they add a whisked egg with grated coconut. A total mouth watering experience!
As a city port, Myeik is also a big fishing town and they have a huge fish drying neighbourhood. In the afternoon of this first day trip I have the chance to witness the process of drying fish. It is an adventure, as interesting as smelly, that includes even the processing of huge manta rays.
To end the afternoon and before the sun sets, we head to a broom factory where I saw the skills of young women making tones of different kinds of brooms that are afterwards sent to the rest of the country and exported elsewhere.
For dinner, I recommend to go to the street restaurants that pop up at night in Strand road, right on the river front, a popular place for barbecue, specially during the dry season. They were happy to grill the lobster I had previously bought, adding up some local side dishes that the group I was with ordered. We all loved it!
On the second day and before the sun rises, I am out again. First to the port and once on board, we navigated upriver to the old village of Thanintharyi. Breakfast was served on board while the sun was rising and brightening the horizon. The changing of colours in the sky at this time is a beautiful scene that continues every single morning during this time of the year in this region.
The dark purples getting lighter as the night fades and the intense yellows, pinks and oranges of the opposite side of the horizon contrast with the vivid green of the luxuriant vegetation that the shadows are unveiling as it gets brighter on both banks of the river.
By lunch time we’d arrived to Thanintharyi, the ancient capital of the region, where still a few signs from those glorious time remain. I was extremely lucky for having this trip planned during the full moon of Thadingyut, since during this festival popular dragon boat races are organized. It’s a unique show that happens only once a year.
A later walk around town showed the different style in which houses are built here. The visit ended getting to the suburbs where we could still see parts of the old walls that once surrounded the whole city.
Finally, on our way back, we made a well worth last stop at the Thanintharyi monastery, where a little museum displays coins, tools and different objects found at archaeological sites around the region.
Day 3 (part II of the trip, the Mergui archipelago)
Myeik and Thanintharyi were interesting enough to make the trip worth it, but they also keep an ace up their sleeve. Myeik is one of the two spring boards to the Mergui archipelago, a lost paradise of Myanmar, a group of around 800 beautiful islands and islets with gorgeous beaches and untapped potential for eco-tourism.
And while most of the tours to this region offer staying on board for the night while sailing around, most of the people come here to dive… But with our tour we stayed camping out in one of the islands. It was a great experience, far from luxury, but much more worth it than a 5 stars hotel. We stayed in portable tents and to warm up at night we lit a bonfire which we all gathered until the wee hours of the morning drinking, laughing and telling stories to wake up the following morning listening to bird songs.
Travelling is all about collecting memories, so for this reason on the way to the island we stopped at Pin Zin village to discover how local people live in a village of the mangrove area. Here we had the chance to witness how “ngapi” is made, the famous strong Myanmar fish paste, that rare delicacy that the country is proud to export.
After sneaking around tons of islands that made beautiful different postcards every time I clicked my camera, we finally got to Natthemee Yetwin, our destination for the following two nights where the magic of an astonishing sunset awaited. When completely dark, trillions of stars illuminate the sky as we cannot see in many other places. Late at night a walk along the beach unveiled the secret of the sand. For me it was a great surprise to see the sand glooming due to the plankton.
If the sunset on the island was beautiful, dawn was breathtaking. I left the cover layer of my tent door open so I could peep through it the whole night. When morning arrived the changing colours as it gets brighter made me get stuck to the shuttle bottom of my camera while feeling still snoozing. A morning ride on the kayak awoke me completely to see the other side of the postcard: the camp on the beach with the beautiful green as a background. I just felt like Robinson Crusoe!
As the day enfolded the still and clear waters on the shores offer an early show. It’s breakfast time for the fish in the rift. It’s also the perfect moment to wear your goggles and stare discreetly at it. Hard and soft corals get close to the beach so I didn’t need to swim far! The colours of the fish underwater seemed to reflect those above in the sky.
Mergui is definitely a rediscovered paradise but still so virgin and deserted… and what a privilege visiting it at this time, where still not many tourists go. I’m sure as Myanmar develops, so it will this area and more and more infrastructure will settle the islands.
Along the day: swimming, diving, fun fishing, kayaking, island hopping, trekking inland or just relaxing under the sun or the trees make up for a perfect day. There was only one requirement: enjoy it big time, something not difficult here where time goes at a different pace and seems to extend everlasting!
Most of the Mergui archipelago is uninhabited but the waters are home to the Moken people, also known as “sea gypsies”. Although they are a nomadic seafaring people most of the time, specially during the rainy season, they set up camps as shelter in some islands. On our last day we were welcomed to one of their camps and diving out of the water, we dived in their fascinating culture.
Dome island is a one of a kind of these camps where besides seeing from close their home-boats, we can explore their bearings on the ground. Here it was possible to mingle with up to four generations of the same family and play also with their unusual pets. Another big surprise for this enriching trip!
Dome island is also one of the few islands in the Mergui that has natural fresh water and the only one where this water floods to the sea jumping from a beautiful water fall. It’s a fantastic view and the best grand finale for our amazing collection of memories from Myeik and the Mergui archipelago region.
I was content and satisfied with all those memories but my belly never gets full. In my last evening I still had a last chance to fill it in with other local specialities. For dinner we headed to one of the most popular local restaurants in Myeik, Sakura Foods & Drinks, where mainly seafood is served. If you ever have the chance don’t ignore the prawn curry, let alone “ta nyin”, a tasty leafy vegetable you will only find in this region.
If you would like to organize a perfect trip to Myeik, let me know.
Daniel Calderón aka Dodi Fod, a restless traveller and storyteller. As a journalist went to the 5 continents. Since March 2014 is collecting stories around Myanmar and South East Asia. Passionate about languages, different cultures, literature and cinema. Lately experimenting with making documentary films. See his work in his blog Dodi Fog and his Facebook page Traveling Flip Flops.