A city perched on the edge of land, a harbor filled with tar stained boats reminiscent of another era. Small narrow boats weave in between massive vessels packed with grizzled fisherman. You can see small groups of foreigners abroad, occasionally.
“Kawthaung has a five star hotel, [Myeik] only have a four star hotel, but give us more time, it’s only been a year”, says Aung Aung, one of the Managers at Life Seeing Tours
Tourism in Myeik is an infant industry for many reasons, getting there being one of them. The bus ride takes over 18 hours from Yangon, past Dawei the pavement begins to dwindle, the drive a bit bumpier. Most visitors fly into the tiny airport, their trip already mapped out.
‘Permission’ is the ire of every tour company in the city. Without it, you see less of the Mergui Archipelago, getting it is difficult and lengthy. The laws have loosened since 2014, but the level of bureaucracy is still high especially if you want to spend as much time on the boat as possible.
Multiple Day Excursions
Untouched reefs and empty sea passages make it a highly coveted spot for veteran scuba divers. Of course, many are fine seeing the surface of the Archipelago with the occasional stop for snorkeling, the amount of marine life you see is still astounding. Manta rays are unusually common sightings.
But multiple scuba adventures and two day excursions require permission from the government. It’s essentially a visa process which is several more times rigorous than you moving into the country. If you’re planning on spending several nights on a boat, in particular if you want to scuba dive, your trip should be booked a month in advance. Copies of your passport must receive the glance of three different Ministries, not including local authorities, if you want to avoid trips back and forth to Myeik.
Last Minute Bookings
‘Blissful Myanmar’ seems to be the leading tour service in town. Hotels often book their guests through this agency which is run by a local entrepreneur and a young staff with solid English skills. If you haven’t booked your trip before you arrive, just walk into their office which is near the port. One day trips can be scheduled at the last minute, but don’t wait, boats fill up quickly.
To be safe, one-day trips should be scheduled at least 3 days in advance. Check out Life Seeing Tours for the complete list of destinations.
Things to Know
No matter what you decide to do first, a forty-minute ride into the Andaman Sea will be the precursor, the skyline of Myeik well out of sight. A few things you should know…
You will spend time on a beach, none of which is close to Myeik. Every tour of the islands includes at least one stop at a beach, the closest one is almost two hours away by fishing boat, 90 minutes by speed boat. The islands are hardly tropical in aesthetic, the thick of trees look borderline deciduous from the boat. Strips of sandy beach stand out from the mostly rocky and unreachable coastline.
Large-scale trade has yet to reach the islands. The biggest vessels you’ll see away from the harbor are fishing boats with ten foot poles jetting out, each lined with antique light bulbs. The steam-punk look is apparently a devastatingly effective way to attract fish at night.
The tide is eerily erratic. In the morning, the water is high, and the boats are quick. If you dock to eat lunch at noon, you may return to find a beached boat. The tide dictates every trip. Excursions in small coves and in mangrove forests must be scheduled in the beginning, open water sights are reserved for the second half.
Smuggling is common and largely accepted. Most boats you pass will be of fisherman. Others, as your guide may point out, are smugglers. There are whole families who take part in illegally shipping wood and other natural resources into Thailand. As destructive as the trade may be, the people tend to be unusually friendly when encountering tour groups.
Most Moken People are at sea, not part of the tour. The indigenous group of fisherman, commonly known as Sea Gypsies, are only in the villages during rainy season. There are one-day trips that go to Dome Island, a Moken village about two hours from Myeik, but tourists will most-likely only see the children and elders left behind during their two month long fishing trips. These folks are open to chat, but understandably, do not wish to be a spectacle. Expect to spend less than an hour walking around the Moken villages.
The Kayak Trip is an incredible experience but egregiously misnamed. Tour companies will offer a one-day Kayak Trip, but less than a third of the outing is spent on a kayak. To be fair, the tour is rather eclectic and thus hard to label. You first hop into kayaks and explore a Mangrove forest. Then you slowly paddle your way into a fishing village where you eat lunch. From there, you take the motor boat to a secluded beach another hour away.
What To Do In Myeik
The city of Myeik itself is pretty and diverse. Tattered colonial walls, neighbor new art deco condominiums, which sit caddy corner to red wooden barns of Chinese architecture. This can all be enjoyed within three hours or less.
Dinner Spot: Shwe Yar Su. Foreigners and locals alike will tell you that this open-air restaurant is the best restaurant in town. The seafood menu is a complete and delicious mix of Thai and Burmese, the snails are a must-try. Escargot without the butter and needless presentation, also highly addictive.