Chart of Mergui Archipelago Burma
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Mergui Archipelago Burma Yacht Cruising Guide
Here is a complete list of the charts in this Mergui Archipelago Cruising Guide:
Imagine more than eight hundred tropical islands spread over fourteen thousand square miles of Indian Ocean. Imagine mountainous, jungle covered islands with thriving wildlife, spectacular waterfalls that tumble directly onto white sandy beaches fringed by coral reefs. Imagine no tourists and indigenous tribes with an exotic culture who live nomadic lives aboard their tiny boats. This place really does exist – it is the Mergui Archipelago off the south-west coast of Myanmar.
That the islands of the Mergui Archipelago exist in such an incredibly unspoilt state is entirely due to historical accident. For 50 years following the independence of Myanmar in 1947, isolationist policies served to keep foreigners out. Since 1997 access into the Mergui Archipelago became possible. Just 140 miles away to the south of this magnificent wilderness area lies the island of Phuket in Thailand, a popular mass tourism destination which is now experiencing a condominium property boom.
Snorkelling and Diving in Burma's Mergui Archipelago
Sadly over the last 5 years the uncontrolled activities of the Myanmar and Thai fishing fleets has systematically destroyed the marine life and devastated much of the coral reef in this area. While there is still good snorkelling and scuba diving in a few parts of the Mergui, it does not compare to the pristine underwater environment of 10 years ago. The Mergui serves to highlight the absolute requirement for proper environmental protection for marine wilderness areas. For snorkeling and diving, the water clarity increases as you go west and north in the Mergui Islands. There are relatively large tidal ranges in the Mergui Archipelago (4 meters at spring tide). Try to time your dive or snorkel just before high tide when the rising tide bring in clear water from the deep ocean.
Jungle Walks in Burma's Mergui Archipelago
Of the eight hundred islands of the Mergui Archipelago only about 100 are inhabited. Many of the islands are huge, some are larger than Singapore. A ban on logging in the Mergui has prevented the widespread deforestation that is common elsewhere in Asia. As a result, all of the islands are covered in thick jungle with majestic stands of Burmese Teak, Mahogany, strangler figs and other indigenous vegetation. Most beaches are backed by trees that tower to over 150ft tall while overhead there is the constant cacophony of birds and small animals feeding in the forest canopy. The beaches are covered in animal tracks – the only human footprints in sight are the ones behind you. Jungle walks in this area, while demanding, are also very rewarding with glimpses of the elusive wildlife and superb views through the forest of the deep blue ocean beyond.
The Moken People of Burma's Mergui Archipelago
The indigenous people of the Mergui Archipelago are the Moken (also known as Salones). These gentle, peaceful people are a source of complete fascination to anthropologists as they still cling to their traditional nomadic existence despite attempts to settle them in permanent villages. Traditionally the Moken do not fish. They are hunter-gatherers mainly living off shellfish collected in the inter-tidal zone. They also free dive for shell fish and sea cucumbers, sometimes diving to amazing depths ballasted by large stones tied to their waists. The Moken also occasionally hunt wild boar and small deer in the forest with the aid of their dogs.
Each Moken family group lives on a flotilla (ban) of traditionally built wooden boats (kabang). Each member of the family also has their own personal dugout canoe that they use for foraging. When the Moken move from island to island, these dugout canoes are towed in a long chain behind their kabang.
We occasionally come across the Moken in the Mergui Archipelago. They pull into a nearby beach in their flotilla of boats. Adults, children, cats, dogs, chickens and ducks leap off each boat and rush into the jungle to forage. Suddenly, at some hidden signal, people and animals come rushing back out of the forest and jump on the boat just before it leaves for another anchorage. Their arrivals and departures seem random and follow no obvious pattern of time or tide.
Sometimes the Moken cautiously approach our yacht with a gift of rock oysters or the haunch of a wild boar after a successful hunt. They are always delighted when we give them a gift in return – a roll of cloth or an dive mask. If the Moken do not approach you then they want to be left alone.
When to visit the Mergui Archipelago, Burma
|High season. Pleasant NE winds, hot and sunny, cool overnight. Great sailing. Great fishing.||Very hot - no wind. Great diving. Migratory whales.||Effectively closed with heavy rain, strong winds, rough seas and hurricanes.|
Plan to visit the Mergui between November and July. Mid December to the end of February is the best time for sailing in the Mergui with warm, sunny conditions, a reliable 15-20 knots of wind every day and flat seas. March and April have little wind and are very hot - these are the best months for diving and snorkeling. From May to July there are strong onshore winds and some thunderstorms. While there is large swell at this time of year, the many large islands still provide hundreds of well protected anchorages. There are occasional hurricanes in the Mergui from May to June and again from October to December. Be aware of the weather. There are many “hurricane holes” in the Mergui if necessary. From July to November there is sustained heavy rain in the Mergui Islands.
Cruising Permits for the Mergui Archipelago, Burma
If you wish to cruise in the Mergui Archipelago you need to obtain cruising permits in advance. These permits are issued by the governmental travel agency [italics] Myanmar Tours and Travels (MTT)[end italics] in Yangon. While you can arrange your own permit, it is much easier to arrange to add your yacht onto the permit of one of the charter companies licensed to operate in the region.
Once you have obtained a permit and at least 20 days prior to the start of your cruise, you will need to provide a detailed itinerary for your trip and passport information for passengers and crew to MTT.
When your yacht is in Myanmar waters you will have an official guide aboard at all times. This guide is provided by MTT and is responsible for making sure you comply with local regulations and do not go to islands that are off limits. The guides are usually very friendly individuals who can help you with the day-to-day running of the yacht.
Provided your permit and documentation is all properly arranged in advance, checking in at Kawthaung is a quick and simple process and usually takes around half an hour to complete. When you arrive at Kawthaung, contact MTT to assist with the check in process. On arrival there are the following fees:
- immigration visa US$20 per person (valid for 30 days);
- Mergui entry fee of US$120 per person for 5 days (beyond 5 days US$20 per person per day);
- guide arranging fee US$30 per day for the yacht paid to MTT;
- port clearance fee US$100 for the yacht;
- you will also need to pay the guide a salary for the time spent aboard.
These fees make cruising in the Mergui Archipelago a relatively expensive proposition. You are however paying for access into a unique, unspoiled and very special area – there are very few places left in the world where you can explore over 800 jungle covered islands and have practically the whole 10,000 square miles of wilderness just to yourself.
The Myanmar navy operates checks on yachts in the area. It would be pure folly to enter without the proper approvals and permits.
Charts of the Mergui Archipelago, Burma
The best chart of the Mergui Archipelago is the British Admiralty BA216. All electronic charts are based on this chart. The charts become less and less accurate as you go further north. There are a great many uncharted rocks (and islands!). Navigate with care, particularly north of 11ºN where there are many rock pinnacles that rise vertically from depths of over 60m.. If you are on a large yacht, consider employing the services of a guide with real navigational knowledge of the area in addition to your officially provided (and compulsory) guide.
Here is a complete list of the charts in this Mergui Archipelago Cruising Guide:
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