The Mergui Archipelago (also known as the Myeik Archipelago) consists of over 800 islands and is certainly one of the more remote destinations for cruisers. We feel incredibly lucky to have has the opportunity to cruise these islands because it is not an easy task for regular cruisers.
To begin there is an application process. The application is filed with Myanmar’s MTT (Ministry of Tourism and Transport). It takes at least two weeks to receive the permit. There is a one time entrance fee that is roughly $2000US. The alternative is to pay $2000 for a two year multi entry permit. While this sounds like the better deal, the catch is that you must file the application with a Myanmar Company.
The second obstacle deterring cruisers is that upon setting sail for the Mergui Archipelago, an MTT guide must be on board. These guides are local (usually male) who comes on board for the duration of your Mergui cruising. They have university degrees in addition to the six-month long guiding course. Their role on board is essentially to tell you where to go and where not to go (i.e. military zones). They can offer anchoring and snorkelling sites. The guide fee is not included in the entrance fee. The cost: a $175 MTT fee plus the guide’s wages which is about 600baht per day. The guides themselves are hit or miss. Unfortunately, our first guide was a miss. He refused to do anything the captain asked (ie. help with dishes, grab dingy lines or assist with sails). He gave us tips on snorkelling and pointed out a couple reefs. But his unwillingness to do anything beyond pointing out good anchorages, assisting to navigate unsafe passages between islands and good snorkelling sites was a bit frustrating for the rest of the crew and their morale.
Despite these obstacles, the islands are beautiful and worth experiencing if cruisers have the funds available. Gorgeous karst topography, white sandy beaches, dense jungle and postcard perfect blue water. Depending on the time of year and the tides for visibility – snorkelling can be amazing. In some areas dynamite fishing was common place and the reefs are recovering. There are some beautiful dive sites, but watch out for strong currents! MacLeod Island boasts a great dive shop at the Andaman resort where fresh water is also available on the beach and cruisers are always welcome at the restaurant and bar.
At night, green lights would dot the horizon as the squid fishermen begin their nightly routines. Navigation at night can be tricky (and at times dangerous – see video) as many of these fishermen are cruising without the normal navigation lights. A few of the islands are inhabited by the Moken people, also known as sea gypsies. Each time we found ourselves anchoring in one of their tiny fishing villages we were greeted with friendly smiles.
Unlike the Thai islands less than 40 nm south of the Mergui Archipelago, there are not countless speedboats “puking” tourists onto the beaches from sunrise to sunset. We often found ourselves to be the only boat at an anchorage. If you have both the means and patience to jump through some of the hoops required to cruise the Mergui Archipelago, you will not regret visiting this unique, far off destination.