It doesn’t have Wi-Fi, stores and even food unless you catch it yourself. However the tiny Mergui Island chain is the best-kept secret in travelling
He stayed statue-still for what appeared like an eternity. Then, ever so slowly, he bent his knees and introduced himself into the crystal water.
In the shade of the boat’s makeshift canopy of sacks and corrugated iron, the spear angler’s better half and young child seen in silence.
When he broke the surface area he had nothing for them.
After a quick exchange of words, he pulled his lithe body back into the easy boat, understood as a kabang, which functioned as the household home, and duplicated the routine until, at last, he had actually caught dinner.
This was just one of the extraordinary sights I saw on Pandaw’s Andaman Explorer throughout a week’s sailing in the Mergui Island chain.
Although explored by the British in the 1820s, this scattering of islands off the southern pointer of Myanmar was thought about too remote for trading, and consequently got away the attention of mankind.
Even now, only 11 of the 900 islands are occupied, and every day we dropped anchor in deserted bays, lapped by the warm, iridescent emerald sea.
Here we were really off the grid: no Wi-Fi, no homes, no stores or roadways.
We saw no individuals– just lush jungle, high trees and empty white sands.
The real appeal, though, was underneath the water. Snorkelling here is comparable to diving into a fish tank, with each tropical reef using a special collection of coral, anemones and rainbow-coloured fish.
Such an abundance of sealife has sustained the Moken sea gypsies over the centuries.
They reside on their kabangs throughout summer season, taking to the jungle in the rainy season. Some have actually settled, and a few of the islands home little Moken communities of a couple of hundred people.
Life still revolves around the sea, and at night we sat on Andaman Explorer’s teak deck, mesmerised by the blaze of lights from dozens of squid boats on the horizon, their catch being sold to traders from Thailand, as well as supplying food for the town.
ALL ABOARD THE ANDAMAN EXPLORER
We may have been sharing the very same waters however our sailing experience was a world away from the easy lives of the anglers.
Twenty of us were cared for by 16 team, including a fantastic chef who served everything from fresh lobster to the tastiest curries.
Just 61 metres long, this previous coastguard vessel is a charm, with a classic wood-panelled interior plus gleaming marble floorings (thanks to a previous Italian owner), a lounge with leather chesterfields, and local artwork on the walls.
The accommodation is generous, the 2 top-deck suites including separate sitting spaces.
There is also lots of deck space, and we typically felt as though we were on our own private luxury yacht.
Service got along but not picky, and the company of similar visitors– a cosmopolitan bunch from Australia, New Zealand and Poland– made it an enjoyment to meet over pre (and post) supper cocktails and share stories of our experiences.
Days were invested kayaking in Lampi Marine National Park, where we saw white, green and blue-collared kingfishers dart between the huge mangrove roots and at sundown saw giant hornbills fly home to roost.
At Emerald Heart Island– known as Cocks Comb– we paddled inside a circle of sheer cliffs to find a blue-green lagoon, where rays and a black-tipped shark swam along with us.
Our guides gathered oysters from the jagged rocks and, after more snorkelling, our celebration sat in the tender boats, delighting in fresh seafood.
There were sunset walks along State Tan Island’s long beach, and on Kyun Pilar Island we picnicked on the edge of the jungle, utilizing the trees for shade, prior to snorkelling in 28C waters and viewing in awe as green flying fish put on a program.
SATISFYING THE MOKEN
When we dropped anchor at Container Lann Island, which is dominated by a substantial abbey and a golden Buddha overlooking the sea, we believed it was regatta day as a little flotilla of wooden canoes raced out to satisfy us.
As they came nearer, we saw kids– five in a boat, aged from 3 to 11– standing as they rowed and grinning broadly.
With just 4,000 tourists getting in the 15,000 square mile island chain each year, foreigners are still a rarity here, and they had actually come simply to see us.
On Salet Galet Island, more youngsters sprinkled about in the shallows as the village chief welcomed us ashore.
Here individuals have extremely bit, residing in ramshackle wood houses on low stilts with roofs made from dried leaves.
While the males were out fishing, the ladies cooked and cleaned clothes– all at a slow pace in the 35C heat.
At noon, we saw as a young kid walked along the street, shouting and striking a bell, and the women all rushed to fill a senior Buddhist monk’s rice bowl.
A lots dogs followed, hoping for spills, while children, their faces daubed with thanaka paste as a sunscreen, danced to music blasting from a shack that was the regional bar-cum-shop on the waterside.
Later on we stopped there for a beer, sitting with a few of the fisherman who were taking a break from their labours.
As in all of the 3 Moken neighborhoods we visited, the air was filled with the sound of children’s laughter.
We experienced no temper tantrums, tears or sulks as they entertained themselves with easy video games.
The only unhappiness was ours, seeing barefoot children pick their method over broken glass and plastic that had actually washed up on the shores.
Seeing first-world rubbish reaching these beautiful shores was the low moment of the cruise.
The crew of Andaman Explorer, primarily from Myanmar, did their bit, cleaning up what they could as we cruised into each island, however addressing this problem will take even more than one little ship’s willing team.
The Myanmar government has concurred to release 14 licences to produce eco-resorts in the region, and, after checking out Boulder Bay, we could see this may be a true blessing.
Here, at the western end of the island chain, a few cottages have been built from wood and dried leaves, the reef has been secured, plastics banned and only bio-degradable soaps and cleaning agent utilized.
Solar energy has been set up and visitors are expected to help look after the island.
There was not a bottle to be seen and the coral reef was both pristine and teeming with life (we saw clams, conch and cuttlefish in abundance).
Nobody is stating that eco-tourism alone can solve the world’s plastic pollution problem.
We have to begin somewhere– and initiatives like this at least aid to stem the tide of rubbish that threatens one of the last tropical paradises on earth.
An acclaimed journalist and editor with more than 30 years’ experience in papers and magazines. Lesley integrates her love of arts, history, gardens and wildlife to compose motivating features.