Now that I’ve been back in the UK for a few days, and have started re-adjusting to UK time, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip to Myanmar.
I had wanted to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a while. There are a few things that drew me to the country. The first is that it’s not on the general tourist map for people in the UK, secondly I like to visit somewhere that has good experiences and unique things to see and thirdly I like to visit places that have a story, event or culture that I want to learn more about. Myanmar definitely fits those three.
The trip I originally booked is different to the one I finally went on due to changes made by the tour company. Originally I was due to spend a few days in Yangon looking at the sights and learning more about Burmese culture but I was moved onto the version of the trip starting in Phuket instead which missed out the mainland of Myanmar. This had the benefit of fewer early mornings and being cheaper but resulted in me missing out learning about the culture and also resulted in me visiting the tourist hell of Phuket. I didn’t let this change spoil the trip, however, and I had a fantastic time.
The scenery in the Myeik Archipelago is absolutely beautiful and this was one of the things that made me pick the trip. While walking around on the islands, snorkelling in the sea and just sitting back watching the world go by we saw some of the best scenery I have seen while travelling. I’m not much of a beach person in most places that people travel as they tend to be overcrowded, full of sunbeds and be generally ruined. This was the case in Phuket, the reason I only spent one afternoon on the beach there, but the beaches we visited in Myanmar were almost a world away.
The waters were a bit murky in Myanmar which was a shame but this didn’t affect the snorkeling. If you’re looking for beautiful crystal clear waters then this might not be the best place to go but if you’re looking for a remote, unique and beautiful trip then I’d highly recommend a visit.
One of the good things about doing the trip this year is that it has only just started opening up to the outside world. For years it was impossible for foreigners to visit the region, then for a while it was possible to visit on short trips with liveaboard boats, and then finally this year it was possible for foreign operators to visit the region. This hasn’t spoilt the region, however, as it must be organised on a local license instead of a foreign one, so there are hardly any boats around except for fishing boats. Except for the night at MacLeod Island we didn’t share our anchorage with any non-local boats and that was brilliant.
All of this could be changing, however, as during the trip we were told that the Myanmar Government have started allowing foreign operators to bid for permits directly rather than going through a local operator. If this is managed correctly it should still preserve the pristine environment of the area but there is a risk that up to 100 boats could be operating in the area rather than the 4 that currently do.
It would be a shame if the area opened up fully as there is a chance that it could ruin the reason that people want to visit. There are hardly any pristine areas left in the world and so the area would need to be managed fully. This would mean that prices would go up but it would be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. This is what the Government in Rwanda have done with the National Park containing the Mountain Gorillas. In Rwanda it is only possible for a maximum of 32 people to visit a day, which has resulted in the price of a Gorilla permit almost doubling since I was there, but it has helped to preserve not only the habitat but the Gorillas themselves.
There were a couple of things I was worried about before embarking on this trip. Firstly I was worried about the seas being too rough. I’m an experienced traveller, and used to sail around Dover Harbour when I was younger, but I’ve never really sailed on the open seas. This is one of the things putting me off other sailing related trips that I’ve looked at, such as The Galapagos Islands, the British Territories in the Atlantic and Antarctica. The seas did get a bit choppy on a couple of days but were never anything I couldn’t manage.
The other thing I was worried about was the cramped conditions on board the boat. We were told in advance that the cabin space would be limited to maximise public space and this was definitely the case. The cabin I was assigned to share with one other person had a double bed with hardly any space to move, a couple of shelves to put bags, a wash basin and nothing else as you can see in the photo below. Some people may be worried about not being able to get any personal space but I never found this to be an issue. During the sailing portion of the trip it was possible to sit in the social area and chat but it was also possible to sit on bean bags on the deck and relax, lay in the hammock, sit on the seats at the bow of the ship or sit on the sides of the boat with your legs over the edge if you needed a bit of personal space. The deck space was quite large and never felt cramped even though there was nowhere to go while sailing. Obviously this depends on which boat is in use, and I can’t guarantee that the same boat will be in use next year, but Intrepid won’t use an unsuitable boat for the trip.
(Photo credit : Ashu Khanna for the on board photos)
One thing I’m amazed at is this is the first trip I’ve been on since I started travelling to weird and wonderful places on my own where there hasn’t been somebody moaning the entire trip about the smallest of things trying to make everybody’s life a misery for the sake of it. I guess as sailing isn’t for everybody and as this is a brand new trip, which we were told in advance to expect issues with, we were all like-minded and so got on well.
I like to visit a variety of places rather than going back to the same place all the time but I do want to visit Myanmar again soon to be able to visit the mainland and to experience more of the culture and history of the country than I did by just sailing. Myanmar has such a vibrant culture, detailed history and beautiful scenery so it’s a country I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes to get off the beaten path and experience a country which still has things to discover. This is, of course, as long as you’re somebody who likes to visit a country on its own terms rather than having things your way. Myanmar is a country which still has things to discover but according to reports it’s already changing rapidly and I don’t want my recommendations to speed this up.
As far as the trip is concerned I would highly recommend it to anybody as long as you’re able to travel with no advance expectations. This is a new area which is only just opening up so things will go wrong, and you will be in close quarters with other people for a week, but it’s a highly rewarding trip if you’re able to do it.
After the issues I had with the travel company I’d recommend going direct with Intrepid as opposed to booking through Gecko’s, as they were completely incompetent, but if you’ve got this far in my blog I suspect you already have an idea that you want to go on the trip so I’d say go for it. Alternatively feel free to contact me using the contact form on this site – I’m always happy to hear from people if they want to comment on my blog or ask questions / advice.
Here’s a map of the route of the sailing portion of the trip.