Today has been a very long day but has been a very enjoyable one. Unfortunately the sunrise this morning was behind the island so I didn’t get as great a view from the hammock as I hoped but the day more than made up for it.
Our first stop of the day, after an hour or so of sailing, was Ma Kyone Galet which is a village populated by the Moken Sea Gypsies. This was the part I was looking forward to the least as “community visits” on trips tend to be set up but today didn’t feel like that. Plus their story is quite sad. When the Myanmar military junta were at the height of their power they were quite oppressive towards the different indigenous groups around the country. One of the things they did was to force the Moken onto land and make them settle down in villages. Ma Kyone Galet is one of those villages although restrictions have eased slightly and the Moken are now allowed to spend time travelling around the islands for a few months before returning to one of the village which usually houses around 850 people in 100 families.
We were lucky enough to see a family of Moken leaving the village on their way to whichever island they had chosen. They were being towed by a motorboat in a line of rowing boats containing the entire family, chickens, dogs to keep away evil spirits and general supplies to keep them going. It was nice to be able to see this part of local life.
Ma Kyone Galet is set in the channel between two islands and after landing at the village, while waiting for the others to arrive, we had a chance to take in the beautiful view and take a few photos both of the scenery and of the local children who started paying is a lot of attention.
Our plan was to look around the local school before exploring the village but it’s the school holidays at the moment so once we had all arrived we set off into the village. It didn’t take long for most of the village kids to find us and by the time we made it to their main road we had dozens of kids following us, holding hands with us, asking to pose for photos and generally trying to show us their village. The whole thing reminded me of walking through villages in Uganda a few years ago and the kids were just as happy to see us.
The village itself is mainly made of tin shacks but the main road was lined with stalls selling everything from fruit to water and from general supplies to doughnuts. I didn’t buy anything as I was too busy interacting with the kids but some of the group did. While walking through the village Hein, one of our local guides, told us that on the trip last week they gave the school its first ever computer which is probably one reason why we were getting so much attention. This was probably true but I’ve travelled enough to know that kids in indigenous communities are generally curious of travellers so we would have generated a lot of attention anyway.
At the end of the main road we crossed a bridge and entered a Buddhist Temple which was our main destination on the island. We had to take our shoes off to entered, under the watchful eye of some young monks, and were soon ushered up the steps to the lookout point containing a shrine by the local kids. The view from the top was really good and it seems to be the place where the older kids hangout. We spent some time admiring the view and hearing more about the village from our guides before we were being ushered back down the steps by the kids who seemed eager to show us something. Once we got back to the river we found out that they wanted to show off to us by stripping and doing somersaults into the river.
After a while of watching the kids we made our way back to the beach where we were met by Win, our other local guide, who had disappeared as soon as we arrived on the island to visit his girlfriend who lives in the village. I was in the second group to go back to the boat so sat on the beach with some of the local kids taking photos. As soon as we were back on the boat we set sail to Lampi Island, where we would anchor for the night. We went under power even though there was a bit of wind as the tide was getting low but the skipper said it would be a great place to kayak if we arrived in time.
Lampi Island is a lot bigger than Island 115 where we stayed last night although it’s not the biggest in the archipelago. Like the others we have seen it’s covered in forest but it has some low lying mangroves which we kayaked around for a bit. The tide was very low and there was quite a current in the mangroves so the kayaking was quite exhausting – we had to drag the kayaks over some sand bars and paddle upstream for a while. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife except a few small fish and a very large dead hornet on a rock.
The journey downstream was much easier and after arriving back at the beach we relaxed to take in the view for a while before being towed back to the boat by dinghy. Normally groups also snorkel at Lampi Island but the sea was still way too murky so we just jumped in the water and swam or snorkelled in the vicinity of the boat to cool off for a while. The water was only 10 metres or so deep but you couldn’t see the bottom unless you dived down to it but I only did this a few times as there wasn’t much to see as far out as we were anyway.
After a beautiful pork green curry for dinner we relaxed with a game of Skip Bo before chatting about the events of the day. It seems the Moken village visit was a positive thing for everybody. Ashu has decided he’s going to take the hammock tonight so I might spread out down in the room – if I open all of the hatches and turn the fan on it shouldn’t be as hot as it was the first night and hopefully some of the diesel smell should leave.