Monday, April 20, 2015

Sailing in the Mergui Archipelago

Little known and thus less touristic, the over 800 islands in the Andaman Sea belonging to Myanmar are an area of tranquillity and serenity. Sailing amongst the postcard beautiful islands for long hours without any sight of other boats gives you a feeling of freedom. All your worries and thoughts disappear the moment you take off the shoes once you step on the sailing boat.

Each boat entering the area needs to pay a 2000 USD fee, even for a single day of stay. Each tourist also has to pay a fee for holidaying here. That is why there are few sailing boats and you have the feeling of being amongst the first to discover this amazing place. There are only a few inhabited islands some of them by fishermen and only temporarily for a few months until they catch enough fish and sea cucumber to sell ashore. Others are inhabited by the local Moken people. They are also called sea gypsies because they live most of their life on the sea coming ashore only for a few days. They are famous for fishing with a spear, for their small wooden boats, for their ability to dive for a long time and very deep and for their nomadic way of life. And a few of the islands are occupied by the army.

The islands are green with lush rainforest and mangrove, white sandy beaches (still we saw some plastic and glass bottles washed up by the sea on some islands) and plenty of shells while the water is transparent, pleasant for snorkelling with quite a rich underwater world of small Nemos and other colourful fishes. Some come here for diving looking for sharks and mantas.


Discovering the pristine islands on a traditional sailing boat with the crew handling skilfully the many ropes and noticing their effort to raise the sail is fascinating. To enjoy the pleasure of sailing you need the wind so choosing the right time for the trip is quite important. Sometimes the lack of wind gives the feeling the sea is a wide quiet lake.  
On the boat, you wake early, with the first rays of sunshine. It is amazing, once on deck, you do not feel tired. You enjoy the breakfast served on deck while the captain navigates the boat, which was being anchored during the night close to an island, out on the sea hoping for some wind to fill the sails and glide the boat to the next island. The day is enjoyed on the deck with few activities like fishing, watching the waves and spotting some nice beaches, helping raise the sail, sleeping on the deck being rocked by the waves or just listening to the seafarer stories of the captain.

Once anchored close to a white sandy beach you have plenty of time to just lie on the beach or enjoy a swim while the lunch is being prepared. Being on the sea the meals are usually prepared based on fish and sea food like tuna, sea bass, red snapper, shrimp or squid.  As you can imagine the sunsets are amazing each evening with the last rays of the sun merging with the dark blue colour of the sea.

As mentioned only a handful of tourists visit daily the deserted islands. Even so they are quite closely monitored. At arrival in the Kawthoung airport even if still in Myanmar but close enough to Thailand your passport is requested and thoroughly checked and copies of your passport made. In addition, the Government sends an official guide to accompany each boat throughout the sailing trip.
At the moment there are only two resorts in the Mergui archipelago, Andaman Club Hotel on the Thahtay Gyun island, 10 minutes by speedboat from Kawthoung and the Mynamar Andaman Resort (and eco-resort on renovation, to reopen in September 2015) on the Khayingwa Kyun island some 40 miles offshore with an amazing long stretch of white sandy beach.

As we are enjoying our final evening in this remarkable region, admiring the sunset over the sea with its many islands from the terrace of the Andaman Club Hotel and writing this brief post I really hope that the Mergui archipelago will transform into a protected area of nature which will preserve the natural beauty and unspoilt beaches which one can hardly find anymore on earth.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Yangon circular train ride... supposed to be amongst the things tourists should experience while in Yangon. I left this as one of the last things to experience due to the quite long time needed to circle the whole city. Finally this morning, together with a local friend, we took the 8h20 train and started the three hours long ride circling Yangon and its suburbs. The ticket fee is 200 Kyats/person and there are quite a few departures per day! The train leaves from platform 7 where you can also buy the ticket.

The train itself is very interesting. The one we took had around 20 carriages which were connected together making it easier for the people to look for an empty seat especially in the morning when the passengers carry many bags of various sizes with fruits and vegetables commuting to reach the different markets in Yangon, or for the various sellers to sell their products to travellers ranging from cold water or hot sweet tea to spicy grated mango.

The coaches have no doors and the windows are wide open to be able to get some fresh breeze. You have some ventilators on the roof most of which are not working. You are not allowed to smoke, throw garbage or kiss! I actually saw people throw garbage out of the windows (it is so normal for people here to dispose of their garbage wherever they are), and smoke but indeed nobody was kissing! I suppose kissing in public is taboo and is also not allowed because people face each other on the two parallel wooden benches.

It is hard to say if this could be a worthy experience for the tourists. I would agree so if only the tourists stay in Yangon and do not travel outside the city. Indeed the ride takes you to the suburbs and Yangon’s outskirts and you can see some of the fields being worked by the locals, some traditional wooden houses and kids playing around; in some of the stations the people display their fruits and vegetables directly on the platform.

For me, the most interesting thing was to observe the travellers coming in and getting out of the train. People going to the market with their many and heavy bags, relying on the people to help them in and out of the carriage, ladies cleaning their vegetables before reaching the market, and of course people falling asleep from the ride!

Anyhow the ride, because of its many stations and high levels of commotion did not seem that long.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Vietnam, simply beautiful!

We just returned from a short trip to central and southern Vietnam. What a beautiful country with a rich history, friendly people and flavour filled cuisine! The southern half of the country it is an easy to travel destination. The best period to visit is this time of the year (i.e. March). In Saigon and the Mekong delta the monsoon season starts as of the end of April. But we were told that the heavy rains are sporadic throughout the days and the sun is still present. In Hoi An the summer starts now with the dry season until end of August. 

We managed to visit Hue with the royal tombs, the romantic Hoi An full with colourful lanterns, the pleasant Saigon with old colonial buildings and the sleepy Mekong delta with its many canals.
Go to Vietnam to enjoy the amazing nature and the rich history of the country! Go to Vietnam to enjoy the delicious food, the quality coffee (second biggest producer after Brazil) and the healthy green tea with lotus infusion. Go to Vietnam to chat to people who are quite curious but in a friendly manner.  Go to Vietnam to buy a scarf made  out of silk! Go to Vietnam to have your suit, shoes and bags tailor-made (designed by you) in Hoi An at very competitive prices! Just go to Vietnam to enjoy some great holidays!
 Mekong Delta

Hue / Tomb of King Minh Mang


Hue / Royal Palace

Marble Mountain
Hoi An