Dotting the Andaman sea across some 400 km, the 800 or so mainly granite and limestone islands of the Mergui Archipelago can feel like a visit to a new world. Most islands are so pristine that they still don’t have a name, and tourism, only officially allowed some two decades ago, is still nascent.
If you were hoping to charter a yacht to the Mergui Archipelago then you should rent a boat from Phuket, which acts as Thailand’s main gateway to Mergui due to it’s easy access and large selection of yachts. Many tourists eager for a glimpse of these untouched pearls of the Andaman rent a boat and live aboard while diving and exploring the coves and inlets around here.
Each dive takes them into a vibrant world where they jostle with barracuda, dogtooth tuna, batfish, unicornfish, trevallies, manta rays, whale sharks, as well as grey and white tip sharks. Popular diving locales in this area include Shark Cave (75 km from Kawthaung) and Black Rock (100 km from Kawthaung).
Mergui’s beaches are largely uncharted and unhindered by tourism; this also means that they generally lack the visitor-friendly facilities one expects on other beaches in Southeast Asia such as restaurants, resorts, bars and entertainment. The majority of people who rent a boat to visit Mergui and stay upon a liveaboard. This is ideal for an incredible sailing and/or diving experience, of which Mergui offers in abundance.
But the islands offer plenty of activities including hiking through lush jungles, and perhaps meeting one of the many species that live here: monitor lizards, gibbons, crab-eating macaques, hornbills, and white-bellied sea eagles, among others. Visitors may also wish to kayak, snorkel, or partake in other fun beach activities with their group.
Choosing your favourite Mergui island can be a daunting task, but a few of the more popular spots include Lampi island — the country’s first national marine park — and Island 115, well known for the rich coral under crystal waters. For a glimpse into the culture of Mergui, a visit to the traditional Moken villages on Nyaung Wee island is essential. Some say that Myauk Ni island, may even provide a more authentic insight into the local culture due to its less visited, less populated nature, where chats with local fishermen can open up a whole new world to visitors to this region.
Fishing is discouraged around Mergui; thanks to overfishing by local fishermen, the area is now classified as endangered. However, good fishing is available in Mergui on the offshore banks west of the archipelago, where fishing groups may come upon a cluster of 20 seamounts that run as deep as 400 metres. Being a shark feeding spot, the area offers the opportunity to catch tuna, dorado, wahoo, and black marlin — and to later dine upon them on the boat the same evening.
The best times to visit the islands are in the clement months between December and February, when the weather is most favourable. You’ll find warm and sunny weather, steady winds and calm seas. For divers and snorkelers, however, March and April are better months, when clearer waters allow for a more immersive underwater experience.