We’re always on the hunt for pristine white beaches, crystal clear water, warm breezes and a calm that only comes without heaps of tourists. We’ve found it in Myanmar. That’s right, Myanmar. We’re just a little jealous of Lydia Vasko of The Straits Times who shares this maybe-not-so-secret anymore destination.
It is what Phi Phi Island and Phuket, down the coast in Thailand, were 100 years ago – crystal clear water, spectacular snorkelling and fiery sunsets in places still undiscovered and unspoilt by mass tourism and resorts.
Only a couple of small resorts have been built on the islands – though there are reportedly plans to develop more in the future – so the only way to explore this semiremote paradise at the moment is by boat. With so few people venturing to the Mergui, and so many islands to choose from, it is easy to feel like you have discovered your own private paradise.
Burma Boating is one of four companies – including Intrepid, Mergui Princess and Island Mergui Safari tours – which are authorised to charter cruises in the archipelago, a national park.
In the four days I spend touring the islands aboard the SY Raja Laut, a 30m gaff-topsail schooner run by Burma Boating (www.burmaboating.com), which organises sailing holidays in South-east Asia, we see only one other small group of tourists, who are also on a Burma Boating cruise, as we anchor off a fishing village.
Most of the time, when we enter a bay to snorkel or drop anchor, our beautiful 19th-century-styled boat, with four cloud-coloured sails and an ironwood hull, is the only vessel there.
When we are ferried by a small speedboat to an unpopulated beach, ours are the only toes which touch the crystalline waters and walk its crescents of powdered sand.
Here, there are no umbrellas, beach chairs or beachside table service. There are just eight of us – a Bangkok-based French couple, four Germans, one Spaniard and me – on board the five-night charter, enjoying a vast stretch of virgin beach, sitting in the shade of a low hanging branch and floating on waters which are the essence of aquamarine.
The Raja Laut sleeps 12 in six comfortable rooms below deck – three double and three twin bunks, each with air-conditioning and small ensuite bathrooms with hot showers and electric toilets.
Eight seems to be the ideal number of passengers, however. We fit perfectly around the dining table at meals and, when lounging on deck, each of us has enough space to find solitude, where we read, write or take a nap as the boat moves between islands. There is rarely the feeling of being in one another’s way, as is common on smaller boats.
Sometimes there is a flurry of activity as the wind picks up and the deckhands race around to tug ropes and unfurl the sails, but this does not happen often. We are sailing in April, when the winds are low, so there is rarely more than a cooling breeze whispering across the bow. The sun is strong and the deck is calm and quiet.
Occasionally, we pass a fishing boat or see the lights of a fishing village in the distance, but rarely do we see any signs of civilisation.
The Mergui Archipelago is so remote, in fact, that there is no Wi-Fi and phone service on board. For me, this is one of the most magical aspects of the voyage. No e-mail or text messages and no alerts or phone calls. No one to check in with, no social media to scroll. We are completely disconnected from the rest of the world and the freedom of it is indescribably peaceful. It is as though, beyond our boat and our beach, no other world exists.
I spend four tranquil, carefree days reconnecting with the simple life.
By Lydia Vasko, The Straits Times, July 12, 2015