Backpacking the Mergui Archipelago - issues and problems.....
Hi everyone, im a first time traveller planning on travelling in Myanmar in the new year and am especially interested in visiting the mergui archipelago. im hoping to start in that area and finish towards north and head into Laos but am concerned about the countrys seemingly strict rules on:
A) where i am staying every day and
B) areas which i am allowed to visit.
can anyone shed any light on any of these issues, or perhaps recommend any hostels/cheap hotels for me to stay in? is there an easy way to access this area from the south Myanmar/Thailand border as this is where i am hoping to enter from.
I am Burmese. Let me anwer about boder crossing.
1) I am 100% sure that you will not be able to cross to Laos from Myanmar across land.
2) If you want to visit ONLY mergui archipelago, it might be possible to cross from Thai to Myanmar across land and visit that. But when you cross the border, your passport will be kept and you will be allowed to go ONLY around that border town (the islands are near that border town).
3) If by some miracle you could arrange to get the (proper) myanmar visa valid for crossing the border via good travel agent, you will be insisted to fly from southern myanmar to Yangon. Many southern areas are controlled by armed qausi-autonomic tribe groups/ rebles who had agreements with the military. Even us locals are mostly not allowed to travel by land to there from Yangon.
4) If you are going diving, it might be good idea to arrange this prior with some independent travel agent. As it might be hard to arrange in a harry. (Few tourist these days. so VERY few diving tourists)
The most hassle free way will be to fly from Bkk to Yangon and travel to others tourist spots by land and to fly to Kawthaung from Yangon to visit mergui archipelago because lets be honest you will not be able to do land-only travel anyway (no crossing to Laos by land).
I hope this helps. I will leave accommodation advice for other recent tourists to make. I dont think it will be a huge issue anyway. When you fly to and from Yangon please try to use non-Burmese airlines to avoid giving junta more money (e.g. "Privately-owned" airline AirBagan is owned by the General's in-laws.)
Hope you enjoy your visit to beautiful Myanmar,
Thanks for the advice, looks like ill have to alter my travel route slightly
as you are a Burmese native it would be strange of me to not feel the urge to quiz you on your country seeing as I will be arriving there shortly.
I have a few questions, please do not feel that you have to answer all of them, weather they are too intrusive or you simply do not know!
Firstly, whats the deal with declaring your currency and how much you have, do you have to change a specific amount upon arrival?
Are johnny walker red and 555 cigarettes still sought after or is there a prefered duty free item that is now in demand?
Do you think that it as a foriegner, it is wise to seek knowledge about groups that support Myanmar's people while still in the country? Ie: aid organisations and pro democracy groups?
And finally if you had 10 days in your country to show a good friend about, where would you go?
As before, dont feel that you have to answer all of these questions, but help would be appreciated. I just want to be prepared for the locals and have what they want aswell as enjoy the country.
Kind regards and thanks,
I will try my best to answer your questions.
I think you will have to tell how much money you brought if the officials ask you. But you do not have to exchange at the airport at all because the government abolished that rule a few years ago. So, DO NOT exchange money at the airport as the rate there is just extortionist. By the way, I just heard in news that the government is issuing new 5000 denomination notes. Before, 1000 note was the highest. The upside is you will have to carry round less notes and the value of myanmar currency is down because of that news. The downside is exchange rate is fluctuating a lot because of that news (as of today 1120-1150kyats for 1USD). Oh, only take 100 USD notes that are crisp and in absolute mint condition because people will usually not take USD notes that are creased, folded or written on and the exchange rate gets worse for the lower USD denominations.
I am not sure about Johnnie Walker Red and 555 as I have been out of the country for 4 years. I personally think the profit (if any) will not be worth the hassle. Customs officials might quiz you if they think quantiy is too many and/or might just 'take' some if they feel like it. 😊
I would NOT encourage you to ACTIVELY seek out aid organisations and especially pro democracy groups. You might put yourself in danger and you will definitely put the people you seek out in danger. But if you already have contact with international NGOs, it's ok to contact them. There are other ways to help and get to know myanmar people. You might encounter some young myanmar people who want to practice English just by speaking with you and they will usually also invite you to their classes to help them out. They hang around in Shwedagon Pagoda and other tourist hot spots. If you have some time to spare, it is a great way to get off-the-beaten-track experience and your help will be much appreciated too. Many of them will talk openly about a lot of things including polictics in private once they get to know you a bit (let that be on their terms). Another thing is to tip the lower level service workers if you could. It goes a long way in helping them and often the whole family depending on them.
As for places to visit, Bagan and Inle lake are a must because they are just so unique. You might want to do a day or so trekking in Kalaw on the way to Inle lake to see real village life (and i mean REAL) in the mountains of myanmar which I have not had a chace to see myself. You should also spend a few days in Mandalay. There is not much to see in Mandalay itself but it is a base to do day trips to surrounding historic areas which are all very scenic and lovely. You will surely visit Yangon too which is where I grew up 😊 (yes, it's very dirty in places but it is bustling).
You said you are going to Myanmar shortly. If you are in Myanmar on September the 3rd, there is Thadingyut festival going on. It is a religious festival of light but it is really an opportunity for the locals to have some much needed fun. People celebrate it at night. Just ask the locals for the nearest places where activities will be going on that night.
Myanmar is very safe for tourists and the people have very positive attitude towards foreigners. I hope you will enjoy your stay in Myanmar and if you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask.
Min! Thank you for your in depth, prompt and concise response!
The information that you shared with me has been really useful, I'm really looking forward to going as my blood line on my fathers side leads through to Myanmar.
Yes i will be there during the Thadingyut festival, and I'm really happy that you alerted me to it because now I can plan and make sure im in a good position to enjoy it with the locals! The fact that I'll be there during this time has really made my day as Ive missed a few calendar occasions in recent months whilst in Asia so Im chuffed im finally going to made one!
Bagan and Inle lake are high on my list of must see's, weather permiting i may also take a trip to (Gnapolie/Napolie) a coastal beach spot. Do you know of this place or of a similar beach spot to tick the sea and sand box? Its not really important to me so don't put too much into it!
Mamio / Bahmio is also an area I am tempted to explore as my grandmother went to school as a child there. If you could cast any light on this area I would be really thankfull.
Thanks again for the answer, its much appreciated.
You are very welcome Wilson.
Ngapali (Napolie) is probably the best beach in myanmar. I am assuming you are flying there. Otherwise, not a good idea as the journey takes too long. Nwe Saung beach (relatively new compared to Ngapali) is also quite good and it's very long nearly 9 miles I think. All beaches tend to be really quiet so a good choice if you just want to chill.
Bhamaw (Bahmio) is a typical small town by the Irrawady river. It is not really an attraction (even to burmese) so your choice of accommodation there will be limited. Here again the transportation of choice is to fly. Really interesting thing to do is take the cruise/boat from Mandalay to Bhamaw or the other way around but I would advise against it as the journey takes more than one day (i think) in best case scenario and there is chance of being stranded too as the river is very unpredictable. (you said you only have 10 days).
Btw, are you British (or from down under)? You said "chuffed" so I think I can rule out American. 😊 I am just curious because I live in the UK. I really envy you because you are going to be there during the festival. One of my favourite burmese food is sticky rice cooked in bamboo stem (goes very well with fritters). They are usually sold in market stalls during those festival funfair. It's quite different from normal rice cooked in normal way. May be you will spot one during your visit 😊.
All the best.
Lol, I'm very much a Brit, will be back in London in 3 weeks.
Min must run, I'm flying to Yangoon in a few hours.
Please do mail me should you want any bits or bobs brought back, Ide be happy to oblige, providing I can get into my email account that is!
Thanks again for the sound advice, you've made my knowledge far stronger to prepare me for Myanmar!
Will let you know how I go!
Thanks Wilson. It is very kind of you to offer but won't be necessary. Myanmar postal system works very well one way... out of the country that is. Post going into the country is a whole different story lol.
Tip for internet/email access. Internet cafes near Bogyoke Market (Scott Market) and Latha Street (China town) are quite good I think and you can ask for help to get into some emails e.g Gmail. Hotmail (windows live) is totally banned if I remember correctly.
I am looking forward to reading about your trip after you are back. 😊