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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Travel journal: a trip to Kawthaung, #Myanmar (Burma)

Yes, tour guides ware biased. Very biased. But according to them, Myanmar’s southern islands are far more beautiful than anything Thailand has to offer. 


 So why are they still so empty?

There’s the most obvious reason – the region was closed-off to the outside world for many years.
But according to Ye Zaw, the southern part of Myanmar is experiencing all sorts of teething problems around catering for tourists, both local and international.

He gave an example – while a beachside bar on a Thai island is all about the natural setting, providing a lost-at-sea ambiance, Myanmar bars down south are more concerned with … air conditioning.
“Visitors have air conditioners in their home, you know. They come to the islands to feel nature,” he said.
On a recent trip to Kawthaung, I visited five islands: Thahtay Island, Zadetkyi Island, Horse Shoe Island, Dunkin Island and Cocks Comb Island.
As with any adventure, preparation is essential. But – in typical Myanmar style – we made the decision to travel in haste.
We planned to stock up on supplies once we arrived, but much to our surprise, every store in Kawthaung has items price-tagged with Thai baht. With the current exchange rate, this made the area surprisingly expensive.

First up we decided to see what was on offer around Kawthaung City. This included a monument to the storied King Bayint Naung (a monarch who assembled one of the largest empires in the history of Southeast Asia) and a five kilometre shoreline that was brimming with mud. Suffice it to say, we indulged in a bit of shopping instead.
We took a speed boat from Kawthaung jetty to the islands the following morning. An initial warning was a valuable one – our tour guide instructed us not to pick any sea shells as souvenirs because they are an integral part of the ecosystem. Full marks for the environmental awareness.
Then came my very first experience at snorkelling at Horse Shoe Island. As a Yangon native, I’d only ever been in a swimming pool. So I was pretty nervous about the initial jump into the sea.

But that first plunge into cold seawater was a feeling I’ll never forget.
Once in, the guides directed us around the underwater sights – a kaleidoscope of fish, plants and coral. The 30-minute session was like being in another world.
Our next stop was lunch on Dunkin Island. It was the definition of paradise. The sea was a radiant blue and the white sands were totally unspoiled – not even one piece of trash (perhaps the only such location in Myanmar!).
Then came a very important Myanmar tradition. Lots of selfies.
Nearby Cocks Comb Island is more unique than the others. From the air it looks almost heart-shaped.
The entrance to the island is through the mouth of a cave. This can only be traversed at an ideal tide. The cave walls almost consumed us as we floated through.
Once inside, we admired the geographic features and resident sea urchins while staying on board.

But the highlight was yet to come. Zadetkyi Island provided the most beautiful underwater sightseeing so far. I could have spent a lifetime floating among the fish under the warm sun.
There were even Nemo-esque clownfish among structural marvels of reefs.
But soon enough our island adventure had come to an end. Was it worth the very hefty K160,000 price tag? In my opinion, yes it was.
As businesses become savvier to the potential down south, the region will likely become a major tourist draw card in the years ahead.
My advice? Get down there now to hang out with those clownfish all by yourself.
Source - mmtimes