End of a way of life: Burmese islands that are home to 2,000 sea gipsies set to be turned into ‘new Phuket’ with 30 hotels and a casino

Mergui Archipelago in Burma is home to 800 untouched islands but officials says this could soon change 30 hotels and resorts have been given the green lights and officials say these could attract eco-tourists and divers Only 2,612 tourists visited the islands last year, but this is set to soar if plans are given the go-ahead. The area is currently home to 2,000 sea gipsies or Mokens who hunt and dive for fish in the area

The untouched islands of Mergui Archipelago in Burma are set to become a major tourist destinations, with plans unveiled for up to 30 hotels and resorts as well as a casino.

The tranquil haven, in what is now called Myanmar, consists of 800 tropical islands nestled in the southern-most part of the country, and is currently home to sea gipsies who live predominantly on the water.

Tourism officials say the islands have a great potential to attract visitors from around the world, and currently 30 hotels and resorts have been given the green light. Added to this are plans for a $1.2 billion project that includes a casino.

‘The [Mergui] region has a lot of potential to be a new tourism destination as most of the islands are untouched and have coral reefs,’ Sai Kyaw Ohn, deputy minister for hotels and tourism, told news wire, DPA.

‘We hope these can attract eco-tourists and divers.’

‘We hope MIC will allow all 27 firms to set up hotels and resorts by December,’ he said.

Kyaw Ohn said that two joint ventures have been already granted approval to build resorts on the islands.

Further to this, the Myanmar Times reported that the Singapore firm, Zochwell Group Pte Ltd was set to sign a contract for the development of a $1.2 billion US dollar project.

Included would be a casino in Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago, although a local official were quoted saying they had no knowledge of the project.

Andrew Tan, the managing director of Consult-Myanmar told MailOnline Travel: ‘Mergui Archipelago will be the new Phuket of the East in 10 years’ time.

‘It will be the new beach, water sport, cruising and diving playground for discerning tourists that are tired of crowded and dirty Thai beach resorts.

‘We are talking about over 800 pristine islands and beaches that is 1 hour away from Bangkok by flight and 3 hours by ferry from Phuket.
‘We are talking about a hermit country that is closed for the last 50 years – recently opened up and realizing that it has nicer and more pristine beaches and dive spots than Thailand.’

Tan added that the Myanmar government has been very careful, however, to ensure that all developments do not harm the local environment in a significant way and benefits the local economy in terms of the small local businesses and jobs that it creates and sustains.

If the hotel plans were to go ahead it is hoped the region would attract divers, ecotourists, and holiday-makers, who currently frequent resorts in southern Thailand.

It is unsure how the rise in visitors will affect the 2,000 hunter-gatherer sea gipsies who call the region home.

They are known as Salons inside Burma/Myanmar and it is thought the nomadic tribe have lived in the area for around 4,000 years, following migrating from southern China.

The seafaring tribe spend the majority of their lives on the water with many tribe members using spearfishing to get their produce.

Many also learn from a young age to dive for fish, pearls and sea cucumbers and the best divers are even able to stay submerged at depths of 65 feet for several minutes.

Since 1996, foreigners have been permitted to visit the archipelago and witness the tribe, but only a tiny amount of tourists currently flock to the golden beaches.

According to the ministry of hotel and tourism, 2,612 tourists went to the area last year, and this is set to surge if the proposed developments get the green light.

Not all environmental groups are supportive of the plans.

Win Myo Thu, chairman of local environmental NGO, Ecodev, warned: ‘The projects will destroy the natural beauty and ways of life in the area if the authorities and developers do not take environmental aspects into consideration.’

Ministry of Hotels and Tourism general director, Aung Zaw Win, told Irrawaddy media: ‘Our ministry has recommended that these companies be given approval from the Myanmar Investment Commission through the Tanintharyi [Tenasserim] Division government.

‘We have checked their environmental protection plans. MIC is now checking them again before final approval is given.’

Despite the optimism of the tourism officials, even if permission was given for the hotels and resorts in the next year, it could take years to implement an infrastructure able to compete with Thailand.

Currently the water, sewage and electricity systems on the island are poor or non-existent, and it will be a challenge to ensure the islands remain eco-friendly and pollutant free to achieve this.

Source: Daily Mail Online

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