Myeik Archipelago, a group of more than 800 islands home to the Moken or “sea gypsies”, is increasingly attracting developers who see its potential for tourism.
Compared with other destinations in Myanmar such as Bagan and Inle Lake, the islands in the Andaman Sea off the southern tip of the country are still underdeveloped, with just a handful of hotels and resorts.
“There are so many beautiful places in this archipelago, but not many resorts or facilities yet to attract tourism,” said U Aung Chain, project director and general manager of Myeik Public Corporation.
The entire area had just five hotels and motels with a total of 196 rooms by the end of 2014, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
This may soon change. For the past two years, U Aung Chain’s company has been trying to secure Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) permission to develop two islands – Saw Mon Hla and Kun Thee, which means “betel nut”.
The company plans to invest K4.3 billion (US$3.3 million) in Saw Mon Hla island and K4.6 billion in Kun Thee island, he said.
“For Saw Mon Hla island we completed the first stage of applying for MIC permission on September 14, and hope to receive a permit within three months.”
Development will begin as soon as the permit comes through, and the project, which will initially include a number of bungalows and offer swimming and diving facilities to tourists, should take around three years to complete, he said.
The company will also secure build, operate, transfer (BOT) contract to rent the island, from the regional government.
“The first phase of the Saw Mon Hla project will cover 20 acres and the second phase will cover 29 acres of the 1661-acre island,” said U Aung Chain.
Rent will be K20,000 per acre for the development area, he said, and may be slightly lower for the rest of the island which is a conservation area. The rental price will increase by 20 percent over the first 10 years and after 50 years will have increased 100pc, he said.
“We have a design team and a project plan – we are just waiting for the permit from the MIC,” said U Aung Chain.
Plans for Kun Thee island have not yet been submitted to the MIC, as Myeik Public Corporation is preparing documentation for the entire 4274-acre island in addition to the 20-acre development area, he said.
The project will be a joint venture between Myeik Public Corporation and Shwe Alin Eain Company, comprising 30 villas in the initial stage.
Its approval has been delayed because, until recently, tourists were forbidden from travelling out into the sea, said U Thet Soe, director of Myeik Public Corporation.
“The regulation was only changed just over a month ago,” he said, adding that both island resorts will be targeted at foreigners.
Saw Mon Hla island is close to three hours by boat from Myeik township and the trip to Kun Thi island takes an hour and a half.
The company is now considering how best to transport its guests from the mainland.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has high hopes for the Myeik archipelago and officials have likened the area to nearby Phuket in Thailand.
While tourist numbers are rising – from 1158 in 2012 to 2162 in 2014 – they remain very low compared with the millions of visitors to Phuket each year.
However, as resorts are increasingly built, several groups have pointed out the importance of responsible tourism.
Last year, Flora & Fauna International (FFI) proposed establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the archipelago, claiming the area has a unique biodiversity, which is under serious threat.
The region is also on UNESCO’s tentative list of nominations for World Heritage Sites.
Source: Myanmar Times