Industrious Myeik: Gateway to an island paradise

Even amid all the tourist glories of Myanmar, the town of Myeik is a diamond in the rough.

Long neglected under the military regime, Myeik seduces the first tourists to find their way here.

Between the picturesque islands of Pahtaw and Pahtete, opposite the seafront of Myeik, there is a soft-shell crab farm. Its products can be enjoyed at nearby Yadanaoo restaurant, along with a wide variety of other seafood from the region.

till on seafood, take a look at the lobster farm, which can provide you with a three-star Michelin dinner at street prices.

And then there are the swallows’ nests. This is thought of as a Chinese delicacy, but you can find them here too. The Natural Edible Birds’ Nest House on Strand Road is a cross between a shop and a zoo, with hints of museum.

Not far from the nest farm and opposite the central market is a little alley where people are continuously coming and going, each bearing a bag or parcel of snacks. You can’t pass through Myeik without visiting the snacks stalls of the Myit Nge Market, also known as Dawei Su Market. Look out especially for the ar pone, a kind of crêpe topped with whisked egg and grated coconut. This delicacy truly melts in the mouth, and goes particularly well with sweetened tea.

Myeik is certainly a fishing town, and they have a huge fish-drying neighbourhood. On my second day in the city I had the chance to witness the process. It’s great to see the fishermen return with their haul as women clean, cut and prepare it for drying.

There’s also light industry, including a little factory where they manufacture all kind of brooms, and another where they turn raw cashew nuts into a tasty snack. The speed and skill of the workers is fascinating to watch. You can even work alongside them.

The same is true in the shipyards. In Myeik they still make ships the way they always have. You can mingle with carpenters, blacksmiths, turners, sailors and captains to see up close the way they work.

On the third day I headed to the port and a boat took me upriver to the old village of Tanintharyi. While having breakfast on board I was treated to one of the most amazing sunrises. The dark purples brightened as the night faded and intense yellows, pinks and oranges contrasted with the vivid green of the luxuriant vegetation on both banks.

In Tanintharyi, the ancient capital of the region, few signs from that glorious time remain. But you can see the popular dragon boat races, a unique show presented on special occasions. Tanintharyi monastery, where a little museum displays coins, tools and objects found at archaeological sites around the village, is worth a visit.

Myeik and Tanintharyi are attractions by themselves, but the region still keeps an ace up its sleeve. Myeik port is a springboard for the exploration of the Myeik Archipelago, the last long paradise of Myanmar, a group of about 800 beautiful islands and islets with gorgeous beaches and untapped potential for tourism – hopefully, ecotourism.

Most tours to the archipelago focus on scuba diving, but recently companies like Asia Whale and Mergui Sakura have started organising camping trips. It’s quite an experience to huddle by a bonfire at night and wake up in the morning to the sound of birdsong.

We stopped at Pin Zin to discover how local people live in a village of the mangrove belt. Here I had the chance to taste ngapi, the famous strong-tasting fish paste, that rare delicacy that the country is proud to export.

At Natthemee Yetwin, our destination for the following two nights, the magic of another astonishing sunset awaited. I have never seen so many stars. A midnight walk along the beach unveils the secret of the sands, glowing with plankton.

If sunset is beautiful, sunrise is breathtaking. A morning ride in a kayak brought me to a camp on the beach against the background of the thick green forest and a rising column of smoke, like a dream of a desert island.

The day brought yet another natural spectacle: breakfast time for the fish in the rift, the perfect moment to put on your goggles and stare discreetly at them. The colours of the fish underwater compete with those above the surface.

Myeik is definitely a rediscovered paradise, as yet virgin and almost deserted. Swimming, diving, fishing, kayaking, island-hopping, trekking or just relaxing in the sun or under the trees make for a perfect day.

Most of the archipelago is uninhabited, but the waters are home to the Salone people, also known as “sea gypsies”. Although they are a nomadic seafaring people most of the year, during the rainy season they set up camps as shelter on some islands.

Visiting a dome shelter at one of these camps, I was able to explore their home. Here I got to mingle with four generations of the same family and also play with their unusual pet, a monkey.

Dome Island is also one of the few islands in the archipelago that has natural fresh water, in the form of a dazzling waterfall. It’s a fantastic view, and the best grand finale for our trip.

One last tip: For dinner one night I went to one of the most popular local restaurants in Myeik, Sakura Foods and Drinks, where they serve mainly seafood. Don’t miss the prawn curry, let alone ta nyin, a tasty leafy vegetable you will only find in this region.

 

Source: Myanmar Times

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