Photo: Marcus Island.

Introduction

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Myeik (formerly Mergui) is a fascinating town located along Tanintharyi region’s Andaman coastline. The least visited of Burma’s southern destinations, it’s a town of interesting contrasts and one that is likely to change enormously in the coming years. The town boasts a sprinkling of isles on its horizon while the town itself is geographically up and down and round and round. It’s home to fantastic old colonial period architecture, yet displays a building boom the likes of which we haven’t seen elsewhere south of Yangon.



Myeik — occasionally pronounced Beik (‘make’ or ‘bake’ with an Australian accent) — has quaint, atmospheric old quarters and a pagoda with harbour views that Kipling could have written poems about. But it also has busy streets choked with new motorbikes and flashy cars. There’s even a chic shopping centre that many provincial Thai towns would be proud of. Thailand lies across 80 kilometres of rugged mountains to the east, while Kawthaung is 440 kilometres south and Dawei another 250 kilometres or so to the north.

Meet Myeik port. Photo taken in or around Myeik, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Meet Myeik port. Photo: Mark Ord

We reckon Myeik rivals Pathein as Burma’s friendliest town. A 10-minute stroll will see you saying, “Mingalabar!” 100 times while taking a seat in an outdoor cafe will invite a steady flow of locals asking for photos. This will change – Mawlamyine used to be like this – and with the huge potential of the archipelago and improving overland routes north and south, Myeik is going to go places.

Wander the waterfront and admire the non-stop action of the packed port, stroll around the lake, meet the locals in an old town tea shop and write some sunset prose from a hilltop pagoda. Otherwise Myeik doesn’t hold too many things to do as such, but it is just one of those places where it’s great to do nothing.

Myeik old town. Photo taken in or around Myeik, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Myeik old town. Photo: Mark Ord

At the time of writing Myeik’s outlying islands did not offer accommodation, though there are some fledgling organised boat tours which should get sorted out properly sooner rather than later. We did see some commendable day tours on offer taking in some sights and cottage industries in the surrounding areas. For such a little-visited town there are already some fine accommodation options and, as usual in Burma, there’s no lack of good eating spots.

Seen from Strand Road or one of the jetties, Myeik’s truly bustling harbour is a fascinating sight but you could have a word with one of a longtail taxi boatmen and get them to take you for a ride around the port. We headed across the harbour dodging packed passenger ferries and diesel-belching fishing boats to the pagoda-topped hill to the northwest. We’re not sure whether the boatman knew their regular hang-outs but we ran into – almost literally – a couple of frolicking dolphins. Passing fish-processing plants, docks, ship-building yards and stilt wooden houses you’ll reach a second pagoda at the southern end of the port. An easier climb, this hill also affords good views across the port while a 66-metre reclining Buddha, with surrounding sculpture park, was under construction on the east slope when we visited. Prices depend upon how long you wish to go for as well as your negotiating skills but we paid a generous 5,000 kyat for a harbour boat tour.

Explore the archipelago. Photo taken in or around Myeik, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Explore the archipelago. Photo: Mark Ord

Slightly further afield, Kadan Island, which is the first large one directly west of Myeik, is served by regular ferries. We’d envisage Kadan becoming Myeik’s Bilu. There’s nothing to stop you taking the local ferry out there and grabbing a tuk tuk or moto-taxi at the jetty and asking them to showing you around. Like Bilu there are several roads and villages on the island and doubtless plenty of handicrafts and cottage industries to see but make sure you don’t miss the last ferry back.

Andaman Sea oil and gas, which we guess is fuelling Myeik’s development, is a major industry around Myeik, as are palm oil, rubber and fishing, plus a few quirkier sidelines like cashew nuts, bird’s nest collection and pearl cultivation. A planned Myeik special economic zone and deep-water port just east of town was at time of writing in early 2016 on hold.

Myeik street scenes. Photo taken in or around Myeik, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Myeik street scenes. Photo: Mark Ord

The Tanintharyi (formerly Tenasserim) River just south of town once lay on a trade route over the isthmus to the Gulf of Thailand between India and China. During the 11th to 13th centuries, Myeik formed the southern reach of the Bagan Kingdom, after which it was claimed by Siam until the arrival of European traders and colonists. Portuguese, Dutch, British and French all visited Myeik. The latter even governed the region for a brief period during the 17th century. After this, Myeik wavered between Siamese and Burmese rule until it was finally ceded to the British after the 1st Anglo-Burma war of 1824-26.

Today, Myeik is home to an eclectic ethnic mix of Indian, Chinese, Bamar, Dawei and Mon people, with Karen in surrounding rural areas and the Moken (“seas gypsies”), inhabiting many of the islands.

Marcus Island. Photo taken in or around Myeik, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Marcus Island. Photo: Mark Ord

The climate sees a year-round temperature varying only a few degrees either side of 30 degrees Celsius and some serious rainfall during the May to October monsoon.

Popular attractions in Myeik

A selection of some of our favourite sights and activities around Myeik.





Orientation
Myeik’s layout somewhat resembles that of Mawlamyine, where a range of low hills, capped by gold chedis, edge close to the water. An island creates a very narrow but well protected natural harbour. The port is a mass of longtails, small and large fishing boats, cargo ships, ferries taking workers out to seafood and fish factories on the island, and even a couple of swish speedboats for tourist boat tours.

The long waterfront road (Strand Road) has seen a fair bit of development though some grand old colonial-era buildings do survive. In the southern part of town, you’ll find most of the British-period villas and old administrative and trading offices along narrow winding streets. This is where you’ll also find the Theindawgyi and Bu hilltop pagodas and is the most rewarding part of town for a stroll.

Curry by the waterfront. Photo taken in or around Myeik, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Curry by the waterfront. Photo: Mark Ord

Slightly north is the contemporary town centre with the large Myint Nge Market and clock tower. From here Baho Road leads east up the hill, past Golden Mall, towards the town’s eastern suburbs and airport and bus station. North of the centre are Gone Yone and Merchant Streets running parallel to the Strand, also featuring plenty of period architecture. Behind them and north of Baho Road is scenic Mingalar Lake. Strand Road continues north up the coast where you’ll find much of the town’s newer development including a shopping mall, a huge eye-sore of a food centre and tacky up-market resort targetting local and Thai tourists.

The town’s main hospital is on Sapar Shwe War Road while the bus station is found on Kanphyar Road northeast of town next to the golf course. The tiny airport is closer to the centre than the bus station, lying just a few kilometres from what passes for Myeik’s downtown at the junction of Kanphyar Myayni and Airport roads.

Police are on Palae Road behind Theindawgyi while a miniature post office is on Office Road. (A repeat visitor we met claimed to have sent six postcards from there a year ago, none of which arrived.) Banks and money exchange stalls are located around the central market with, as usual, KBZ being the best.

Golden Mall has a modern supermarket plus ATMs while Myeik Shopping Centre is more local style. Having said that, just buying some sun cream in Golden Mall involved having to line up for a photo shoot with all the supermarket cashiers.

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