The new frontier for liveaboard diving in South East Asia is Myanmar / Burma and its 800+ islands of the Mergui Archipelago. After decades of being closed to most international tourists, Myanmar / Burma has opened its doors and quickly become very popular with adventurous travellers. This isn’t just for on land, either. Scuba diving in Myanmar is becoming more and more popular each diving season, and there are plenty of reasons why so many divers want to go there.
Some people still refer to The Republic of the Union of Myanmar as ‘Burma,’ which is a lot easier. In any case, this country located between Thailand’s western border and the north-eastern corner of India, is large, culturally diverse, and has a very long coastline onto the Andaman Sea & Indian Ocean. There are thousands of islands off of the coast of Myanmar, and most are uninhabited, and some unexplored fully. Diving in Myanmar is mostly done from the southern tip of Myanmar’s coastal border with Thailand, in an area known as The Mergui Archipelago. Here, more than 800 tropical islands are home to some very special marine life, some species of which live nowhere else on Earth.
Before joining a Myanmar Liveaboard Diving Trip, there are a few things that you need to know.
How do I go diving in Burma (Myanmar)? At present (2017), the only realistic way to enjoy liveaboard diving in Burma is to join a trip that sails from Thailand. These boats most commonly sail from Thailand’s western coastal provinces of Phang Nga and Ranong. Some do a day’s diving in Thailand before crossing the border into Myanmar, while others go directly.
What about immigration? This is a weird situation for those coming from Thailand who want to go diving in Myanmar because they officially leave Thailand* but do not get or need a visa to enter Myanmar. *Unless you have a re-entry visa stamp, your Thai visa will expire when you leave, and you will get a new Visa on Arrival stamp when you come back to Thailand. This new stamp may be 14 or 30 days, depending on your nationality.
Is there a hidden cost? Yes! Although divers in Myanmar do not get or need a visa to enter the country, they must pay for a diving permit. This permit costs at least $200, depending on the length of the dive trip in Myanmar. In addition, the fee must be paid in cash in new & clean banknotes, and it must be applied for* at least two weeks before departure. *Including a photocopy or scan of the passport and a couple of passport photographs of each applicant diver.
What’s so special about diving in Myanmar?
Undiscovered reefs: Because recreational scuba diving in Burma is very new, many of the reefs here are yet to be discovered. And those that are known to the divers and boat captains are not visited by many other diving boats. Therefore, it’s quite common to be the only liveaboard diving boat within sight, which is almost impossible in Thailand. Some Myanmar liveaboard diving trips include some exploration and brand-new dive sites are discovered.
Special marine life: Due to the fact that there is a lot less boat traffic in Myanmar than there is in Thailand, the marine life hasn’t been scared off by divers blowing bubbles and touching things. Some species are found almost nowhere else on Earth, and it’s possible that some are yet to be known to science. Although rare, sightings of Irrawady Dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) are possible from the boat, which would probably never happen in Thailand. The same can be said for the Dugong (Dugong dugong), as they are both shy mammals that stay away from humans, especially divers.
Have the reefs been fished using dynamite and cyanide?
The answer to this question is an unfortunate ‘yes’ but some reefs are untouched and many are recovering well. Also, the more the local people learn about the value of live fish and healthy reefs, the sooner they will realise the long-term benefits of preserving the area instead of destroying it. As each season passes, more diving boats visit Myanmar, and this means more of the locals benefit from this new form of tourism to them. Also, there are international organisations working within Myanmar to educate the people and evaluate the state of each reef.