The ultimate exclusive sailing holiday experience in Asia with Burma Boating
When we won a competition run by Burma Boating to spend 5 days sailing around the Mergui Islands in Myanmar to create a corporate video for the newly launched company, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was a rare occurrence that we had actually won a competition and a competition of this stature was fantastic in its own right and it certainly would be a great experience for us. But still, was I going to like this?
Burmas Hidden Paradise – Meeting the Moken People Watch the Cinematic Video
It’s no secret that I like my own space, being trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean with 10 strangers wasn’t really my kind of thing. I tend to avoid tours and anything where there could be any kind of dreaded ‘forced fun’ a cruise type trip has never been on my to do list and generally wouldn’t be on my radar in a normal situation.
Yet here we were about to embark on a what was to become a rather unique sailing experience around the Mergui Islands in the Andaman Sea, exploring Burma’s undiscovered treasures. It was most definitely not your average holiday sea cruise.
Jmayel and I stood in the public park in Kawtaung waiting for the boat to arrive in the port for departure the very next day, it was here we caught our first glimpse of the stunning sail boat, Meta IV. At 15 years old and made entirely out of Thai teak wood, this 85ft vessel struck a very elegant pose as it smoothly graced the Burmese waters.
First sighting of the Meta IV
The boats anchor was dropped as the staff came ashore to welcome us. We stood and looked out towards the yacht for a while, we watched it patiently bobbing on the water’s surface, ready and waiting to pick up its new passengers for the mornings departure out into the Andaman Sea, it sat there almost knowingly. The grandeur of the boat was un-miss able, even from where we stood on the mainland a tingle of excitement ran through me, the boat was captivating, almost as if it was full of untold secrets, and we were about to find out what they were.
Our home for the next 6 days
Going to sleep that night in our hotel bed, the last night of sleeping on solid ground for 5 days, I thought about the boat, it was out there on the darkened water waiting for us and I was itching to get up close to it.
The morning came around soon enough and after a brief introduction to the fellow passengers and a visit to the immigration office to check all was well with every ones visas we found ourselves clambering down into the dingy boat. With everyone perched on the side of the rubber dingy, the luggage a messy mound in the middle at our feet, we were headed out to sea, straight towards the Meta.
On Board the Sailing Boat
Climbing up the ladder onto this solid sea structure we all began to get our sea legs as we explored the boat. Shown to our cabins, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that mine and Jmayel’s double cabin came with its own private bathroom, as did all the cabins, as well as a fan and ample storage under the bed.
Our double cabin
Kitchen & indoor dining area
Bow of the Yacht
I was quick to get used to the constant slight swaying of the yacht under my feet and soon the engines were started up and the voyage out to the Mergui Islands was underway.
First moments on the boat
Shortly after setting off we enjoyed a round of champagne welcome drinks as Captain Herbert told us about his beloved yacht and traced out the line of our 5 day trip on a nautical map laid on the table.
Welcome champagne drinks
The Austrian Captain has spent half his life at sea and spent many years sailing the waters around some of the world’s most luxurious places, the Caribbean, Australia and now Asia, we would be hard pressed to find a more capable Captain and crew to the ones we were now under the care of onboard this almost ‘boutique like hotel at sea’.
Herbert & I at the helm!
As Jmayel and I began to sort out our camera gear ready to start filming, the other passengers went about assuming their positions around the boat, whether sitting on deck or laying in the shade on the cushioned sofa, with no cell phone reception and internet access cut as soon as we left the shore, there was nothing left to do but sit back, relax and take in the moments as they happened.
Jmayel already looking relaxed
After a few of hours on the water the boat began to reign a slower pace as Herbert decided which island we should anchor at for the night. With the light beginning to fade, complimentary sundowner cocktails were brought to us as Khun, Herberts wife and on board chef, began to fill the dining table with freshly cooked delicious Thai style dishes for dinner.
One of the first meals on board
Once the sun had dipped below the horizon, stars began to pinprick the dark blanket above us. Jmayel and I sat at the bow of the boat in silence, staring up into the universe as the boat slow danced with the inky waters. Under these starry skies, anything seemed possible and we went to bed happy, a silent rocking lullaby sending me to sleep.
Sitting under the stars
Within less than 24 hours, the boat had me firmly in its sirens grasp. The girl who wasn’t sure about sailing and all things that go with it was now considering the possibility of a life at sea.
As the sun rose over the island we had stopped at for the night, the boat began to come to life. People awoke as the smell of freshly cooked breakfast began to seep through the atmosphere from the kitchen.
I was amazed at the surroundings, after arriving at night we hadn’t yet see the epic-ness that encompassed us, yet with the sun now beginning to shine its rays, our location came into full view. It was breathtaking.
Enjoying the sunrise
I had remind myself that I was actually here and this was actually real as the situation we had woken up to was almost unbelievable. Azure waters lapped at a white sandy bay, as we bobbed gently under cloudless blue skies.
Jmayel and I took the dingy over to the island while we waited for breakfast to be served to film some shots for the movie and make use of the early morning light.
J with the flying drone
Looking back at the boat from the sandy beach, it sat so proudly on the water, like a puffed up peacock striving for attention. Yet there was no one else around to appreciate the boat, the great thing about this trip is that there were no other boats. It was just us, alone out here in the Andaman Sea, 20 miles from the mainland. The boat had taken us to pure idyllic peace.
It was good to feel the fine sand between my toes and feel the early morning golden light on my skin. The world before me looked beautiful. After some time in this pristine little cove we headed back to the boat for food and to get ready for the day ahead.
We had been told we were going to a traditional Moken fishing village. The Moken are an ethnic group who traditionally live off the sea and live a semi nomadic lifestyle. Once again I was unsure of what to expect.
A Moken ‘Sea Gypsy’ Village in the Mergui Islands
Drawing close to the village on Nyaung Wee island, we all decanted once again from the boat into the dingy to be taken ashore to meet the villagers.
Excitable Moken children
The sight of the yacht must have drawn some attention as we were greeted by a large group of over excitable children, all running and laughing, eager to check out these strange new comers to their island who were brandishing cameras and funny pieces of filming equipment. They were quick to find Janis, a crew member who had brought along packs of crayons to hand out to them.
A couple of my favorite shots
We walked along the sandy waterline strewn with glass bottles, fishing nets, ragged ropes, shards of wood and broken seashells. The barefoot children circling us, a continuous chorus of ‘Mingalaba’ Hello in Burmese, mixed with youthful laughter and shouts.
Walking along with the children
Seeing the life on this island, unchanged for years and seemingly untouched by all Western influences, until a group of children gathered in front of Jmayels camera to show off their dancing and singing skills to ‘Gangnam Style’ – it was a very funny moment, it seems no matter how isolated you may be in the world, catchy pop songs will always find you!
After a little while a young girl began to sidle closer to me, she was older then some of the other children and took it upon herself to take charge around them and organize them into groups for photos.
With a shy smile she reached up to touch my hair and stroke my arm before I sat down on the sand with her. Despite the language barrier I managed to find out the girl was 11 years old and liked seashells.
I told her I too liked shells and with this information she skipped off, seconds later coming back with a tiny pretty pink shell which she held out for me to take. Emotions welled up inside of me as I said ‘chezu-tinbade’ (thank you in Burmese) I was touched.
Looking for shells
Seeing this transaction between us, the rest of the children in the group decided they also wanted to find me seashells and it turned into a big game. Them running off and returning with bigger and bigger shells, some of said shells came with the bonus of live crabs and urchins still living inside. My friendly girl kept the order by sending the children away who had not brought a good enough shell, after words were spoken and the original one thrown on the floor, they would head off in search of another. Smiles, laughing and lots of Chezu-tinbades followed, it appeared there was now a universal language of seashell.
We spent a couple of hours taking in the life of these Moken villagers and I left feeling rather humbled. I absolutely loved the time we spent there, and for me, just that short while, made the entire trip. It is seeing and getting to experience things like this that make it all worthwhile.
Out in the Andaman Sea, in the middle of this scattered group of 800 islands, miles from anywhere, live a community of people that you would never know was there, and we got to meet them.
Jmayel showing the kids his photos
Back on the yacht, exhausted after being out in the heat and sun, I lay on our bed in the cabin as the engines were started up and we prepared to head to our next location of the day and I reveled in the already precious memories of what we had just seen.
A fishing hut on the island
Sailing in the Mergui Archipelago
Not long later and there was some elated activity coming from the crew, quickened paces and an excited commotion began up on the deck. The wind had picked up and it had reached a perfect sailing speed, it was time to release the yachts sails for the first time on the trip and really see what she could do.
After being instructed on where to stand on deck so as to be out of harm’s way for when the sails were released, there was much pulling on ropes, cranking winches and communication from the crew, we watched and filmed the action unfolding. Within a matter of minutes the Meta IV opened up her sails like an eagle spreading its mighty wings, the engines were cut and suddenly there was no noise. We had got so used to hearing the dull rumblings of the engines that without them it now seemed strange.
The Meta’s Sails
The wind caught in the sails and blew them out, dragging us at speed along the waves. I was surprised at how fast we continued to move, using just natural powers.
The whole boat keeled to the left and we stood starboard, the motion of the boat changed instantly, going from a steady solid movement to an angled tilt, making walking difficult. We sat in the seating area, enjoying this natural, quiet way of being transported across the ocean, though it was short lived and less than an hour later the wind had dropped, almost as if it had lost interest in us, changing direction to go in search of another toy.
Sailing the Mergui Islands
The previously teased and tousled sails were once more rolled away and we reverted back to engine power. That was our first proper taste of sailing. We got to experience the sails twice more on the trip, living in the mercy of the wind and whether or not it wanted to play.
The day lazily carried on as we continued across the vast expanse of water, I stood at the helm of the boat, feeling every inch the explorer. I watched these new and unique areas we were heading toward come in to view and then pass by, I felt like the first person to ever see them and with every new place we saw, I wanted to discover more. Yet I would have to wait.
With the days light faded and the boats anchor dropped for another night in yet some other secluded and unexplored area, another restaurant standard meal was served to us and we ate until our bellies were full.
We swayed languidly on the top of the ocean and once again Jmayel and I sat and watched the twinkling stars reflected in the sparkling water, a milky crescent moon smiling down on us. Our minds reeling from all that we had seen and experienced, we were already excited for what tomorrow would bring.
I woke to the engines starting up, rested and refreshed, the room already bright with luminous rays coming in from the little skylight window above me. I made my way up onto the deck as we began our days sailing. The wind tickled the hair escaping from my ponytail against my face as I sat and gazed out at the endless watery world before us, a freshly made mug of coffee in my hands.
Me relaxing on deck
There was no longer any concept of time on the boat, there were no emails to reply to, or rather, if there were we didn’t know about them or even care. There was no internet, no cell phones and most of all, no stress. I had lost touch with reality. Being on board the Meta IV was tranquility at its peak and I didn’t want it to end.
Hours passed by before we reached our destination and a late afternoon BBQ lunch was organized on the beach of the island that was going to be our new home for the night.
Jmayel and I walked hand in hand as we embedded fresh footprints in the fine white grains of sand.
Me&J making frsh prints on the sand
We paddled out into the emerald sea and I made a starfish shape as I floated on top of the clear water. My eyes gazing upwards into the cloudless blue, I saw Jmayel in fragments through wet eyelashes and sun flares and right then, in the sea, in that one moment, life couldn’t have been more perfect.
The Andaman Sea all to myself
We made our way back to the group who had all returned from their individual snorkeling, kayaking and exploring adventures, a hearty spread had been cooked up on the coals and we feasted on the sand, washing down the meats and freshly caught fish with white wine spritzers and iced water.
Strolling along the beach
We all relaxed on this deserted beach until the sun began to set and show off its ember hues, turning the sky from wispy blue to a warm honeyed orange flecked with pastel pinks.
Reluctantly we cleared the beach of our belongings and heaved our lethargic and sun weary limbs back up onto the boat. Looking back at where we had just spent a handful of delectable hours, all trace of our being there gone. It was now just a memory for us to keep.
Many deserted Islands
With nothing around us but islands and water, disturbed sporadically by the occasional local fishing boat, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more places there were like this. Undiscovered pockets of tranquility, but no sooner had these thoughts crossed my mind was I thinking of how long it would stay like this. Peaceful and unruffled. Would one day in the not so distant future these waters that we had sailed alone over the last 4 days be festooned with day trippers, and ugly sightseeing boats filled with sun screened gawkers, ticking off a box on their bucket list. The serene islands becoming home to crowded sands of sun loungers and beach snack bars.
I’m sure it is inevitable, in time, the Mergui Islands will find their place on the traveler’s map as they become more accessible and Myanmar opens up itself more and more to tourism. But for the time being, they were all mine. They are a place to become an explorer, you can be a pioneer of these little known islands, and with no distractions, it is easy to forget the rest of the world, living out far away fantasies from the story books you read as a child. You are an adventurer.
All too soon, we were nearing Kawthaung once again, thanking the crew and captain for an incredible trip, we disembarked the yacht and made our way back to the mainland.
Like a whisper on the waves, and as suspected at the start, this unique boat had indeed opened up its heart and spilled out its inner most secrets to us. And like a childhood friend, I soundlessly locked them away.
My feet were now back on solid concrete ground once again, though I struggled, the path beneath me still took on a swaying, rocking motion, my sea legs were no longer needed yet I didn’t seem to want to let them go. It was time to get used to this living on shore life again, one step at a time…..
Burma Boating offers both charter sailing holidays and exclusive private hire of the Meta IV, including a full crew – perfect for groups of friends, accommodating up to 8 passengers. From November to April the Meta IV sails regularly around the Mergui Islands on 5 night adventures. You can book a room on board and join a trip or splash out and indulge in the luxury of having the whole boat to yourself.
Whether it’s a trip of a lifetime, or your looking for a different type of escape for your next holiday. Sailing the Mergui Islands with Burma Boating is worth every penny.
To find out if we can make a corporate video for you, contact us at email@example.com
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home