Beautiful Places and Moments: Myanmar

Mergui Archipelago, Southern Myanmar

When cycling the world, visa duration is a serious consideration. Upon entering Thailand we were issued a 28 day stamp, as no actual visa is required for many nationalities. While this certainly saved us some money, it didn’t ease the slight tension that goes with pedalling with a time restriction. Nevertheless we thought it would be enough and were just grateful for the ease of entry. We were planning to cycle from Trat (border with southern Cambodia) to Satun (border with northern Malaysia). This is around 1500km. So the daily distance calculation was fine, but it did not leave much time for side trips and relaxing.

We began to find our rhythm in this friendly and relatively developed country (compared to most others on our tour thus far) after only a few days and quickly discovered that bike touring here is wonderful. We really didn’t want to rush, so after running a workshop in a school and hopping across the gulf to Hua Hin, we started looking at our options for extending our stay. In short; it is possible to extend the days on the visa-free regime by applying at any of the dozen or so immigration offices around the country. We were willing to do this and pay the fee in order to avoid overstay penalties, but then the idea came to mind of dipping into Myanmar. We are glad it did.

The new Myanmar E-visa ($50-  3 day processing) enables many tourists to enter at airports and some land/sea ports including Ranong-Kawthuang in the extreme south. There is very little information about this on the internet as anything other than a ‘Visa-Run’ for tourists/sexpats in Thailand wanting to go out-and-in for another 30 day stamp.

We had to dig around to find out whether there were any trips we could do to see some of Myanmar for a few days. There most certainly are. Using Kawthuang as a base a few tour companies offer 1 or 2 day boat trips to islands in the Mergui Archipelago. We visited 4 islands in the south including the entertainingly named Cock’s Comb, and staying in a wooden bungalow next to the beach on Horseshoe Island. It was basic but blissful. We were delighted to be pretty much on our own snorkelling and kayaking, playing frisbee and kicking- back.

Many islands in south east asia are now overdeveloped for tourism and their beauty and isolation somewhat compromised because of it. These little islands in Myanmar though are still uninhibited, untamed and au-naturale. Well worth the trip even if pricey at $180 dollars all in, but it’s difficult to put a price-tag on that experience.

The logistics involved with getting to the jumping off point, the town of Kawthuang, were not clear when we arrived at the Thai frontier. To be fair, everyone was helpful and finding a boat (yes this is a by sea entry point) to take us across on the 30 minute ride to Myanmar was easy. After some bargaining with eager drivers, it cost us about $7 to get ourselves and bikes across. When arriving in Kawthuang  remember to report to immigration at the dock. We forgot to do this for 5 hours and only remembered when sipping beers after we had ridden right out of town to Pulo Tonton island, a good place to go as an out-and-back day ride if you want to experience the diverse culture of this part of the country. Thankfully the immigration process when we arrived back in to Kawthuang town was simple and involves no more payment.

I have mixed feelings about the town.  It sure is different to Thailand; Intermittent power, Indian/Malay food and spices, ludicrously cheap drinks ($2 for a litre of Rum). Overall I think the change of environment and atmosphere broke up our Thai ride perfectly. However, we sure were glad to get back to 7-eleven and Cafe Amazon land, with a fresh 30 day stamp in our passports.

We chose Life Seeing Tours for the islands. They were fine. I think there must be some tacit collusion on pricing between operators. Many service the wealthier tourists staying at the Victoria Cliff Resort and pick up from there and Kawthuang’s main pier.

Follow our journey around the world on www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

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About Matthew and Niamh

Matthew Good and Niamh Conway are international school teachers who met while working at the British School of Lome, in Togo, West Africa. They later moved to Uzbekistan, where they spent four years at Tashkent International School, each summer exploring another slice of the world by bike. Now the pair is on a bicycle world tour for two years. Niamh is an elementary school teacher originally from Limerick, Ireland who got her start in an Irish National School. Matthew is an Economics & Business Teacher from Watford, England who began his career at a comprehensive school near London. The Pedalgogy website features a blog and a photo gallery, while providing advice and maps for those interested in planning bike tours. As the touring teachers travel the world, they have been creating an online learning resource called Tedweb. By running workshops in schools, they now have a growing collection of stories from children around the world, allowing them to develop an awareness as global citizens. They have also been fundraising for the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association U.K.
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One Response to Beautiful Places and Moments: Myanmar

  1. Fascinating trip! It has been my dream to drive from India’s northeastern states (Assam, Nagaland, Manipur) into Myanmar and onward to Thailand through Chang Mai and Bangkok. Right now the state of the roads would make it impossible, but PM Modi has talked about building a highway to connect India to the region.

    I have reservations about traveling in Myanmar with their human rights abuses and crackdown of the Rohingya people in Rakhine state, but the idea of visiting their southernmost islands fascinates me.

    Also on my list of things to see are the nearby islands of Andaman and Nicobar, which although relatively close to Myanmar, belong to India. I hear they are relatively untouched and underdeveloped and would love to see them before they turn into big tourist destinations like Goa!

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