Burma liveaboard at McCleod Island in the Mergui Archipelago
A Burma liveaboard trip is the best way to enjoy scuba diving in the Mergui Archipelago and at the Burma Banks. If you have enjoyed diving in Thailand before or you’re simply looking for a dive destination to get away from the crowds, then diving in Burma could really add a new dimension to your experiences so far.
WHY A BURMA LIVEABOARD?
A liveaboard to Burma is essentially the only option to explore all that the Mergui Archipelago and Burma Banks has to offer. There are few alternatives to a Burma liveaboard. The only Burma day trip diving is from the Andaman Resort on McCleod Island, which covers many great Mergui dive sites, but not all, due to the resorts location and the sometimes vast distances between dive sites. The Mergui Archipelago comprises of over 800 Islands scattered along a coastline stretching for over 450km from Kaw Thuang in the south and far beyond the historical town of Mergui in the north, covering an area of approximately 2150km2.
There are currently only a limited number of liveaboards operating in the Mergui Archipelago, meaning that you are almost guaranteed to be the only boat at the dive site. Diving in Burma offers a much more relaxed approach; as probably the only divers in the area, you can take your time and dive at your own pace and in your own space. This approach to diving offers the most productive and efficient way to build up your dive log. Liveaboards can be a lot of fun too, especially in a fairly deserted and remote area such as Burma’s Mergui Archipelago. While it has been explored fully, the Andaman Sea here still reveals new and interesting marine life on each excursion, making a Burma liveaboard an excellent option for underwater explorers.
Due to the distances travelled, Burma liveaboards tend to be longer than their counterparts in Thailand. It is not possible to cover the best dive sites in only four days, so five days is considered the minimum. Some boats even add a few extra days exploring Thailand’s top sites including Richelieu Rock, Koh Tachai and Koh Bon over six to nine days.
Burma liveaboards tend to attract more experienced divers, meaning that if you’re experienced you will almost definitely get to dive in a group with comparable experience levels. That’s not to say that beginners can’t dive here though, as long as you are with a reputable and experienced company, any experience level should be able to get a lot out of diving in the Mergui Archipelago.
SAFETY CONCERNS TO BE AWARE OF
Despite the fact that Burma has been open for diving since 1997, no infrastructure has been developed to date, to accommodate the diving industry. There are no medical facilities or chambers available for diving accidents in Burma, and due to local politics it can often be a struggle to get any help in the Mergui Archipelago. If accidents happen, and they occasionally do, the only chance of assistance is back in Thailand: the re-compression chamber may be up to 24 hours away.
Please read the following advice before choosing your diving operator.
– Check that the boat operator has a satellite telephone
There is no cellphone coverage and no radio communications in Burma.
– Do not push your limits while diving
– if you feel tired, dehydrated or if you’re simply not up to a dive, don’t do it.
Don’t feel that you have to dive just because you have paid for it, or that you might be missing out on something. A trip back to land will be a lot more disruptive to your holiday. Your diving buddies will also respect you a lot more for being cautious; remember, heading back to shore for medical assistance ends everyones trip not just your own. Enriched Air Nitrox is highly recommended. Check that you operator can supply at least a 32% blend.
– Beware of out of date or misleading information
– Burma is discovered.
Some operators will lead you to believe that you are going on a voyage of discovery, that the Mergui Archipelago is an area of unchartered waters.
The first exploratory trips to the Burma Banks were made in the early 1990’s. In 1997 the Mergui Archipelago was opened up to dive boats and there has been a steady flow of operators exploring the region ever since. If operators are promoting “Undiscovered Burma” then this means that they are new to the region and are exploring the area themselves, possibly at your expense.
Due to the safety concerns and the remote conditions in Burma, it is important to travel and dive there with an experienced team who know what they are doing. Thailand Dive and Sail have been diving in Burma for more than 10 years. We know these waters well and are experienced with the logistics; especially having taken part as tour leaders on various discovery trips and Manta Ray research expeditions. If you have any concerns over a dive operators schedule or procedures please contact us for advice.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
As outlined in the Similan Liveaboard ‘What to Expect?‘, the same approach must be taken with Burma Liveaboards. You get what you pay for.
Unlike choosing a liveaboard in the Similans, there is limited choice when looking to dive in the Mergui Archipelago. There are three categories to choose from: Budget, Mid-range and High-end, with a few options in each one. Each itinerary is different, some offer extended trips which take in the Mergui Archipelago and visit the Similan Islands, Richelieu Rock, Koh Tachai and Koh Bon, and some head up to Burma for just a few days of diving in that area only.
As previously mentioned, it’s very important to be aware of the safety procedures and practices of a particular liveaboard before booking. Other considerations include duration, staff knowledge and experience, services provided and facilities on board. Once you have got an overall idea about these factors, choosing should be easy.
Dive with a smile :)
Budget-end Burma Liveaboards
In the budget category of Burma liveaboards there are limited reputable choices. These boats usually start from Ranong, a town between Thailand and Burma. They more often than not take larger groups of people and cabins will range from double, to twin, to quad bunk, all with shared bathroom facilities. Dining facilities are mostly shaded and meals will be served buffet style in the communal area. Some boats will offer complimentary tea, coffee and snacks throughout the day. A sun deck should be present on any liveaboard category, the size of this area will vary greatly, as will the space available on the dive deck and in the kitting up area. As it is a budget boat expect these spaces to be fairly small and often quite cramped because of the number of divers on board. Some budget boats will offer Nitrox to divers, but make sure you check that they can supply all of your dives for that trip. It’s also important to make sure that the Nitrox is at least 32%.
Mid-range Burma Liveabaords
Obviously the mid-range offer comes with a price increase, expect this to be about 50% more than the budget options available. For this you will have a trip onboard a very decent quality boat with experienced staff. Occasionally a mid-range boat will offer quad and triple bunk cabins, but usually they will be twin and double rooms. They will almost certainly be air-conditioned and have en-suite facilities and whatever the cabin configuration you should expect only 16-20 divers on board. Mid-range liveaboard boats usually have a good sized lounge with entertainment facilities and air conditioning. There will be a space to prepare camera equipment and photo editing too. The menu will be more varied than the budget option liveaboard, and snacks and beverages will most certainly be available throughout the day, served in a spacious dining area. There will be a shaded sun deck and also one in full light of the sun, and you can also assume that the kitting up area and dive platform will be large and roomy, giving you amble space to prepare for a dive.
High-end Burma Liveaboards
There are fewer high-end liveaboard options available for diving in the Mergui Archipelago. They are approximately double the price of their mid-range counterparts and also offer double the comfort. Accommodation will be in deluxe twin or double air conditioned and en-suite cabins, you can expect the level of quality and service to be similar to that of a luxury hotel room. State of the art entertainment systems are fitted in each cabin and each one is provided with a minibar, daily room service, wardrobe space, bathrobes and a more than ample supply of fresh towels.
The capacity will be between 11-16 people, meaning that it will be a more intimate and personal trip. Communal areas will be plush and spacious; there will be an outdoor and an indoor air-conditioned dining area with full hostess service. Menus fit the high-end category with creative meals and food items such as ice cream and cakes, made freshly onboard. The dive deck will be spacious and there should be plenty of room for kitting up, preparing your camera and rinsing tanks. Enriched Air Nitrox should be readily available. Most high-end Burma liveaboards have a masseuse on board, or at least a member of staff trained in this area. This means that when not diving you can relax on the sun deck and breathe in the sea air.
As previously visited in ‘safety information’ it’s important to research your trip well before making a booking. The foremost important aspect of any liveaboard, regardless of price bracket, is safety equipment and procedures. Make sure that any liveaboard you consider has:
– knowledgeable staff who have experience in the Mergui Archipelago
– adequate safety and communication equipment
– a life raft
– emergency oxygen enough for 24 hours
– a complete stock of first aid supplies with staff trained in their use
Thailand Dive and Sail set high safety standards, especially when recommending Burma liveaboards. We simply do not work with vessels that don’t meet our approval.
It is usual for Burma Liveaboards to enforce a policy of only 4 divers per professional dive guide, some offer Nitorx for free and others charge a price per dive or a package price for the entire trip. It is also possible to take PADI or SSI courses on board a Burma liveaboard. We recommend that you are an Advanced Open Water diver for the sites in the Mergui Archipelago. If you need to continue your diving education, view learning to dive on a Burma liveaboard.
One thing that you can certainly expect on any level liveaboard is delicious Thai food and fresh fruit. This comes as standard no matter how much you pay for your trip. It is one of the joys of starting your liveaboard in Thailand.
Thailand Dive and Sail have extensive experience of diving in the Mergui Archipelago and of planning and carrying out liveaboard trips. To date we have many happy and satisfied customers who we’ve helped to choose the right liveaboard option for them. Contact us if you would like any advice or help with planning the right trip for you.
Learn to dive :)
LEARNING TO DIVE ON A BURMA LIVEABOARD
Learning to dive on a Burma Liveaboard requires some extra thought. There are not many dive sites suitable for skills practice and due to long distances between dive sites, the boat might not be stationary for long enough to conduct exercises. Having said this, it has been done and with suitable pre-planning, previous pool sessions and the right instructor, it is possible and can be a fantastic first experience of diving.
Thailand Dive and Sail have experience in conducting Open Water Courses and other modules in the Mergui Archipelago. Our advice for those looking to complete a course in Burma is research very well before you go. As already mentioned in “Safety Concerns to be Aware of”, it’s of the utmost importance that anyone wishing to visit this diving destination makes sure that they know what they are letting themselves in for. If you are planning on studying onboard a liveaboard then make sure you ask the boat operator lots of questions before booking and departing.
Of course one of the most important aspects to take into consideration when planning to learn to dive is whether or not you will like it. Although most people forget that question quickly as soon as they make their way underwater, it is still something that can put people off committing to a three or four day liveaboard.
The reason why learning to dive on a liveaboard is potentially the best environment in which to learn is that not only are you amongst fellow divers of all experience levels who can share their knowledge with you, but you are also immersed into the magical marine environment. With plenty of divers around you for encouragement, and studying to do between dives, this is as intensive a training as you can get. Therefore, it is often the best method of learning to dive. You will leave the trip feeling like a long time professional.
It’s also easier to take care of the logistics of a course on board a Burma liveaboard. Your instructor will have more time to focus on the important aspects of your course and as you will be together for the four to eight days on board you will be able to maximise your time together. The boat will usually be equipped with DVDs, books and course material, but due to PADI’s flexible learning procedures, it also means you can do the modules on a tropical Burma beach. Don’t be concerned about having enough time or the speed at which you learn, with an average of 4 dives a day you will quickly whizz through it and get the chance to repeat and improve your skills.
Thailand Dive and Sail have an excellent pass rate and even have experience of teaching Junior Open Water Courses in Burma. If under 16’s can do it there, we believe that with the right mentoring, anyone can.
Please contact us if you would like any advice or if you require more information about learning to dive on a Burma liveaboard.
Ray of Hope Expeditions
Not only are Thailand Dive and Sail an experienced team of divers who have frequently explored the Mergui Archipelago on Burma liveaboard trips, but we have also had the honour to work with Dr. Andrea Marshall on all three of her Ray of Hope Expeditions to Burma and Thailand to tag, track and study Giant manta rays (Manta birostris).
On these expeditions we also founded the See and Sea Organisation, helping and working with the Moken people towards a brighter more sustainable future for the Burma region.
Andrea Marshall’s first Ray of Hope Expedition to the Mergui Archipelago was led by Clive and Ric in March 2011. This was an historical trip in the eyes of manta experts, conservationists and keen divers, as it was the first time a Giant manta ray was satellite tagged in SE Asia. After some initial setbacks two mantas were successfully tagged at Black Rock dive site. On this trip we also visited the Moken of Bo Cho Island bringing with us reading glasses for those in the community with poor eye sight. The visit also gave us valuable insight into the problems faced by the Moken in Burma and so See & Sea was founded for our future projects.
In 2012 Thailand Dive and Sail combined the second Ray of Hope Expedition to Burma and Thailandwith a more ambitious See and Sea Project to help the Moken in Burma. See and Sea collected reading glasses, school books, antibiotics, penicillin and Malaria medicine to distribute at Bo Cho Island in the Mergui Archipelago. Dr. Andrea Marshall was present once again lending her valuable assistance to the project. The trip saw another successful satellite tagging of a Giant manta ray. This Manta ray went on to make an epic migration and provided Andrea with the most interesting data to date.
Thailand Dive and Sail and Dr. Andrea Marshall joined forces once again in February 2013 on a Ray of Hope Expedition to the Mergui Archipelago and the Similan Islands aboard the luxurious SY Diva Andaman. This time the aim was to collect manta ray skin samples and to continue to collect I.D. Photographs. The trip was an excellent example of citizen science and the importance of collecting this type of information. A Giant manta ray photographed by Ric at Koh Tachai, Thailand, in December 2012 made an appearance at Black Rock in Burma, having travelled over 260 kilometres between the two sites. Thailand Dive and Sail was thrilled to be a part of this pivotal moment in manta tracking, seeing the results of our own collected data playing it’s part in important research for the conservation and protection of Manta Rays.
The Ray of Hope Expedition 2014 is set to visit the Mergui Archipelago once again. Dr. Andrea Marshall will be including us on her team to track mantas and continue with her vital work in protecting this species. The See and Sea Organisation to help the Moken in Burma will also be starting a new project in the Mergui Archipelago in 2014. Please contact us if you are interested in taking part in either of these exciting projects with Thailand Dive and Sail.