DIVING IN BURMA
Diving in Burma’s Mergui Archipelago and at the Burma Banks is an unique experience and an ideal destination for divers seeking an alternative to Thailand’s busy Similan Islands. With few dive operators visiting this remote destination and over 800 islands in the archipelago each trip feels like an adventure of discovery.
NOTE: DIVING SEASON
The diving season is from November to April!
From May to mid October the South-West Monsoon blows in from the Indian Ocean bringing the chance of heavy rainfall, gusty winds and high waves which can be highly dangerous for marine vessels. Lack of communication in this remote area make it extremely dangerous to enter!
CURRENT CONDITIONS OF THE MERGUI
There is a lot of conflicting information about the current conditions both in the Mergui Archipelago and at the Burma Banks. When the area was opened up to the first exploratory dive trips in 1997 divers discovered sites teeming with fish life and guaranteed world class shark and ray encounters. A longstanding dive buddy recounts diving with hundreds of Silvertip sharks at Silvertip Bank back in the early 2000’s. ‘In Through the Outdoor’ dive site at the Three Islets is often referred to as ‘Shark Cave’ where divers could get up close and personal with Grey reef sharks in a confined underwater canyon.
Around this time several guide books were published describing the location, conditions and expected sightings at the best sites in the Mergui Archipelago. These books have formed the main source of reference for practically all websites promoting the diving in the area. The information is sadly well out of date. With the sudden rise in popularity of the area, so too came interested from Chinese long-lining boats and Thai commercial fisheries. One season the Burmese military junta closed the area to allow Chinese boats to strip the Burma Banks of it’s healthy shark populations.
Blast fishing, inaccurately labelled dynamite fishing has and continues to plague the region. The bombs are actually a crude chemical mix that explodes when it comes into contact with sea water. The Burmese Navy have to date been unsuccessful in tackling the problem. The bombs are manufactured by unscrupulous Thai business men on a small Moken island near Ranong in neighbouring Thailand.
On a more positive note, the South East Asian coral bleaching of 2010 had little affect on the corals in Burma compared with Thailand. Burma dive sites have healthy hard corals and an abundance of soft corals and giant sea fans. Stronger currents and cooler water temperatures provide more nutrients for the coral reef systems. Compared with Thailand there is more fish life and more diversity of species. These resilient dive sites in the Mergui Archipelago even bounce back quickly after bombing.
As dive guides working in both the Similan Islands and the Mergui Archipelago, a trip to Burma fills us with more excitement than any other destination. In one dive alone at the Burma Banks more sharks were sighted than an entire season in the Similan Islands. Diving at Black Rock is an unforgettable experience, this remote rocky pinnacle has regular sightings of Giant manta rays. The Three Islets, in our opinion way surpasses Richelieu Rock in terms of quantity and diversity of underwater life.
As long as you are well informed and have a realistic idea of what to expect, not relying on out of date guide books and websites and you dive with experienced dive guides, you can certainly have exciting and thrilling dives in the Mergui Archipelago.
With websites promoting out of date information, scuba forums with bad reviews and comments about the downside of diving in Burma and also blog articles with positive stories, what can you really expect from diving in the Mergui Archipelago and at the Burma Banks?
DIVING IN BURMA, WHAT CAN I EXPECT?
There is one best aspect of diving in Burma that can seldom be found these days at any of the world’s popular diving destinations, in the Mergui Archipelago you can expect to be the only divers at a particular dive site. The remoteness and size of the area, serviced by only a handful of operators means very few boats are there at any given time. Each dive you are often the first divers in the water to explore undisturbed sites. As there is no rush to beat other boats into the water the diving is conducted at a leisurely, relaxing pace.
Underwater photographers find the lack of divers on dive sites extremely appealing. You can dive here at you own speed and take as much time as you wish when you find suitable subjects to photograph. Dense soft coral gardens and huge gorgonian sea fans surrounded by reef and glass wish provide wonderful opportunities for wide angle photography. A large variety of macro life, including sea horses, pipefish, frogfish, harlequin shrimp, tiny cowries and numerous unusual nudibranches can keep macro photography enthusiasts busy for entire dives. Rare finds are much more common in Burma than in Thailand, nearly every trip there throws up some species we have not yet encountered, some species not commonly found in the Andaman Sea.
Compared with the Similan Islands, diving in Burma attracts more experienced divers. You can expect to find yourself in the company of well travelled adventurers who have dived at many locations around the globe. Divers enjoy a sense of freedom when diving in Mergui and can often go at their own pace. There is no need for an entire group to surface when only one of the group gets low on air. Buddy pairs are encouraged to dive longer if their air supply permits. This doesn’t limited the destination to experienced divers only, the diving is slightly more advanced than in Thailand. However it is recommended to hold a least an advanced diving certification.
Visibility can vary greatly in the Mergui Archipelago depending on the time of year and prevailing weather conditions. From December onwards the more westerly dive sites should have visibility comparable with the Similan Islands. Some of the easterly dive sites which are closer to shore or large islands can have reduced visibility, but are often more productive ecosystems with plenty of fish life.
The vast majority of islands in the archipelago and the best dive sites are limestone rock. Expect to see stunning underwater topography, interesting rock formations, swim throughs and caves.Crayfish Cave at Western Rocky features a large underwater tunnel that runs from one side of the rocky pinnacle to the other that can be navigated safely without the use of lines.
GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR BURMA SCUBA DIVING
There are currently on a handful of operators visiting the Mergui Archipelago, even less prepared to make the long haul out to the Burma Banks. Often a limited schedule is the deciding factor when planning a dive trip to Burma.
If possible, when choosing your trip, look for a trip that covers longer distances and a more varied selection of dive sites. If one area has reduced visibility or perhaps has been hit hard by fishing activities then heading to entirely different part of the region can often bring more favourable conditions.
No trip to Burma is complete without visiting Black Rock or the Three Islets, two of the regions best dive sites. Some trips still visit the Burma Banks when conditions allow. Although no where near as good as the past, the Banks still offer amazing drift diving, pristine corals and sea fans with a good chance of spotting larger pelagics.
There is a resort on McCloud Island in the southern portion of the Mergui Archipelago which offers day trip diving packages to many of the surrounding dive sites including Western Rocky, Fan Forest Pinnacle and the Three Islets.
If you have the time, by far the best way to experience the best the Andaman Sea has to offer is on a liveaboard offering select longer trips which include the best of Burma and Thailand, including the Burma Banks. See our selection of extended Burma and Thailand liveaboards.