Burma dive sites
Where to dive in Burma
The Mergui (or Myeik) archipelago is an area of 14,000 sq miles that includes over 800 islands. Much of the area is still unexplored or still off limits to tourists. It is a largely untouched piece of paradise ideal for sailing, kayaking and diving.
In 1997 the Myanmar military government opened certain areas to Thailand liveaboard dive boats which started exploring the islands. They found some of the best diving in Asia including some high adrenaline shark dives. Although sharks aren’t as prevalent these days as they were, Burma diving is still superb and there are many more sites still to be discovered.
One of the best things about taking a liveaboard cruise in Burma’s Mergui archipelago is that you will hardly encounter another boat but will instead have dive sites to yourself. This makes a pleasant change to divers used to the busier reefs in neighboring Thailand.
Most islands are uninhabited save for some communities of Moken (sea gypsies). If the authorities can keep fishing trawlers and dynamite fishermen in check the Mergui archipelago will remain a divers wonderland but this is a big area to police effectively and divers will often encounter signs of destructive fishing on Burma reefs. Some fish and coral species can survive better than others but there is no doubt that the reefs would be better off without these practices.
Mergui archipelago islands are a mixture of granite boulder islands and limestone islands. Many have dense jungle vegetation and miles of white sand beaches.You probably wont see another dive boat on your Burma Liveaboard.
Due to the large area and the distance between dive sites (many of the best sites are in open ocean, miles from land) virtually all Burma diving is done from liveaboard safari boats. These liveaboard trips all depart from Thailand with Thai owned boats.
The closest departure point is Ranong which is a five hour drive from Phuket Island or a short flight from Bangkok. From Ranong the boat passes over the estuary to the Myanmar town of Kawthaung (previously called Victoria Point) where immigration formalities are handled before sailing north west into the Mergui archipelago. Many dive liveaboards combine Burma diving with dives in Thailand at the Similan Islands, Surin Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock. These boats depart from Phuket or Khao Lak. Frustratingly although Burmese waters are just a few miles north of Surin islands, it is necessary for the liveaboard boats to sail around 540 nautical miles to Ranong/Kawthaung to get passports stamped and then sail another 50 or so miles to the nearest dive site. This wastes about one day of diving and the extra miles add to the cost of the cruise. These formalities are fairly straight forward, your tour leader and boat captain will take care of it for you.
Mergui Archipelago Dive Site Facts
Hot and Sunny Tropical climate. February to May are usually the hottest months. October is usually the wettest month.
Average of 27°C year round though can go up to 29°C and occasionally drops to 24°C.
When To Go
Liveaboards dive the Mergui Archipelago is between November and April, boats don’t run from May to October. Strong winds from November to early January can create waves especially at the Burma banks. The ideal time to dive is February to April.
A 3mm shorty to 5mm long wetsuit.
5m to 50m. Not as good as the Similan Islands although can be excellent at times.
Reefs, drop offs, pinnacles, caverns, caves, swim-thoughs, walls, boulders.
Intermediate to advanced. Most divers on Burma liveaboard safaris are quite experienced divers and learning to dive on the liveaboards is not an option. Although there are some easy dive sites, many of the best dives are in exposed locations with surface waves, strong currents and surge. Some dive sites are quite deep
Once famous for sharks, notably Silvertips. Also white tip reef, grey reef, black tip reef, tawny nurse plus occasional bull, tiger and scalloped hammerhead sharks. Mantas are common at many dive sites and a couple of sites get squadrons of mobular (devil) rays. The under appreciated side of Burma diving is the quality of the smaller marine life.
Most trips include an hour or so at Kawthaung (Victoria Point). Burmese authorities strictly control where boats can visit but some island stops may be possible when not sailing between dive sites (long distances are involved). Some liveaboards have kayaks on board.