Historical Gateway to the Southern Delights

Photo - Phyoe Nyan

Myanmar’s southern city of Myeik was not always part of Myanmar nor has it always been named ‘Myeik’ but it has always been an important, diverse and lively port city.

Initially, Myeik was a city at the southernmost point of the ancient and mighty Pagan Kingdom. After the kingdom fell in the 13th century, Myeik came under the rule of Siam, known today as Thailand. Myeik was one of the first cities in Myanmar to come under the rule of the British following the First Anglo-Burmese war (1826). The Japanese forces controlled the city briefly between 1941 and 1945, before the British regained control and finally, the Burmese having it back in their hands since independence in 1948.

  Gateway to the Archipelago
The city of Myeik serves as a gateway to the famed Mergui Archipelago, a collection of 800 idyllic and little-explored tropical islands which stretch along the southern coast of Myanmar to the southern city of Kawthaung. Having been cut off to the public for many decades and given the current restrictions on visitors as well as the inaccessible nature of the islands, they have been dubbed an untouched paradise; an undiscovered frontier; a secret tropical paradise.

One way of visiting the archipelago is by booking a live-aboard boat trip which leaves from Myeik or Kawthaung on the Myanmar side or Ranong or Phuket on the Thai side and spends four to seven days sailing from island to island. Due to hefty fees and permit requirements, many of these are difficult and expensive to partake in. Since 2015 restrictions on day trips in the islands have eased somewhat there are more and more day trip and shorter cruise options available from both Myeik and Kawthaung. 

From Myeik, licensed tour operators can take travellers on day trips or overnight trips for up to four days. These trips visit islands in the northern part of the archipelago and offer opportunities for visiting fishing villages, snorkelling, relaxing on white-sand beaches and swimming in crystal-clear waters. For overnight tours, accommodation is usually on board the boat.

Islands accessible from Myeik include Thamee Hla Island and Marcus Island which have beautiful beaches and swimming and snorkelling activities. Smart Island is said to be one of the best snorkelling sites in the archipelago and Dome and Basal Islands which both have waterfalls.

Things to do in Myeik
Owing to its colourful history, the town of Myeik has a rich diversity of cultures, religions and architecture. Taking a walk down the major thoroughfare of Bogyoke Street you will pass the clock tower erected during socialist times, followed by Thein Daw Gyi Pagoda on the hill overlooking the town. Further on is a colourful Chinese Buddhist temple and the street is dotted with many buildings designed in Chinese and European style.

At an intersection of the street you will see the Assumption Catholic Church which was built by Portuguese residents in 1862. Exploring further east of this street you will find colourful mosques like the bright blue Zaygaung Mosque and more stately mansions such as the famous residence of Mr. E. Ahmed a renowned businessman who dealt in pearl extraction, tin mining and rubber plantations among others.

Take a drive along Phaya Gyi Street to see an impressive and uninterrupted collection of temples, shrines and monasteries all along one street. Some of the temple complexes can be entered but most of them are closed family shrines.

A short motorbike trip outside the town will bring you to a soft-shell crab farm where you can watch the laborious workings of the farm. There is a shipyard at the bridge going out of Myeik towards towards Yangon. This a fascinating insight into the process of creating large and small ships from raw timber to sea-worthy vessels as well as renovation works on fishing trawlers during the rainy season. As this is a working yard, caution is advised and having a guide might give you access inside one of the ships under construction.

The best way to visit all the above mentioned sights as well as to get inside information about the history and workings of the town is to hire a local tour guide. Phwe Oo (097-7638-1149) is an experienced guide with good English and a vast knowledge of Myeik. Alternatively, arrange a guide through your hotel and take a half or full day tour.

Traditional Myeik Food
As with many parts of Myanmar, there are some special local delicacies that you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to order while you are in Myeik. Ket kyi kite is a Myeik style of fried noodles that comes with beansprouts, boiled beans, spring onions and sliced squid, prawn or any other meat you fancy. It is cheap and delicious and can be ordered to your preferred spice level.

Arpone is a sweet and delicious pancake-style snack that is popular with Myeik residents at any time of the day. A rice flour base is fried and sweet and moist egg mixture is cooked on top. Coconut shavings are another popular version of the snack which usually costs around 350 Kyats.

Info Box:
If you are planning to go to the islands, make sure you allow yourself an extra day or two to explore the city of Myeik.

Accommodation: Eain Taw Phyu Hotel is a comfortable and modern hotel in a garden setting with a small pool. Rooms from $65. Myint Mo Hotel is a good budget option with clean, spacious rooms though a little further from the downtown area. Rooms from $23.

Transportation: MNA flies from Yangon to Myeik daily. Tickets costs $160 for foreigners or K83,000 for locals each way. Buses to/from Yangon take approximately 16 hours and tickets cost $20-25.

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Marie is copy editor and writer at My Magical Myanmar since 2016. From Ireland but living in Myanmar for the past five years, she specializes in travel writing and hotel and restaurant reviews. Her writing and photography have been published in numerous local as well as major international publications including Al Jazeera and The Irish Times. Her passion lies with exploring unknown destinations and discovering diverse ethnic cuisines."""


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