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Trip report: Myanmar's Macleod Island – a tiny island paradise

March 2013

 

FionaMacleod Island is a tiny island paradise some 40 miles off the coast of  Myanmar’s deep south, close to the Thai border and one of some 800 such islands - heavenly teardrops in the Andaman Sea that make up the Mergui Archipelago. Here just twenty two huts nestle among palms just steps from the glorious white sandy beach and turquoise water beyond. I’ve just returned from a few days in this most extraordinary environment…

I’ll remember it as the sounds of Mergui. The boom of waves onto the beach just metres from my room, two-tone cicadas and the chi-chi’ of geckos sparring for wall space, the flutter of fruit bats in the trees. I’m lying on my bed under a whirring fan. The view is straight through double doors out to the beach and bay beyond. Last night I slept to the sound of crashing waves. I feel my pulse is slowing. This is the stuff of dreams…

Next day my quest for adventure was assuaged with a tough early morning ascent of the peak behind the lodge for a view to the other side of the island. It was a sweaty climb. I’d come to the fixed ropes section (I’m not joking) and it was about to get a lot tougher. Thoughts of Everest (I happened to be reading a book on climbing at the time) flashed through my mind. Far below me, the luxuriant foliage of the jungle with its exotic butterflies and banana plantations fell sharply away and above me it seemed close to vertical. Not yet 7am and already the strength of the sun’s rays were seeping through the trees. More than an hour later, my efforts were well rewarded  with the view from the top – the thickly wooded hillside sloped away below me, sharply in some places, to the glorious crescent bay below fringed aquamarine and the palest of sand like some heaven-sent natural rainbow.

Soon after it was time to return to the water. I snorkelled in brilliant bays amid corals of deep purple and fish of kaleidoscope colours and side-tracked into narrow caves where the water sloshed and echoed about the rocks and revealed its secret – a quorum of black tipped reef sharks. Much later we lunched on squid grilled over a charcoal fire barely hours out of the sea.

Perhaps for me, the best of the day was spent at a tiny fishing village, a single straw house in yet another impossibly stunning bay where we drank tea with the locals and bought fresh fish from the fishermen. We helped to catch squawking ducks, wandered among the squealing piglets ,ducks and chickens and exchanged smiles with the littler boys of the family.

Here in a rare stroke of good fortune we also encountered a Sea Gypsy family who’d come to the village to barter goods. These extraordinarily tough ethnic minority people – the Salones - are born at sea, live at sea and die at sea eeking out a living diving for pearls and shells on the sea bed. They speak their own language so communication was with much gesticulation, but we had some wonderful exchanges. Our departing gift to them was one of our snorkel sets – it felt good to be able to give something which would be of such great use.

On my last evening close to sunset, we took kayaks out into the bay and tying up along the rocky shoreline we sat on the yellow-white sand amid scuttling hermit crabs to watch the glowing orange ball dip over the horizon. Really just too perfect for words……

Macleod Island can be booked as an add on to the end of a mainland tour of Myanmar, or as a stand-alone beach holiday accessed from Bangkok, though special permits must be sought first if not entering Myanmar via Yangon. As transfers to and from the island take up to 2½ hours by boat, the service is only twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Hence itineraries can be three nights, four nights or seven nights long. Call us for more details.