Comprising some 800 islands north and east of Burma Banks, the Mergui Archipelago is the secret jewel in the Andaman Sea. Some islands have huge boulders, soft corals and sea fans. Others offer wall diving, caverns, tunnels and drop-offs. All have remained relatively untouched by the passage of time these last fifty years, and they maintain a out-of-this-world mystique of years gone by. When voyaging on a Burma diving liveaboard you really can forget your worries, on a journey of discovery, unhurried by time and untroubled by others, as you explore these fascinating and secluded islands.
Residents and visitors include grey reef, bull, nurse and whale sharks; schools of mobula (devil) rays and manta rays are frequently seen. The Mergui Archipelago, however, is equally attractive to macro enthusiasts and underwater photographers, with plentiful frogfish, ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, as well as masses of crustaceans.
Although there are some simple resorts dotted around, they can be hard to get to and only give you access to a few local sites. The top dive sites in Burma's Andaman Sea are spread out over a huge area so really, liveaboards are the only way to go. You can choose between Similans and Mergui combination trips, or safaris that focus on Burma only. Most charters are a week long but some of the more low cost options run shorter cruises.
Shark Cave plays home to a group of nurse sharks although the entrance is often crowded with the grey reef sharks, silver sweetlips and long-fin trevally which are attracted by the chance to hunt the large numbers of juvenile barracudas, silversides and cave sweepers. You access a lower cavern one diver at a time to see the nurse sharks.
Swimming through the cave you will notice the highly decorated floor (yellow sponges) and ceiling (marigold cup corals). Despite the sharks, the devil is in the detail here with Durban dancing shrimps, lobsters, moray eels, cowries, sea slugs and more all adding to the entertainment.
Black Rock is an islet with steep walls past which swim a procession of exciting creatures including a variety of rays and sharks. Add to this excitement the wonder of an area of boulders featuring a profusion of soft corals and a shallow section of tube corals where all manner of crabs, urchins and other little creatures call home and you can see why many consider Black Rock to be the finest liveaboard diving in Myanmar.
This remote islet is a magnet for fish and it is known for its schools of mobula rays and good chances of sighting manta rays, eagle rays and huge marble stingrays. There is also a resident great barracuda over 1.5m long with battle scars to attest to its longevity. Impressive soft coral coverage over the reef and on the wall provide a colourful backdrop to a wide range of critters and an interesting array of small marine life.
The Burma Banks, just outside the Mergui Archipelago region, flatten out at just over 20 metres with little in the way of shallow features so nitrox is a popular choice. Scuba diving at the Burma Banks means beautiful expansive sea fans and some of the most pristine hard coral formations you will ever see. There is a timeless beauty to diving here and you get the feeling the underwater scenery has changed little for years and years.
There are a series of banks: Big, Rainbow, Roe, Sivertip, Coral and Heckford banks, around which nurse sharks, grey reef sharks and silvertips can be seen. Great barracuda, potato cod and octopus add to the fun of this special region, which is visited by only a few liveaboards.
Tower Rock in the northern Mergui region features breathtaking topography with large submerged boulders and walls of rock vaulting high into the water column. The walls are studded with corals and fans providing shelter for spiny lobsters, banded shrimps, oysters and clams.
However, the manta rays are the stars of this particular show flying effortlessly past the impressive seascape. Schools of devil rays are also common and you may spot blacktip sharks as you are cruising in and around the many swim-throughs and channels that the large boulder seascape creates here.
Western Rocky is the most southerly site of the Mergui Archipelago and could be divided into several distinct dives. It provides the choice of pinnacles, walls, reefs and an awesome channel through the middle of the island.
Small creatures abound here including nudibranchs, shrimps, crabs, lionfish, clouds of glassfish, cowries, and frogfish, plus many more. Big lobsters, nurse sharks, white tip reef sharks are also commonly sighted here, and maybe even a passing whale shark.
Myanmar has exploratory frontier diving in pristine environments, with new sites being discovered all the time. One of the main attractions is that you never know just what you might see!
Whilst the Burma dive season runs from October to May, and the best conditions in the Mergui Archipelago exist from December to April, with whale sharks and manta rays visiting from February to May.
Myanmar liveaboards leave from Thailand: Khao Lak or Ranong. Check the 'More info' link on each liveaboard's webpage to see the departure port. For departures from Khao Lak most operators run transport from Phuket. For Ranong departures, normally the budget boats, you can take a bus from Surat Thani (3 hours) or Phuket (5 hours) to Ranong. Alternatively, you can fly from Bangkok to Ranong. Local flights are available with Burma entry requirements.. We will help you apply for an entry permit beforehand. Read more details on
Great for: Large animals, small animals, underwater photography, value-for-money and advanced divers
Not so great for: Wrecks, beginners, snorkelling and non-diving activities
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 5 - 50m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface Conditions: Can be rough
Water Temperature: 25 - 28°C
Experience Level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: >50
Distance: ~280 km north of Phuket (14 hours), 60 km west of Kawthaung (3 hours)
Access: Liveaboards from Phuket, Khao Lak and Ranong in Thailand
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 10 days
Other sites that can be visited as part of a Mergui liveaboard cruise:
The Myanmar authorities inform us that in 2001 Indonesian fishing boats caught all the silvertip sharks at Burma Banks. In 2002 Thai fishing boats caused extensive damage to the fish stocks at the southern Mergui Archipelago dive sites, including Western Rocky, Rocky Peaks and South Twin Island. Fish stocks recover quickly and the Burmese Navy are now patrolling the archipelago's waters. The diving sites in the mid to northern archipelago have been unaffected by these foul practices, fish stocks continue to be healthy, and shark encounters are still common.