Burma

Once Off-Limits, Moscos Islands Are a Dream Destination

By Yen Saning 20 January 2016

I had one purpose in mind when I headed to Dawei for holiday: to reach the unspoiled islands of the Andaman Sea. I first became aware of the Moscos Islands, which were long restricted for tourists, through some accounts in local journals claiming that the isolated spot was now taking visitors. I remember seeing photos of clear blue seas and pristine sand banks—and thinking that I had to rush there before it was gone or developed beyond recognition.

Though the archipelago is remote, it’s not difficult to access. My friends and I booked a trip through a new agency, Tavoy Travel & Tour, which made arrangements for our overnight stay in a secluded island bay. With Dawei as our starting point, we boarded a small boat from San Hlen fishing village at around 7am to make our way further out to sea.

The village itself was a draw. It’s a small town where fishermen dock with their catch and trade with distributors who ship seafood to Burma’s cities. There was a dizzying array of small, dried fish, found in shallow waters near the shore. The salty seafood is a local staple, used in salads, curries and beer snacks.

Once we peeled ourselves from the docks, we headed out by boat for the Launglon Bok Islands in the southern part of the Moscos archipelago. Launglon Bok comprises two isles—the 6 kilometer-long Aek Bok and the 10 kilometer Auk Bok. The area was previously restricted because of a Burma Navy base nearby, though the land remains under the Dawei District administration. Foreign travelers visiting Dawei’s Maungmagan beach couldn’t be kept away for long, however, and eventually began hiring fishing boats to take them out to the distant paradise.

It takes about 90 minutes to travel from San Hlen to the southern Moscos, a stunning ride through crystal-clear water. Our group was lucky to spot a pod of dolphins playfully whirling around our boat before we docked at the bay of Thae Balot, which means “soft sand.” As we approached the bay, the white sand gleaming in the sun, we looked down to see colorful coral lining the seabed.

The islands were still, for the most part, clean and beautiful, though my friends and I were disappointed to find a few pieces of broken beer bottles, plastic bits and used batteries along the shore. It seemed like such a shame that my companions and I began picking up whatever trash we came across to keep the bank natural.

We rested for a while on wooden chairs beneath makeshift bamboo huts, thatched with palm rooftops to shield us from the sun. A dog trotted up to sit by us, and we later learned his name was Shote Mae—black nose—and that his owners were a local couple who turned out to be very helpful to travelers.

The wife, Aunty San, cooked a Burmese buffet for our lunch. At 2,000 kyats per person, it was a steal; drumstick vegetable curry, fried fish, shark salad and fried squid. Fish paste and cabbage on the side, all you can eat. The lunch was a bit debilitating, but after a quick rest we were ready to get back on the open water and explore the reefs.

The water suddenly appeared very deep, and I could see urchins lining the reef. Being unable to swim, I was scared to death, but the underwater scenery was so beautiful that I couldn’t peel my eyes away, dipping my face into the sea with goggles. Never in my life had I seen such a beautiful bed of coral, old and young, of all sizes, and so many varieties of fish passing through. When I looked up, I could see the fullness of the bay, a bright blue bowl with mountains on either side. We were told that during the rainy season there are waterfalls streaming straight off the hills and into the sea.

Heading back just before sunset, we all felt there was too little time to enjoy the water, but it would soon be too dark to discover any more dazzling sea life. Once ashore we sat down to a few bottles of wine, some apples and oranges while Aunty San prepared dinner. She instructed the men to fetch a few bamboo poles so we could build a campfire, around which we spent the evening drinking wine and talking.

There is nothing like breathing in the fresh air, sitting silently on the sand and listening to the sounds of the sea while staring out into a vast darkness. It felt like a world disconnected, away from pollution, away from distractions.

Aunty San, who is 48 years old, said she suffered from hypertension before moving out to the island about six years ago. She lost weight, too, she said. She did look healthy and fit, and the claim that her new lifestyle was so good for her wellbeing had us all silently plotting a way to stay on this island forever.

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