YANGON— As Myanmar’s Mergui islands open up to more visitors, the limited facilities among the most remote islands of the archipelago are growing slowly but steadily. For the most adventurous of travelers, Awei Pila Dive Center, on Pila Island, now offers diving courses and certification for beginners.
The center is located at a resort by the same name on an island with 12 dive sites nearby at depths of 12 to 30 meters, including Shark Cave and Rocky Island which are said to be gaining international recognition among dive experts. Official PADI courses from the beginner’s “Discover Scuba Diving” to the expert’s “Dive Master” courses are offered and take at least three days to complete.
“We go out in the morning for two dives, stop for lunch, then take one dive in the afternoon,” said Awei Pila’s resident marine biologist and SCUBA instructor Marcelo Guimaraes. “We also have night dives upon demand, where you’ll see squid, lobsters, turtles and an array of open corals.”
“Divers can swim among schools of barracudas, yellow snappers and fusiliers, and will be able to get up close and personal with nudibranches, sea horses and scorpion fish,” he said. “And at certain times of the year, we come across Manta rays and whale sharks.”
In a bid to follow sustainable tourism practices, advanced divers must undergo a Coral Conservation course as part of the center’s Green Fins initiative, a UN-backed program to encourage environmentally astute policies among divers and dive centers.
Pila Island is a 2.5-hour speed boat ride from Kawthaung, Myanmar’s southernmost town. Divers who attend the courses can stay at the Awei Pila resort on the island which just opened last December and follows sustainable principles and a minimum-impact concept, with no internet connection and solar-supplied electricity.
The islands of the archipelago closest to the southern cities of Myeik and Kawthaung have popular day trip and some overnight tour options and a number of agencies based there offer diving courses and certification. Foreigners are not required to get permits to travel to them. However, more and more travelers looking for a true pristine white-sand desert-island experience tend find it on a longer multi-day trip the outlying islands which are often entirely unoccupied or with settlements of the Moken “Sea Gypsy” ethnic group. Facilities to accommodate these travelers are being offered at a small number of recently-opened resorts, including Awei Pila, which gladly have adopted environmentally friendly themes. Other reputable “eco” options include Boulder Bay Eco Resort and Wa Ale Island Resort on other islands in the archipelago.