Words Jon Burak / Photos Jimmy Martinello
There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Change is the only constant.”
And these days, in a world that is changing so rapidly, there are few places on the planet that remain unsullied by the ever-growing population of adventure-seekers looking for the next ‘untouched’ paradise. Myanmar, a 675,000 square-kilometre republic in Southeast Asia, might be the closest we can get to finding one of those pristine destinations.
Although outsiders could visit Myanmar before 2012, it wasn’t for tourism. As Myanmar comes out of five decades of Army-imposed hibernation, it is slowly becoming a destination for world travellers looking to step (or paddle) off the beaten path.
In late 2019, my good friends and adventure buddies Jimmy Martinello and Justin Sweeny joined me on a mission into Myanmar to take in some of the country’s magic and mystery. We knew many of the spots we’d be visiting were already becoming popular destinations, but we were also very keen to explore a part of the country few outsiders have experienced: the Mergui Archipelago.
An internet search of the area turned up just ten photos. For us, that was enough. It looked like an ideal place to fulfill our desires to paddle remote islands, deep water solo, eat from the ocean, and find a path less traveled.
With very little information heading in, the Mergui Archipelago seemed the place where you figure out your plan once you get there - in real time. It had been some time since any of us had embarked on an adventure like that; reminiscent of the old days when all we had were maps and an urge to explore.
Kawthoung, the most southerly town in Myanmar, would be the starting point for our paddle adventure. From there we were to be dropped 60 kms off-shore at a small group of islands that looked promising for our deep water soloing intentions. With our skeleton plan in place, we set off with our paddle boards, dry bags, climbing shoes, and camping gear.
After 10 days of paddling, hiking, exploring, climbing and mingling with local fisherman, it was clear that this place is an untapped paradise. Besides the raw beauty of the islands and ocean life, the kindness, and laughter of the people of Myanmar are what elevated the experience for all of us.
The photographs explain the sheer beauty of this once-isolated land. Myanmar is definitely among the most pristine and untouched spots I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience, and there is no doubt I will be back for more before that changes.