Phinisi: First Trip to Myanmar

(by: Renske Lauterbach – Marketing Assistant with The Junk and The Phinisi)

The explorer in me has always wished to be part of a ‘first time’ trip on a liveaboard. Recently, this dream became reality when I embarked S/Y Phinisi on a 7 night liveaboard trip to Myanmar on Feb 4th 2019.

The Phinisi operates from Ranong in Thailand; this is the town closest to the Myanmar Mergui Archipelago. All guests were welcomed at the B.C. Badin Resort pier at noon. After completing the Thai immigration formalities in Ranong, we all embarked and settled into our cabins. Chilled welcome drinks were served along with a delicious lunch. A short 15-minute sail later, we arrived on the other side of the Kra Buri waterway at Kawthung in Myanmar. Here, the Burmese immigration officers came on board so it was a relatively smooth immigration process into Myanmar. Then off we went; our exploratory trip towards the Mergui Archipelago had begun.

Our first day included dives at High Rock, Rocky Island, and Shark Cave. The morning check dive was at High Rock, blessed with tonnes of marine life. Sadly, we discovered quite a few remnants of fishing nets; however, these proved to be a nice spot for seahorses to hold onto in the medium current around the island. Moreover, other special creatures we spotted on this dive included barramundi and a particularly decorative nudibranch: a flabellina called Hermosita Sangria.

The second dive was at Rocky Island, where we were accompanied by a school of squid, grey moray eels, a peacock mantis shrimp and a whole bunch of Durban dancer shrimps in a pleasant mild current. Things became even more exciting on the following two Shark Cave dives, where we saw four big cuttlefish, devil scorpion fish, huge schools of fusiliers and more big moray eels.

We spent the second day of the cruise at Black Rock, where the current varied from mild to medium and we were treated to sightings of black/white banded sea snakes, octopus, barracuda, jacks, and plenty of scorpion fish. Two HUGE mating cuttlefish were the highlight of this day for me, with especially the male cuttlefish flashing a kaleidoscope of dazzling colours.

The itinerary took us via North Twin Island to the Burma Banks. Gorgeous fan corals and lush soft corals were the decor for most of our North Twin dives. A turtle, giant moray eels, lion fish, scorpion fish and nudibranchs all came out to join us in the strong current. Of the Burma Banks, we dived Heckford Bank and Roe Bank. Both are located a good 8 hours motoring west of the Mergui Archipelago and, as I understand, are not dived very often. As a result, we had all these dive sites to ourselves, which was a blast!

Heckford Bank is a seamount with a plateau at 21 metre (69ft) depth and ridden with current. The seascape consists of hard coral patches, providing shelter to the nurse sharks that rested underneath. On the sandy and grassy patches between the coral patches there is plenty of life to find; nudibranchs, pipefish, lionfish, and honeycomb moray eels.

This dive site is not recommended for novice divers, as there may be strong currents, as well as occasional up or down currents. Roe Bank, our second Burma Bank dive, has a similar layout and inhabitants but the plateau is shallower, ranging from 12-25 metres (29-82ft). Here, there is a good chance of seeing sharks and/or mantas.

On we went, to Sea Fan Forest. This is a very ‘fishy’ dive, so to speak, with octopus, moray eels, scorpion fish and barracudas all over the show. About 40 minutes into this beautiful pinnacle/boulder dive, surrounded by scenic waving sea fans, we encountered the star of our dive: a whale shark! Some of our guests even saw it again on the second dive in Sea Fan Forest. Aside from seeing the whale shark, this dive was one of my best dives in Myanmar as there was so much to see. It seemed that every rock accommodated at least one scorpion fish, sometimes even up to 3 per rock.

Western Rocky offers a fantastic swim-through cave with loads of life; pufferfish, nudis and hundreds of golden sweepers guard the cave exit. The wall on the other side of the island is full of scorpion fish and octopus. If you look in the blue, there are massive schools of blue fusiliers practicing their synchronized swimming.

My favourite dive on the last day was in Cock’s Comb Lagoon. When the tide is right, you can even dive in the lagoon and maybe see some sharks. Unfortunately, we arrived at low tide so we didn’t see any sharks, but it was nice to snorkel in to the tropical lagoon and check it out on the surface.

All in all, it was an incredible first trip to Myanmar. Many thanks to the wonderful crew and also to our great group of guests, who all made this maiden trip a great success.