Burma Liveaboard Trip Report Part 1 – Eagle’s Nest To Pygmy Palm Point

This is my trip report of a Burma scuba diving liveaboard on the MV Jazz in January 2009. Parts 1 and 2 cover the actual Myanmar dive sites, and Part 3 is a rundown of what the MV Jazz is like as a boat.

Soft Corals, Burma

UPDATE: the MV Jazz is no longer operating. We recommend diving Burma with MV Dolphin Queen.

Part 1 – Diving Burma, Day 1 and 2

Getting To The Liveaboard
Currently all Burma liveaboards depart from Thailand and cross over into Burma, clearing immigration along the way. The MV Jazz Burma trip began with a 4 hour minivan transfer from Phuket Airport to the Thai border town of Ranong, from where the MV Jazz would depart. We arrived at a seafood restaurant near the pier just before sundown for some Thai food and beer while the boat arrived from its previous trip in the Similan Islands.

Burmese Immigration
Once on the boat, everyone handed over their passports, $200 US cash, 4 passport photos and photocopies of their passport information pages to the MV Jazz staff. These which were then presented to the Burmese immigration officers who came on board once the boat had crossed from Ranong to the Myanmar town of Kaw Thung. The guests didn’t have to do anything during this process – the immigration officials are used to the MV Jazz making regular trips and so entry into Burma is expedited. Once that was done, it was an overnight sail to our first dive site.

Diving In Myanmar
The dive site Eagle’s Nest is a great introduction to Burma diving – the blasted limestone rock rises out of the ocean with nothing else around it, with birds of prey wheeling around. It’s quite desolate looking, but also quite beautiful – a real contrast to the Similan Islands. The water is greener and colder too – it hovered between 28 and a bum numbing 25 degrees. Once underwater, the limestone rocks appear purplish and are blocky and jagged, like huge great slabs leaning together.

Enter The Leopard Shark
After spotting a couple of octopus skittering across the reef and a huge stingray lurking under a rock, along with the ever present moray eels lurking in the limestone cracks and clownfish on the carpets of anemones, we had an awesome to finale to the first dive – a close encounter with a leopard shark, which are usually very shy of divers, but this one decided to get up close and personal – see the video.

Soft Corals

Sea Fans And Soft Corals
For the first couple of days, we were not blessed with very good visibility, but it didn’t really matter – the soft coral that covers many of Burma’s sites is abundant and brightly coloured, and the size of the sea fans at some of the sites, like the obviously named Fan Forest Pinnacle, are just breathtaking. Many are more than a couple of metres wide and tall, bigger than a diver, and are all sorts of colours, from electric orange to delicate pink.

Sea Fan

The sea fans and soft corals can really save the day on some dives – Twin Cheeks is a submerged pinnacle that doesn’t begin until 12 metres, and there’s not much to see above 20 metres – it’s a fairly featureless plain (“like the upturned hull of the Kaiser Wilhelm” as one wreck enthusiast mournfully put it). Veer below 20 metres where the pinnacle slopes steeply and you suddenly encounter a riot of colour, as fans explode from the incline and soft corals cover the rocks. It reminded me a little of Triton Bay, where the viz is also famously bad but no impediment to enjoying the colours of the corals.

Crayfish in the tunnel of Crayfish Cave

Tunnel Vision
Tunnels are a characteristic of Burma diving as the sea has eroded through the limestone rocks – Crayfish Cave is a particularly good example, which is a 15 metre or so tunnel that goes right through to the other side of the dive site, and is home to some impressively large crayfish. Several of the sites we visited had swimthroughs, ravines and tunnels, with the most spectacular being at In Through The Out Door, which we arrived at on Day 3.

Dynamite fishermen at Pgymy Palm Point, Burma

Dynamite Fishing Returns To Burma
One dispiriting thing we witnessed on several dive sites was a few dead fish scattered across the reef, the fallout of dynamite fishing that had been carried out several miles away from where we were diving. The Burmese fishermen had all but stopped using dynamite in the last 3-4 years – I saw no evidence of it on last year’s Burma trip, for example – but this time round we saw undeniable evidence. Things came to a head when we arrived at Pygmy Palm Pinnacle towards the end of the second day to see a huge plume of water erupt into the air as we approached the site – there were fishermen already there dropping bombs on the reef. When we looked closely at the photos of one of the boats afterwards, we saw the distinct shape of a shark fin poking out from beneath a tarpaulin.

The beautiful boulders of Pygmy Palm Point

Tour leaders Ric and Clive set about taking photos of the two fishing boats we saw there and the Thai staff on board tried to find out more info about the boats, so as to report them to the Burmese authorities on our return to Kaw Thung. It was clearly dangerous to dive anywhere near these boats, so the Jazz diverted to another site which turned out to be not much fun due to a strong current.

It’s difficult to say whether this is just a small resurgence or the beginning of a full scale dynamite fishing campaign that will ruin Burma’s reefs again. It’s only through dive liveaboards visiting this area that these activities – and the damage to the reef – can be witnessed and recorded and reported to the relevant authorities. One thing that becomes apparent from looking at the primitive equipment the fishermen use is how easy it is for a small group of men with little gear to cause a lot of damage very quickly to the reefs.

More Burma Photos [click to enlarge]

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  1. Exceptional article – great work! I know it was hardly like work, but thanks for sharing it with us all. I’m a free-diver and snorkeler. Not a diver at all, but you make me want to go check out Burma and see for myself the natural beauty that’s there. That’s unexplored. That’s going away, if there’s more idiots dynamite fishing. :( Looking forward to seeing more on this site. Awesome site!

  2. Thanks Vern – it really is work ;-) — Should be getting Part 2 online in next couple of days

  3. Great report…and so well laid out. Thanks for taking the time.

  4. Thanks JA – glad you enjoyed it