The first Prachuab Khirikhan – Myeik Cultural Caravan of 2016 was organised by the Prachub-Myeik Trading and Investment Development Association, and consisted of 49 vehicles with 182 travellers from Prachuab Khirikhan and other Thai provinces in total. Hua Hin Today was invited on this ‘cultural adventure’ and joined the lead vehicle driven by Khun Wijanprida ‘Lek’ Isararee, the Managing Director of Mazda Hua Hin, driving a Mazda BT50 Pro Myeik is a city in Tanintharyi Region in Myanmar (Burma), located in the extreme south of the country on the coast of an island on the Andaman Sea. Situated on a peninsula jutting out into the Andaman Sea, Myeik has been a busy and strategically significant port for over 500 years.
The journey started at 8 o’clock in the morning after a farewell ceremony presided over by Prachuab Khirikhan Governor Dr. Thawee Narissirikul, along with distinguished and honorary guests including the Chief Officer of Mu Dong District in Myanmar. The Singkhon Checkpoint is located at the narrowest part of Thailand where the distance from the Gulf of Thailand to the Checkpoint is only 18 kilometres. The Singkhon Checkpoint is not yet a border crossing, but a pass which is expected to be upgraded when a joint agreement is signed by the Thai-Myanmar Joint Boundary Commission. The Checkpoint remains unavailable as a transit point for foreigners and is restricted to being an entry point for citizens of Thailand and Myanmar.
It was then a further 180 kilometres from the Singkhon Checkpoint to Myeik. The first 40 kilometres was travelled on a long rough unsealed road, followed by 40 kilometres on an even dustier and rougher road. With driving reduced to only 30 kilometres per hour, the trip took about 6 hours on these roads and was a really adventurous experience. Mergui was the name given by the British to this southernmost part of Burma. The Mergui archipelago was off-limits to foreigners until 1997; although it is now open for tourism, access is limited as permits are necessary and it remains largely unexplored. “Beik” as the locals call their home, inhabitants around 300,000 people. It has been a significant port town for centuries. First were people from India to trade with Myeik. Portuguese traders followed later in the 16th century. The town itself was for centuries under the rule of the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand).
The Burmese King Alaungpaya reconquered Myeik in the late 18th century. It was then under British rule from 1826 to 1948. Despite having no beaches Myeik is not lacking charm. The Thein Daw Gyi Pagoda right in the middle of town offers a splendid panoramic view over the town and the islands. Walking along the streets can be like on a farm as many goats, chicken, even cows, dogs and cats roaming around, something like I remember from my home town of Chiang Mai around 30 years ago. Myeik has been cut off from the rest of Myanmar for very long time. Overland travel, which is now possible for tourists, was prohibited and only possible with a special permit. The charm of the city is also based on the unique architecture of the buildings, historical sites and Buddhist temples. The people have their own traditional dress and costume and their own unique way of life. There is a unity in the diversity of the people, including those of Islamic faith and ethnic Burmese.
Some of the local people of Myeik can speak Thai, as they often come to Thailand. The region boasts many islands with undisturbed flora and fauna. Development has resulted in many new roads in Myeik, full of cars and motorcycles, and hotels and guesthouses are mushrooming. Since many people also live on islands not far from the city, water transport is also favored with an active fishing industry. Thanks to economic development and an ideal location close to Thailand, Myeik is becoming an attractive tourist attraction and a place for investment by Thais and other foreigners. Thai people are establishing restaurants and Thai business people are investing in the fishing industry. Some Thais are also involved in tourism boats, taking visitors to the islands.
The road from Thailand to Myeik is improving. From the Singkhon Checkpoint, there is public bus to Mu Dong Village and it is not difficult to travel from there to Myeik, especially for Burmese people. This is enabling the city to become an economically developed city in southern Myanmar. Our trip included visits to many of the historical places of Myeik. We took in the sites and paid our respects at Tanao Sri City Pillar, the Thai Buddhist Temple of Pin U, the Chedi Thong Buddhist Temple as well as the Teng Do Ji Buddhist Temple. One more thing that the travelers learnt during the trip was how the closure of the country by the Burmese government has resulted in local art and traditional culture being well preserved.
People are still enjoying a traditional and modest way of living. With the country opened officially, it may soon become difficult to experience such traditional ways of life. We are grateful to the Prachub-Myeik Trading and Investment Development Association in Prachuab Khirikhan and Myeik, especially the Chairman Mr. Weera Sriwattanatrakul, and the Association’s Members who allowed us such a precious opportunity to participate in this fascinating and unique cultural trip.