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Visit Awei Pila Private Island Resort on Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago

Visit Awei Pila Private Island Resort on Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago

John Borthwick explores the remote islands and bustling lakes of Myanmar and finds an ethereal, timeless world.

“Can you turn down the sea, please?” jokes Bella, one of our travelling party. It’s late night and the sea in question, the Andaman, is tapping on this jungle shore at remote Kyun Pilar Island. The night silence is so deep that even the slap-and-dash of an easy shorebreak booms like a canon.

Our resort, Awei Pila, sits amid Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago, 800 mostly uninhabited islands scattered down the Andaman coast like the crumbling rim of a continent. Come daylight, I’m across the beach for a quick dip, and then along for qi gong before breakfast – rich mohinga soup – and a look-see at our day’s options.

We could sloth out around the pool or at our very flash, beachfront yurts with ensuites, or head to the spa for a massage. But life here is larger than that. We opt for a hike, firstly to a village where the Moken people, or ‘sea gypsies’, have careened their kabang boats to scour the hulls.

Activities at Awei Pila

We hike further on. A brahminy kite circles above while unseen hornbills lurk like a rumour among the evergreen ridges of mahogany. Later, coming to an endless beach, we snorkel offshore over muted but undamaged corals. Night falls and back at the resort chef John-Paulo presents us with kingfish carpaccio followed by strawberry risotto with champagne. Local squid boats, ablaze with green lure lights, float on the horizon like the phantom fairies of an absinthe drinker’s imagining. Another atypical day in the Mergui.

Awei Pila © Florian Dahm

Kyun Pilar Island is not an Eden in retreat. It is we who must leave. Firstly, with a long speedboat journey back to Kawthaung, Myanmar’s southernmost town. And then a flight north to the former capital, Yangon, followed by another, even farther north, to Shan State and the jovially named town of Heho.

Leaving for Inle Lake

Kyun Pilar Island is not an Eden in retreat. It is we who must leave. Firstly, with a long speedboat journey back to Kawthaung, Myanmar’s southernmost town. And then a flight north to the former capital, Yangon, followed by another, even farther north, to Shan State and the jovially named town of Heho.

We’ve arrived at a bamboo Venice, Inle Lake. There are pagodas instead of palazzos and slender skiffs in lieu of gondolas. The canals are natural channels, reed-lined, random, where overwater houses hover on stilts and the hopeful spires that point fingers to heaven are Buddhist stupas not Christian cathedrals. The local Inthar fishermen stand upright at the stern of their pirogues, rowing with one leg while they cast their nets. Powered longboats fly by at a distance, blooming rooster-tails of spray. Everywhere I look there’s a photograph, and another, framed by high, blue hills.

The essence of Inle Lake

Inle’s long, freshwater lake, central to everything here, stretches 22 kilometres from Nyaung Shwe town down a wide valley that’s hemmed by parallel ranges. The floating world of 17 villages that thrives around it is constantly busy with markets, temples, lakeside resorts and even hot air balloon rides at dawn.

Inle Lake has become one of Myanmar’s most popular destinations, with the bonus of its temperate, 900-metre altitude giving relief from the coast’s sauna heat. We skim from shore to shore, from feasting at a heritage-house restaurant to navigating a waterworld of channels that leads, at the village of Indein, to a spectacular forest of pagodas – gilded or brick, adored or ignored, ancient or modern.

Late one afternoon a little flotilla from the Inle Canoe Lady, a local women’s initiative, arrives to paddle us around their Pauk Par village. Two visitors to a canoe, complete with parasol, cushions, snacks and a bottle of wine. Mrs Ma Zin strokes calmly at the stern of our craft. No need for commentary. Just take it all in, the swimming kids, the dishwashing grandmother, a returning teacher. We let the sundown light wash over us, the stilt houses, amber reeds and mountains.

Getting there: Fly with Thai Airways from Australia to Yangon via a brief transfer in Bangkok.

This article originally appeared in volume 36 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.