View From The Bridge: Myanmar is an emerging destination


Amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, as travel restrictions for many grow ever tighter, it’s welcome relief to consider new destinations for yachts. Recently, with this in mind, my thoughts turned to Myanmar, writes captain Iain Flockhart.

Having visited this enchanting country twice in the past three years and prompted by presentations given by three yachting adventure companies at Superyacht Investor’s London 2020 conference in February, I’d like to highlight this stunning and still largely unspoiled yachting destination. It has so much to offer an adventurous owner.

Sadly, the reason it is still so unspoiled is that it endured several decades of military tyranny since it gained its independence from the UK in 1948. That aside, much of its natural beauty, tranquillity and amazing culture remain unspoiled for guests to enjoy. Its people are open, welcoming and friendly.

Things have become much easier for visiting yachts in recent years. Several excellent superyacht agencies have further developed their presence in this amazing nation with one, in particular, focusing on the country. The British gave the Burmese a great lesson in imperial bureaucracy, which has stood the test of time. Things are much smoother now for visiting yachts and formalities have become much more streamlined, thanks to the effort from one of the principal agencies serving the area.

When Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted, guests can easily fly directly into Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, aboard commercial flights which are now easily accessible. Also, the formalities for private aviation are equally accommodating. The coastline is idyllic with countless deserted islands in the archipelagos and azure waters abound with stunning pristine beaches to match everywhere you look.

It is a country that’s extremely well-endowed culturally. The capital city of Yangon is rich in heritage with its colonial past and jewels such as the giant, 112m, Sixth Century Shwedagon Pagoda.

Its scale is simply staggering

Highlights of the country also include the phenomenal Nineth Century area of Bagan in the Mandalay region. It officially took on UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] World Heritage Status last year. It covers over 40 square miles and has well over 10,000 religious monuments, including over 1,000 Stupas (or hemispherical structures) , 100, smaller temples and 3,000 monasteries. Its scale is simply staggering.

Inle Lake is a large freshwater body of some 44 square miles at an elevation of 880m, roughly in the middle of the country. It is a tranquil (save for the noise of the long-tail boats), and wonderful area to explore. It has numerous stilted settlements where the local people live over the water. It has an abundance of waterborne vegetation and birdlife. Along with Bagan, it’s a must.

Tributaries can be navigated by primitive boats that can take you to areas with bustling local markets bursting with colour and abundant in aromas of locally grown produce, such as spices. The locals, women predominantly, but not exclusively, paint their faces with tanaka, a compound made by grinding down the wood of certain trees into a paste. It is applied to the face not only to adorn, but also to protect the cheeks, forehead from sunburn.

Mandalay has a huge palace complex in its centre surrounded by a moat. The trip up the 1,300-mile Irrawaddy River from Bagan to Mandalay (on a local boat, for 100 nm or so), is fascinating. There are countless groups of the unique Moken people, the local river gypsies, who travel up and down the river setting up home along the banks.

The decks of the world’s finest yachts

You will see flotillas of huge premium Burmese teak, much of it destined to be laid on the decks of the world’s finest yachts in years to come being floated along the major rivers. It is tethered together and towed by a tiny boat to its next destination in the supply chain. The people moving these massive rafts of trees literally live on them, building small shelters for themselves and their families on the giant rafts as the navigate the mighty river.

As the country continues to slowly open more, despite best efforts to allow sustainable growth, it will almost come at a cost in terms of losing some of its appeal in the future. The de facto leader, Aung San Su Kyi, is however very focused on trying to preserve as much as possible of the country’s appeal, and as much as is possible while she still has to bow to a hefty military presence in government. Equally, she seeks to retain as much of the country’s heritage as possible and tries to ensure as much of its increasing income from tourism goes to the indigenous people.

Myanmar will probably suffer eventually as a result of its opening up, but for a good few years to come, it will remain a stunning destination for large yachts to cruise. It should be on the radar of any owner looking for a great alternative destination in Asia with an abundance of enchanting culture and history to explore, as well as the usual trappings of the stunning marine elements of the country. You will not be disappointed.


About the author

Iain Flockhart, MD, Saor Alba Holdings, is a highly experienced yacht captain with over 265,000 nautical miles in the role of master since 1996. He bought and completely refitted his first yacht at the age of 20 and went on to buy a larger ocean going yacht a few years later and set sail across the oceans, often with novice crews.

As well as being a master, Iain provides professional mentoring services to yacht crew and advises on issues relating to hiring, managing and retaining the right crew.

He’s an ambassador for the exceptional Rafnar brand of RIBs. through his brand brand SA Marine. He enjoys simple pleasures such as using his 7m RIB to go exploring and wild camping in natural beauty of his native Scotland.

Captain Iain Flockhart.

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