Tourists head to Myanmar islands as Thai reefs decline

national March 16, 2013 00:00

By Boonleun Promprathankul
The N

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Coral bleaching around Thai islands in the Andaman Sea has made a dent in tourism numbers. Many foreign divers have flocked lately to St Luke Island in Myanmar instead.

“They have turned away from Thailand because of the coral bleaching at key diving spots on our side,” a source at A-One Diving Co Ltd disclosed. 

Based in Ranong, the company has arranged dive trips to various destinations in the Andaman Sea. Some destinations are in Thai waters while others are in Myanmar territory.
“St Luke Island of Myanmar is now becoming world famous,” the same source said.
The source said St Luke Island had yet to see a big boom because entry to Myanmar is still subject to complicated procedures and strict regulations. Each trip to the island takes at least seven days and the boats in Myanmar are not very comfortable. 
“Despite that, the number of tourists to St Luke Island has now jumped by more than 30 per cent when compared with the previous year,” the source pointed out. 
He said if coral bleaching in Thai waters continues an increasing number of tourist divers are likely to head to Myanmar. 
Ranong Tourism Association president Somchai Ouitekkeng said St Luke Island in southern Myanmar was becoming popular among Asians and Europeans. But, on the bright side, he believed Ranong could still reap benefits from the situation. 
“We have the potential to become a gateway to hundreds of islands in southern Myanmar,” Somchai said. He said apart from St Luke, the Mergui Islands were also beautiful and had more sights on them.
He said if the plan was successful, it would be possible to arrange for groups of Myanmar tourists to visit Thailand also. 
Chang Island, which is close to the Myanmar-Thai border, is just 30 kilometres from Ranong town. It is a famous attraction on the Thai side.
“We can promote Chang Island further while protecting its good environment,” Somchai said.

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