2016 Myanmar: 420 km on the Tanintharyi River

Places Myanmar (Burma). Tanintharyi River. Dawei, Myitta, Tanintharyi, Myeik, Htee Khe
Time & length January/February 2016, 3 weeks
Partners Sofia Matousek
18 days in the jungle of southern Myanmar. We rafted down a wild river that apparently has never been rafted before by outsiders on this scale. While the river is unnavigable by commercial boats, local gold miners and fishermen have inhabited the jungle. They were surprised to see tourists in an area that hasn’t had foreigners in a very long time.
This is the last episode of our 8-month journey through central and southeast Asia. When we planned this trip in early summer 2015, we figured all these challenging trekking adventures in the high altitude of the Himalayas, it would be nice to do some floating in a warm place at the end. Studying the rivers in Myanmar, I came across the Tanintharyi River, which flows through a long stretch of uncultivated jungle. The area seemed fairly safe since fighting stopped a few years back, now the place is more or less protected by a ceasefire agreement. However, there was barely any information at all that we could count on. Tourists are not allowed down there: the Myanmar law is, that all foreigners can only stay in hotels, which makes wilderness travel impossible. Getting a special permission seemed just as impossible, so we decided to just give it a try and did it without further permission. Obviously there are no hotels at the river, so everybody who saw us knew that we weren’t following the law.

In June 2015, we bought a Gumotex Scout, which seemed to be the perfect boat for our purpose. It can carry a load of 450 kg, more than enough for months-long river expeditions.

Our trip began on January 20. After we explored central Myanmar on Motorbikes, we took the train from Mandalay to Yangon, picked up our boat that we had stored in a hotel and continued our journey all the way south to Dawai. From there we drove to Myitta, a small town close to the Myanmarese-Thai border. With all our equipment, food for about three weeks and the boating gear, we had luggage of about 130 kg on us.

We started paddling on January 24. The river was quite slow with rapids every 10 km in the beginning. Technically the rafting wasn’t too difficult, we never had to do any portaging.

We saw many log boats during our journey. Often, the locals were confused when they saw our red canoe coming down the river – tourists in their territory? Many of them had never seen white people before. This place used to be a war zone and there is no road access to the river for over two hundred kilometers.

The days were hot. We regularly jumped into the river to cool down a bit. At night, we often sat around the campfire before we went to sleep in our hammocks. Life in the jungle was good.

A couple times we ran into soldiers. They were confused and didn’t know what to do with us in the beginning. Well, letting us pass seemed to be the easiest way to deal with the problem… so that’s what they did. Fortunately, we had no major problems with red tape.

After about 12 days, we entered the lower Tanintharyi where we found small settlements on both sides of the river. People invited us to see their homes and schools and made us spend the nights in their villages.

The last few days were a little more challenging since we regularly had to fight against the incoming tides. That slowed us down quite a bit. But after 18 days on the river, we reached the town of Tanintharyi, our destination. We cleaned the boat, took a bus to Myeik and from there to Dawei. Soon, we left the county and entered Thailand via Htee Khe border. In Thailand we rested. On March 3rd we flew home.