Chart of Bo Cho Island, Mergui Archipelago, Burma
Burma’s Mergui Archipelago: Bo Cho Island
This island is one of the few places in the Mergui where you are guaranteed to come across the Moken Sea Gypsies. There is a permanent Moken village on the northern side of Bo Cho along the side of the channel between Bo Cho and Lampi Island.
This village started was established about 30 years ago as a place for the nomadic Moken to dump the aged members of their tribe who could no longer manage their nomadic lifestyle. Over a period of time the nature of the village evolved, initially as a trading post for sea cucumbers destined for China via the town of Mergui in the northern Archipelago. The trading role of the village has grown dramatically over the last 10 years with many small shops selling such “essentials” as cigarettes, Burmese cheroots, whiskey and shortbread biscuits.
Approximately 15 years ago the Myanmar (Burmese) government set up a small Buddhist monastery on the hill to the west of the village in an effort to convert the Moken from their animist beliefs to Buddhism i.e. to ensure they remained obedient and compliant. This was not very successful and after 5 years there was only 1 convert. Following this notable lack of success, the Burmese government reversed course and set a “Moken festival” – which annually turned this village into a human zoo which the Moken were forced to go along with. This is fortunately now being phased out. At least one tangible benefit of the “Moken festival” is that the village now has a substantial jetty that extends over the shallow reef to deep water – built so that the visiting Burmese dignitaries could get to the beach without getting their feet wet.
Entering from the west stay north of the the small rock island and south of the drying rock in mid-channel. Anchor in 7-10 metres on a mud and sand bottom off the western end of the village. The currents can run up to 3 knots at mid-tide so this is really only a suitable day stop while visiting the village. There are better anchorages off the beautiful beaches on the west coast of Bo Cho Island.
This village is the only habitation in the area and is definitely worth a visit. The local monk at the Buddhist temple is a very welcoming and interesting character. A local boat builder has recently set up shop behind the bridge in the village. He is constructing traditional Moken boats that are being hand sawn from trees on site. There are also a number of dugout constructors along the beach front. Take your camera.
A small school has been set for Moken children on the small rise in the middle of the village and some real effort is being made to provide an education. Gifts of paper, pencils or watercolour paints are gratefully accepted.