Wa Ale is a new and much talked about 36sq-km private island paradise, which lies within the remote and utterly enchanting Mergui Archipelago off Myanmar’s southern tip and Thailand’s Andaman Coast. Amid dozens of uninhabited, jungle-clad isles, skirted by sandy beaches and not another soul in sight, Wa Ale feels miles away from reality, and years behind the rapid development in Thailand. This is true escapism at its very best.
Paradise doesn’t come easy these days, and Wa Ale certainly isn’t straightforward to reach. The final part of our mammoth journey was a breezy, two-hour speedboat from Kawthaung on mainland Myanmar – well worth every moment of hardship when we came face to face with the staggering natural beauty of the private isle. Kawthaung can also be accessed by a short boat ride from Ranong in Thailand, just a one-hour-and-20-minute flight from Bangkok or a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Phuket.
What Wa Ale offers in buckets is an unpretentious, laid-back vibe, and an infectious wild spirit. As soon as you set foot here, you are swept up by an island rhythm, with every single staff member working with genuine interest, enthusiasm and a passion to share stories and a sense of adventure. In fact, the sheer number of experiences you can enjoy here is incredible, and such an allure for any visitor, and it wasn’t long before we were whisked off on a guided hike through the rainforest with resident naturalist, Alex. The jungle radiated with all sorts of noises, there was a buzz in the air and we were in awe of our guide who knew the name of each and every butterfly that fluttered past.
Back on the powdery, soft beach, small sharks whipped through the shallow shores, and sea eagles soared above – but it was the inviting, clear-blue seas that were pure heaven, especially at sunrise. The diving and snorkelling sites around Wa Ale are renowned, and what’s particularly special is that so many of these spots are untouched and have never before been seen by the human eye.
The following day, we rose early to kayak, before embarking on stand-up paddleboards in the nearby mangroves – but if this doesn’t sound like your thing, no fear, as Turtle Beach is also home to a jungle gym, and a resident yoga therapist is also on hand to put you through your paces. Wa Ale’s offerings are endless, all run by a phenomenal team.
While undoubtedly, Wa Ale caters to travellers who are looking for ‘off-the-beaten track’ adventures, the owners, Chris and Farina Kingsley, have ensured their resort doesn’t compromise on luxury. With a background in the furniture industry, Chris was keen to ensure every corner of his lodge was as impeccable in its design as it was eco-friendly, and this is more than evident in the beautifully crafted interiors and furnishings. Rattan armchairs, leather barstools, beanbags and beachside loungers have all been beautifully restored from reclaimed furniture and old fishing boats. Understated luxury continues in the lofty main pavilion – a tropical masterpiece and elegant space with stylish furnishings, an open kitchen and pizza oven, a fun cocktail bar and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. This becomes the central hangout for most guests, with a realm of topical books, cards and board games to keep the little ones occupied in quiet moments.
Accommodation at Wa Ale comes in the form of luxe, safari-style tents under khaki canvas frames – all ocean facing with spacious living areas and stunning outdoor jungle showers. Forget everything you know about camping and tents because these sprawling villas all have private teak terraces and four-poster beds draped with mosquito nets. The soothing sound of the waves, and nesting turtles just metres from the Beach Tents, are highlights, along with the 5,000 acres of wildlife-rich rainforest lying behind. However, the ‘pièce de résistance’ are the remarkable three Jungle Tree-houses – the perfect hideaway for honeymooners.
Wa Ale may be just a small speck on the horizon from afar, but the island has an impressive philosophy. When the Kingsleys began to create this unique island escape, they proceeded under the condition that they would give back to the local people of the Lampi Marine National Park, and they have achieved this in big ways. The team here is committed to giving back to the surrounding environment and communities. The Lampi Foundation, established in 1996, works alongside The Global Medical Volunteers, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry of the Union of Myanmar and The Wildlife Conservation Society to fund welfare and conservation projects in and around the marine park and the Mergui Archipelago.
The foundation opened the area’s first sea turtle hatchery to protect the green and leatherback turtles that seek refuge on the island’s shores; it also champions coral protection and hosts wildlife researchers and specialists. In addition, the charity does a huge amount to support the local community, in terms of healthcare, education and employment, in the villages of Salet Galet and May Kyone Galet. Guests can visit these villages to interact with the local people, learn how they live and understand how the lodge is supporting them, which benefits them financially. One of our most moving experiences was visiting Salet Galet, where it was impossible not to revel in the sheer happiness of the villagers – so grateful for the foundation, which has been regularly providing supplies, equipment and medicine to their community.
Wa Ale also has some of the strongest eco-credentials of any private island, keeping the lodge’s carbon footprint to an absolute minimum. They rely heavily on solar power and high-efficiency fans – that’s right, there’s no air-conditioning, and no swimming pool for that matter – but who needs it when the ocean is on your doorstep and sea breezes run freely day and night? There is also no reason to over-pack, as each bathroom comes with biodegradable bath products and coral-safe sunscreen.
Mealtimes at Wa Ale were a sheer delight, as we feasted on the most delicious Asian-influenced and international dishes. From gluten-free granola, chia bowls and juices at breakfasts to communal-style lunch spreads of zingy salads and grain bowls, Chef Ray prepares only the very best using organic, fairtrade and seasonal produce from the kitchen garden and the freshest of seafood. Every morsel is wholly scrumptious and a high accolade for the team, considering the property’s far-flung location.
The latest excitement from the island is their plan to open three two-bedroom villas and a four-bedroom beach house on Honeymoon Beach – with private chefs, butlers and access to your own speedboat, watersports equipment and a completely separate gym and dining space – this tucked-away enclave will be perfect for groups of friends or families alike.
We believe Wa Ale is a fantastic place for those looking for a laid-back barefoot luxury stay, perhaps as a beach extension to a holiday in Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand. It is a masterpiece – understated, earthy and healing for the soul – and there are extremely few places like this on the planet. Having long been inaccessible, the Mergui’s 800 islands offer raw isolation and peace in buckets that will leave you longing to discover more.
THE MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO IS ACCESSIBLE FROM THAILAND. HERE’S HOW TO GET HERE:
From Bangkok, Thailand: Take a one-hour-and-20-minute flight from Bangkok to Ranong, followed by a short boat ride across the border to Kawthaung in Myanmar. From the Kawthaung jetty, embark on a one-hour-and-40-minute luxury speedboat ride to the island.
From Phuket, Thailand: Take a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Ranong, followed by a short boat ride across the border to Kawthaung in Myanmar. From the Kawthaung jetty, embark on a one-hour-and-40-minute luxury speedboat ride to the island.
WHEN TO GO
We recommend travelling to Wa Ale between December and March, which are the driest months, and most ideal conditions for swimming, snorkelling and diving.