The most famous dive area in Myanmar, the Burma Banks are enormous flat topped sea mounts, rising to within 15 metres of the Andaman Sea surface, before plunging back down into the surrounding 300 metre deep waters.
The Burma Banks - Big, Silvertip, Rainbow and Roe Bank, plus Coral and Heckford banks - are located some 125 km west of Kawthaung and offer some adrenaline-rich open ocean diving, and shark encounters are virtually guaranteed. Nurse sharks are frequently seen, with occasional grey reef shark sightings - you are never sure just what you might see here.
Heckford Bank lies 20 km or so north of Roe Bank and is the deepest of the Burma Banks dive sites, topping out at 21-25 metres. Silvertips are quite common here. When you're in the water you'll be mesmerised by these impressive creatures, as they cautiously circle you. Tawny nurse sharks are also easily spotted, as they doze half-hidden under the overhangs created by the table corals that dot the flat seascape here.
Roe Bank reaches 17-21 metres deep and, like its neighbour to the north, is characterised by hard table corals, limestone rocks covered with black coral bushes and fans and coralline algae (Halimeda Micronesica), and interspersed with sandy patches, but also with massive growths of porites corals, smothered in colourful christmas tree worms, and white and pink wire corals. There are masses of fusiliers - yellowback, golden dash and neon - packs of striped brindletooths and powder-blue surgeonfish.
At Silvertip Bank, 18 km east of Roe Bank, you can look overboard through the crystal clear waters and often see great barracuda and potato cod cruising along the bottom, 15 metres below. The profile here has more variety, and you can make your way through the gullies checking out octopus, moray eels, bignose unicornfish and large red snappers. To the south east is a deeper slope to 40 metres, and here you can catch a glimpse of the skittish whitetip and black-tip reef sharks.
Burma Banks diving is in quite virgin dive territory and offered on only a handful of liveaboard cruises. Due to its exposed location, you can expect advanced drift diving in some strong currents, whilst checking out pelagics and larger reef fish species.
Cockscomb Island - Approximately 2 hours cruising time out of the Myanmar port town of Kawthaung, lies Cockscomb Island, where you can find a spot that is aptly named the 'Hidden Lagoon'.
There are several openings in the limestone rock of the island, just at the water's edge, where you can dive through at a depth of around 2-3m. You should consider this shallow section in your dive profile calculations if you also want to dive along the sloping reef that extends to either side of the swim-throughs.
Once you have entered the hole in the wall, the intriguing shafts of light will lead you into the lagoon. If you are the first to go through, make sure you turn around to see the silhouettes of the other divers that follow you in the turquoise waters.
You should surface inside the lagoon and have a good look around, since you are surrounded in a 360 degree direction by sheer limestone cliffs with very distinctive ragged edges where some trees have taken root. The lagoon itself has a maximum depth of about 12-15m and there are a few coral blocks to inspect, but since visibility is usually limited in the deeper parts, make sure that you stay close together with your dive buddy/group.
On the way back to the exit of the lagoon in very shallow water of only about 1 to 2m, is a large flat hard coral plateau worth exploring and the visibility is much better here too. You want to try and be the first to exit, to get an unobstructed view of the holes that lead into the open ocean again.
You can continue your dive now, by keeping the reef on your right hand side, since this is the prettier part of the slope at this island. Don't forget to accumulate your submerged times in and out of the lagoon and stick to your dive profile, on this fascinating Myanmar dive site.