Ancient temples? Check. Beautiful, lush highlands? Check. Untouched traditional culture? Check. Tourist crowds? No! Mrauk U is one of those rare places where you can explore remarkable sites without seeing other tourists. Due to its remote location on the Kaladan River in the west of Myanmar, it takes a bit of effort to reach Mrauk U but the rewards are endless. Let the team at Myanmar Diaries plan the perfect Mrauk U tour for you – combining hassle-free transport and unique guided excursions to show you the best of this ancient kingdom.
If you have not heard of Mrauk U, do not worry- you are not alone. While Bagan’s temples are an iconic symbol of Myanmar, photos of Mrauk U’s monuments are rarely shown. Most visitors focus on Myanmar’s main four destinations – Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. It is only those with more time to explore or those with a keen interest in ancient monuments who make the journey out to Mrauk U. So why should you visit? During the 15th to 18th century Mrauk U flourished as the capital of the Rakhine State. Dutch and Portuguese traders frequently visited on their trade routes and thus the rulers were able to build grand temples and other religious monuments. However after the Anglo-Burmese war, the Kaladan River trade moved to Sittwe leaving Mrauk U almost abandoned. Thankfully the heritage sites remained untouched, creating what is now a magical landscape perfect for exploring.
The Journey to an Ancient Kingdom
So if a Mrauk U excursion sounds like just the perfect adventure, it’s time to start planning. The journey to get off-the-beaten-track in Myanmar is a great one. First catch a flight to Sittwe, a fishing and trading village on the eastern banks of the Kaladan River. From here you board a boat for a relaxing five-hour cruise to the far western shores, passing by fishing boats along the way. Sit back and relax, enjoying the scenic views and peaceful waterway. Late in the afternoon, the boat approaches the shores and a jeep takes you into the small town that is Mrauk U.
Mrauk U’s Magical Monuments
There are hundreds of monuments in Mrauk U, scattered across the fields and hills. A bike ride in Mrauk U is the perfect introduction to these remarkable sites, taking you from temple to temple by crossing through farms along the way. You will feel like you are riding through a living museum with farmers ploughing their crops in the shadows of ancient monuments and local worshippers coming to pray to centuries-old Buddha statues.
At the top of the ‘must see’ pagodas is Shittaung, a 16th century monument built by King Minbin. The fortress-like structure was built without the use of mortar and inside is an impressive maze of corridors lined with Buddha images. In fact the name of the pagoda translates to ’80,000 Buddhas.’ After exploring the winding tunnels of Shittaung, step back into the light and head to Koe Thaung Pagoda, a massive sandstone structure built by the son of King Minbin. Meaning ’90,000 Buddhas’, this pagoda has Buddha images on the outside and inside. Although it suffered natural damage over time it is still fascinating to explore.
Next on the list is Ratanabon Paya where a large central bell-shaped stupa is surrounded by 24 smaller stupas. And finally, be sure to visit Htukkanthein Temple, an imposing square monument that was built both as a fortress and a temple. The central dome houses a beautiful Buddha image and dozens of other Rahkine-style Buddhas can be found in the cave-like hallways of the monument.
There are so many more monuments to see and it is easy to pop in and out of the temples as the day goes on. The best way to appreciate the overall grandeur and scope of Mrauk U’s wonders is for an aerial view. There are hot air balloon flights in Mrauk U from October to March which are guaranteed to be spectacular. Or opt for a free view by climbing to the top of one of the surrounding hills, the perfect place to watch a Mrauk U sunset.
More than just monuments
Of course there is more to see than just monuments. As with most Myanmar towns, Mrauk U is home to a colorful morning market where fresh fish and vegetables are sold. Take a stroll through the stalls and you will gain a better understanding of the daily lives of the local people. The Kaladan River banks are also an interesting place for a visit, especially in the early morning and late afternoon when fishermen return to shores with the day’s freshest catch. And around the town there are dozens of small trails passing through fields and farms, hills and plateaus. These are ideal for walking or cycling, adding an additional element of adventure to this off-the-beaten track destination!
Exploring Chin Villages & Tattoo traditions
In addition to its fascinating history and incredible monuments, Mrauk U is also home to Chin villages where you can learn about ancient cultural traditions. A day trip to Chin villages on the Lay Myo River is an excellent addition to any Mrauk U tour. Set off after breakfast, traveling first by car then by boat along the Lay Myo, a languid waterway winding its way through the jungle and rugged countryside. After a few hours of travel, step back in time as you go ashore at a local village inhabited by the Chin people. The daily life of these villagers has remained largely unaffected by the modern world, with the people relying on fishing and farming for sustenance. But it is the older women in the village that are the real attraction. Many of these ladies are adorned with intricate facial tattoos, an old custom developed to prevent kidnapping. Learn more about this tradition and the lives of the local Chin people as you walk through the village. This up-close look at Chin culture is sure to be a highlight of your Myanmar holiday.
Moving on from Mrauk U
Once you have had your fill of ancient temples, cultural exchanges and rural countryside it is time to say farewell to Mrauk U and travel to your next destination. Make your way back to Sittwe by boat then hop on a flight for Yangon or take a direct flight to Thandwe for a relaxing Ngapali beach break. Wherever you go, your Myanmar Diary will carry with you the memories of your remarkable Mrauk U tour.
- Exploring Koe Thaung Pagoda
- Visiting the Chin villages and meeting face-tattooed women
- Gazing upon beautiful Shittaung temple
- Watching the sun set over Mrauk U’s pagodas
BEST TIME TO VISIT
- From October to March
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Destination: Mrauk U, Sittwe, Yangon
Setting off from the former capital of Yangon the first port of call is the town of Sittwe.
From here a boat trip takes you to the last royal capital of Myanmar and then on to Mrauk U.
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