Mrauk U contains many elements that create a memorable trip, such as a comfortable hotel, an ancient kingdom with impressive ruins, a lively local culture, as well as interesting Chin tribal villages that can be visited in a long but worthwhile day trip.
Mrauk U is an archeologically significant town located in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. It is the capital of Mrauk U Township and relatively isolated from the rest of the country. Its various cultural and historical remnants, however, promise to offer tourist a unique experience unlike no other when visiting the Southeast Asian country.
As a major tourist as well as an archaeological destination, Mrauk U is most famous for its various temples and ancient ruins. Many of these sites are currently awaiting nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Main history events of Mrauk U
From 1430 to 1785, Mrauk U was the capital of the powerful Rakhine (Arakanese) Kingdom. At its zenith, the Rakhine Kingdom stretched as far as the Ganges River to the south and the Ayeyarwaddy River to the west. In 1785, Mrauk U was conquered by the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty, before the country fell under British colonial rule. During this period, Mrauk U was known as Myohaung.
Throughout its pre-colonial history, Mrauk U served as an important regional trade hub and a significant port along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. Numerous trading goods, including rice, ivory, horses, spices, and even slaves, were transported through Mrauk U from Bengal, India, Persia, and Arabia. For this strategic value, Mrauk U was one of the most important ports of Myanmar before the 18th century. In January 2018, a tragedy ensued when Burmese police fired on Rakhine protesters who rioted against an earlier government’s ban on a local historical event.
Main attractions in Mrauk U
Shite-thaung Temple: Also known as the “Temple of 80,000 Buddha’s Images,” or the “Temple of Victory,” Shite-thaung is Mrauk U’s most famous and sublime attraction. The temple was built in 1535-1536 by King Min Bin to memorialize his conquest of Bengal.
Located on Pokhaung Hill, north of the Royal Palace, Shite-thaung represents the unique architecture of Burmese Buddhist temples. It features a central bell-shaped stupa, surrounded by four smaller stupas, which are in turn surrounded by even smaller stupas along the edges. Tourists will be amazed by the hundreds of Buddha statues lining along the main hall of the temple, as well as countless reliefs of Buddhas, Bodhisattavas, and a multitude of historical and mythical figures of Burmese culture.
Htukkanthein Temple: This is another famous temple of Mrauk U whose name means “Cross-Beam Ordination Hall.” Tourists will be interested to find this temple a rather militaristic building that used to serve as a refuge for the Buddhist order in times of war.
Constructed of brick and stone, the temple also has a hti at the top surrounded by four smaller stupas at the corners. When visiting at dawn, tourists will find the sun’s rays shining directly onto the main Buddha image inside the temple’s central hall. Htukkanthein also features a small meditation chamber that tourists may access via the main temple.
Koe-thaung Temple: Yet another magnificent temple Mrauk U has to offer is Koe-thaung. Also known as the “Temple of 90,000 Buddha Images,” Koe-thaung is the largest temple in the region. It was built from 1554 to 1556 and still houses more than 90,000 statutes.
In addition to regular statutes featuring Buddhas and other spiritual figures, tourists will also find beautiful bronze statutes scattered around the temple. Koe-thaung is considered one of Mrauk U’s most sacred temples and is seriously venerated by local populations.
Royal Palace: The palace is also a must-see destination for tourists in Mrauk U. Here, tourists will be able to visit the Museum of Archeology that houses countless invaluable artifacts from the earlier Mrauk U Kingdom. Many are associated with the Buddha and can help tourists learn significantly more about the rich history and culture of ancient Mrauk U.
Museum of Archeology in Royal Palace
Chin Villages: Tourists are bound to have a culturally unique experience when visiting Chin Villages. The villages are home to the Chin people who have inhabited the land for much of Mrauk U’s history. In these villages, Chin festivals and cultural dances are performed by tattooed Chin women in their ethnic costumes and exquisite jewelry. Tourists will have a great time as they watch and/or participate in these activities.
Mrauk U Culture
While Mrauk U is a primarily Buddhist site, there are also several religious buildings of other faiths in the region. It is therefore essential that tourists are dressed in culturally appropriate attires, especially when they plan on visiting Mrauk U’s various Buddhist temples and pagodas. For instance, tourists must avoid sleeveless shirts, shorts, skirts or pants that are shorter than the knee, and should try to wear toes-covered shoes rather than flip-flops when visiting these religious sites.
Weather in Mrauk U
Mrauk U is situated in a coastal tropical monsoon climate region. As such, it is most recommended that tourists visit Mrauk U during Myanmar’s tourist season, which is from mid-October to mid-March. During this time, the weather is relatively dry, temperate, and more predictable. This dry season is especially essential when tourists plan on performing outdoor activities such as mountain climbing or traveling by boats.
The March-May period is too hot, which may leave tourists severely dehydrated and even suffering from heat strokes. To the contrary, the August-October months are the region’s rainy season, during which heavy rain and severe flooding are most likely to occur.
- Getting to Mrauk U: The most popular way for tourists to reach Mrauk U is to take a domestic flight from Yangon to Sittwe and take a boat from Sittwe to Mrauk U via the Kaladan River. Tourists may also ask the hotels in Mrauk U to arrange for them private boat services to and from Sittwe. Those who wish to travel on land can board a bus to Mrauk U from Mandalay but should remember to bring with them sunglasses, sufficient water, hats or umbrellas to avoid excessive heat and subsequent dehydration.
- Transportation in Mrauk U: Mrauk U is less developed compared to other major cities in Myanmar and, as a result, tourists are encouraged to tour the town’s various attractions on foot or by bicycles.
Local transportation in Mrauk U
Mrauk U is a perfect destination for both nature lovers and those who wish to pay homage to Buddhist temples and Burmese cultural and historical sites. These cultural and natural artifacts make wondrous pictures for amateur and professional photographers, as well as casual selfie takers who seek to capture memorable moments on their adventures in the country of Myanmar. Timing your travel is the most essential factor to ensure a safe, relaxing and pleasant visit in Mrauk U. Those who love (or study) history and wish to learn more about Myanmar or Arakanese culture will benefit the most from a visit to Mrauk U.
Local currency in Myanmar is kyat. It is recommended that tourists exchange money while waiting for their baggage at any Burmese airport. While foreign credit cards may be accepted in major hostels, hotels, or restaurants, it is strongly recommended that tourists have readily available cash in hand, both for the sake of convenience and in order to experience the country as local Burmese do.