Off the beaten track, far from the usual tourist route in Myanmar, there is a small town just waiting to be discovered. Mrauk U really is very special.
A Bit of History
From 1430 to 1785, Mrauk U was the capital of the Rakhine Kingdom, one of the most powerful kingdoms in the history of Myanmar. Mrauk U was built on its shipping fleet, which traded with nearby territories, while plundering others.
During this time, many temples were erected, often to commemorate the king that built them. The most remarkable temples that are viewable today include Site-Thaung, Hkukkanthein, and Koe-Thaung Temples.
What to do in Mrauk U
Unlike Bagan, you won’t need a motorbike or car to travel between the temples. In Mrauk U they are much closer together and it’s possible to walk around, or hire a bicycle if you prefer. Temple hopping will take up a large portion of your time in Mrauk U, and it’s well worth it. The history and architecture behind some of these monuments is unbelievable.
It’s also possible to go on a simple day trip up the Lay Myo River to some of the nearby Chin villages, by boat. In these villages you’ll meet the tattoo-faced women that are famed in these parts.
Local Life in Mrauk U
It’s easy to draw a lot of comparisons with Bagan, so we’ll keep on doing it. Unlike Bagan, where the locals are not permitted to live in between the temples, in Mrauk U people very much live amongst these monuments. You’ll see children playing, livestock grazing and much more.
As a result, it’s very easy to immerse yourself in this local life, especially seeing as there are few and far between tourists to be seen around these parts.
Getting to Mrauk U
This is the only downside when it comes to Mrauk U. It’s off the beaten track, really off the beaten track. There are two main ways to get there, either the slightly faster and comfy way, or the rough and ready, longer way.
The comfy way is to catch a flight to Sittwe from Yangon. The flight usually arrives just before lunchtime. From here, you’ll hop on a boat ride upstream that takes between 4 and 6 hours, and will bring you into Mrauk U.
This is definitely our preferred way as the boat ride is simply gorgeous. You really feel like your trekking out into the jungle to view an old ancient kingdom. Very humbling.
The longer and rougher route is by bus. It’s possible to catch a bus from Bagan (the usual option), Mandalay or even Yangon. This trip will take around 18 hours from Bagan and a whopping 24 hours from Yangon. It’s not for the faint hearted as a result, but it is the cheapest way, with tickets costing about $30.
So, Mrauk U or Bagan?
It’s a question that is often asked. Honestly, it depends on how long you plan to spend in Myanmar. If you are only coming for 2 weeks, and this is your first ever trip to Myanmar, then we would say go to Bagan, it’s amazing there.
If however you’ve got a little bit more time on your hands, or are coming back for a second trip in Myanmar, then definitely factor in Mrauk U. Compared to the temples in Bagan, those in Mrauk are incredibly intricate with amazing designs. The landscape is also a lot greener (a jungle type of feel), and terrain is hilly compared to the flat plains of Bagan.
It’s only a matter of time before this location becomes more popular, so come now while it’s quiet and explore the temples all by yourself. Factor in at least 3 days, and you won’t regret it.