*There is currently armed conflict in Mrauk U (as of 15th March 2019), if you were planning on travelling there then I strongly advise you to cancel them, there were shootings while we were there.*
Archaeologists have called for a protective no-fire zone around the Mrauk U ruins which have been already been damaged in the conflict. The UNESCO status of what is undoubtedly an impressive historical site hangs in the balance with fighting going on around it.
The stupas of Mrauk U are relics to the time when it was the last great Rakhine capital, from 1430 to 1784. It was a rich city port, trading with Asia, the Middle East, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, liked to Venice London and Amsterdam. A lot has changed but the temples remain.
If the political situation in the Rakhine State improves and becomes safe again, then this is how you can visit the Mrauk U ruins as a budget backpacker.
You can get to Mrauk U by boat from Sittwe after flying there (not recommended due to conflict), or by getting a bus but it is a long journey. We got a bus from Ngapali Beach as all Sittwe-bound buses go by Mrauk U. It took 24 hours due to the bad roads and the river ferry you have to get. You can see the ruins by the road which is your signal to get off!
You can also get a bus to or from Kyaukpadaung which has regular transfers to and from Bagan or Nyaung U, this takes about 16 hours and the road is windy. We stayed at Golden Mrauk U Guesthouse which was a wonderful teak building with nice rooms and a decent breakfast. Everything in Mrauk U is pretty cheap and you get good value for money.
The temples are quite spread out so I recommend taking a bicycle or a tuk-tuk to take you around, the roads are fairly quiet so a bicycle is cheap and easy.
First head to the ruins to the north of town, which is where most of the famous temples are gathered. You can also climb the hills for some lovely views across the stupa-dotted countryside.
The first important temple is the Le-myet-hna Temple. Inside, it has four entrances, and eight seated Buddhas situated around a central column.
After that, you’ll find the bunker-like Htukkanthein temple which translates to ‘cross beam ordination hall’. It is thought to have acted as a refuge during the war and it certainly looks like one.
If you continue around, you’ll find the Andaw Thein temple which is located diagonally across from the Shite-thaung Temple. It means ‘Tooth Shrine’ as it contains a Buddha tooth relic from Sri Lanka.
If you are asked to pay, the one place this might happen is at the entrance to the Shite-thaung Temple, the foreigner price is 5,000 kyats.
The Shite-thaung temple means refers to the 80,000 Buddha images that it contains and it is also known as the Temple of Victory. It is right next to a modern-day temple which is lovely to walk around.
Once you’ve had your fill of the Northern temples, take the road East towards the Koe-thaung Temple and you’ll pass various fields and lakes along the way.
On your way, look out for the very tall Lawka Man Aung Pagoda which is one of the most impressive pagodas.
The Koe-thaung Temple means the temple of 90,000 Buddha pictures because that’s how many it contains and its the largest of the Mrauk U temples. When you leave you’ll see a small standing Buddha statue on a hill on the left-hand side.
The last part of the loop is the south and the road is lined with stupas so you can decide which ones you want to visit. One of the nicest pagodas to look out for is the Lawka Man Aung Pagoda if you go slightly West before returning to your hotel.
If you’re looking for a decent restaurant, there aren’t too many options but Moe Cherry on the main street is the best place where we ate.
Apart from the civil conflict, I preferred Mrauk U to the more touristy Bagan, it does have a peaceful vibe but I imagine its more beautiful in the wet season when it isn’t so dry!
I hope that Mrauk U does manage to get peace from conflict as well as its UNESCO status. That along with decent roads and connections will attract more tourists from Myanmar and around the world who will enjoy this beautiful place.
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