A Guide to Mrauk U: Go Now Before The Secret’s Out

If you’re looking for an authentic cultural experience with limited tourism infrastructure in Myanmar, discover ancient Mrauk U. Though it’s not easy to get to, this spot has been hidden for too long.


Photo © iStock/wechyun tarawisid

Far from the traditional Burmese tourist route, there is a small town ready to amaze those who dare to reach it.

A bit of history

From 1430 to 1785, Mrauk U was the capital of the most powerful Rakhine Kingdom in history. By trading and plundering neighbor kingdoms with the biggest fleet in the region, Mrauk U built its rich empire.

Many temples were erected during two golden centuries, where Arakanese kings were protected by samurais, who came directly from Japan.

The most remarkable temples that still stand are: Shite-thaung Temple – the Temple of 80,000 Images or Temple of Victory, Htukkanthein Temple – Htukkan Ordination Hall, and the Koe-thaung Temple – Temple of 90,000 Images.

Misty morning in Mrauk U. Photo credit: iStock

Things to do in Mrauk U

You won’t need a motorbike to explore the temples of Mrauk U, you can walk from temple to temple. If you’d prefer two wheels, hire a bicycle from town.

Take a simple day trip up the Lay Myo River from Mrauk U to the Chin villages by boat. There, you’ll see the tattoo-faced women, and learn about the legends and their personal stories – go now, as there are only a handful of them left

Local life in Mrauk U

When the Military Junta saw the potential in Bagan for tourism, thousands of people who lived around and in between the temples were displaced to new villages in the surroundings.

In Mrauk U people still live around the temples, so you will see local farmers, children playing in the fields, and devotees going to pray.

In Bagan, however, you’ll find lots of tourists with selfie sticks, and pushy locals trying to sell you anything that might interest anyone.

Getting to Mrauk U

There are two main ways to get there, the comfy way and the rough way.

To take the comfortable route, catch a flight from any airport in Myanmar that connects with Sittwe – the main city of the Rakhine region, followed by a boat ride upstream of 4–6 hours.

The rough method, as you’ve probably guessed, is by bus. The most popular route for tourists is from Bagan, which costs 40,000 kyats, and takes 18 hours. Or, you can catch a bus from Yangon for 25,000 kyats, which takes 24 hours.

So, Mrauk U or Bagan?

It’s likely you’ve never heard anything about Mrauk U – which leaves a huge margin to let a visit surprise and delight. To help you decide for yourself, here are the main differences you’ll find between Bagan and Mrauk U:

1. Hilly terrain in Mrauk U, versus flat plains in Bagan

The picture of Bagan with thousands of temples across vast plains at sunset is something magical.

You won´t have that in Mrauk U, as the terrain is hilly – so you´ll only be able to see just a few temples at a time, and from different hills.

2. Lush landscapes in Mrauk U, versus washed out Bagan

In Bagan the soil, vegetation and temples wash the landscape with a mix of browns. While in Mrauk U, black temples pepper a lush green landscape.

3. Spectacular views from outside the temples in Bagan, versus intricate interiors in Mrauk U

In Bagan the temples are exuberant from the outside, while in Mrauk U the best part lays inside, with entangled roots and thousands of images sculpted in the stone. 

My advice? Visit now before Mrauk U loses its charm.

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