Mrauk U: Myanmar’s ‘other Bagan’

Bagan is Tomb Raider come alive, a breathtaking destination, though it receives large tourist crowds (for Myanmar). In the spirit of Cambodia’s Banteay Chhmar, the ‘second Angkor Wat,’ reader Glenn (of HDR photography fame) wrote about his trip to Mrauk U:

Mrauk U is definitely a commitment! 6 hours on the boat up the river from Sittwe and then about 4-4.5 hours back down. It’s interesting that everyone still lives in little villages very close to the temples. But every day around sunset the cooking fires start up. It’s really smoky and kind of killed the sunset shots. Meeting the university boys in Sittwe was one of the highlights of the trip for me. They were so sweet and really wanted to try their English out on me. For sure Bagan is easier to get to. And while I liked Mrauk U, Bagan was one of the most stupendous places I have ever seen. The balloon ride was well worth the hefty price tag.

Photo by Glenn

The Rapid Traveler had limited time when he visited Myanmar in 2010, and giving up Mrauk U was the hardest decision. Both Bagan and Mrauk U are on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Photo by Glenn

Now Myanmar is the hot destination in Southeast Asia and those considering a trip should set out immediately as crowds will only increase if political liberalization is not disrupted. Lonely Planet super author Robert Reid, recently of 76-Second Travel Show fame, just put up an article on Mrauk U as the next Angkor Wat, claiming it as his favorite destination in Myanmar:

Some visitors dub Bagan as the ‘next Angkor Wat‘ and it is a wonderful site, particularly when you explore outer temples with a flashlight and a sense of imagination. But after updating Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Myanmar twice, I’d have to admit it’s not even my favorite ruin in the country. I prefer Mrauk U, an elusive kingdom-turned-village in the hills of Rakhaing State near the Bangladesh border. Practically severed from road access with the country, Mrauk U is the timeless home to 700 ancient temples that serve as a backdrop to a still-active village life of goat herders, cauliflower farmers and passing monks.

Photo by Glenn

Mrauk U is temptingly near to Chin State, some villages of which can be visited without a permit. The article contains typical Lonely Planet practical detial and further recommends a beach stop in Ngapali since most of the flights between Yangon and Sittwe stop over in nearby Thandwe.

Despite widespread perceptions, Myanmar is quite easy to visit. Visas are not difficult and there are numerous flight options from throughout Asia. Air Asia’s frequent, cheap services to Bangkok are a good option.

Photo by Glenn

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  • RakSiam

    thanks for the plug!

    One of the really interesting things about Myanmar to me was the different ethnic groups. The folks in Rahkine state definitely seem to enjoy the fact that they are so separated from the rest of the country. The people have a much more South Asian look, darker skin and features. Sittwe is certainly pretty downtrodden but the location between the river and the Bay of Bengal is quite nice. They are proud to be different from the majority population. The Shan people over around Inle Lake are proud to be different too.

    I took the boat trip to the Chin villages. Not really my cup of tea, frankly. One of the big attractions is supposed to be the old ladies with tattooed faces. I find it morally repugnant to turn people into a tourist attraction like some sort of freak show. If you’ve been to one small, rural village in SE Asia you’ve been to them all for the most part. I also sprained my ankle really badly getting off the boat which made the trip seem even less worth it!

  • LarryInNYC

    Keep up the Myanmar posts! Will be there this summer with my family.