Hidden deep in the history of Myanmar and overshadowed by it’s more popular and bigger tourist destination rival – Bagan, Mrauk U is a living, breathing and working historical town full of secrets, where goat herders and radish farmers still live and work amid the 700 ancient temples. Mrauk U was the capital of the Rakhine (Arakanese) kingdom, from 1430 to 1785. One of the unique attractions of Mrauk U is that local life here still runs right in the heart of this historical site as compared to Bagan where most locals have been located out of the historical area to New Bagan or Nyaung U by the Government.
Mrauk U is slowly becoming a popular archaeological and tourist destination with the main attractions being the temples and ruins around the town. The remains of the main palace roughly forms the centre of the town which gives it a unique attraction which so few sites around the world can offer and the fact that it lacks basic infrastructure and the main route is get here is to fly to Sittwe and then taking a 6 hour boat ride make it a challenging yet magical place to visit.
As the town of Mrauk U prospered, during it’s height the royalties which ruled over it and the locals that served under them built a number pagodas and temples which is why the city houses a rich collection of temples and pagodas. The most famous and noteworthy temples in Mrauk U are the Shite-thaung Temple (Temple of 80,000 Images or Temple of Victory), Ht Ukkanthein Temple (Htukkan Ordination Hall), the Koe-thaung Temple (Temple of 90,000 Images) and the Five Mahn pagodas.
Mrauk U literally means ‘Monkey Egg’, because as local legend goes the once lived a lonely female monkey. She met a peacock and the two later cohabited. The female monkey conceived with the peacock, and it laid an egg. A human son was born from the egg and he grew up to become a mighty prince. The prince later built a city near the jungle, and in respect of his birth story, the city was called Mrauk-U meaning ‘Monkey’s Egg’.
The temples are different to those in Bagan, made of stone rather than brick and also less extravagant in appearance. There are also far fewer of them with a different landscape but with equally as breathtaking views from the surrounding hills. You will hear many travellers that have visited both Mrauk U and Bagan prefer Mrauk U because of the fact that it is much more off the beaten path therefore you are more likely to find yourself wandering this historical city alone. It is this expanse of ruins in varying states that can feel like walking in an era long gone by, because Mrauk U is not only historical site but also a backdrop to everyday life.
Make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to visit a local Chin Village, the most popular are located around a 2-3 hours boat ride, where you can see the local ethnic women’s tattooed faces.
Though Mrauk U may not be as popular as the big 4 tourist destinations of Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay it is equally as awe-inspiring and through the ruins of Mrauk U you will truly be taken back to a dazzling time.