Temples of Mrauk U – Must-See. While Myanmar is not quite the off-the-beaten-path location it was a decade or two ago, it still holds many intriguing and beguiling places. So after you take in the amazing Shwedagon Pagoda and the Temples of Bagan, consider visiting Mrauk U.
Mrauk U is the far less-visited version of Bagan. For over 300 years, Mrauk U was the capital of the powerful Mrauk U kingdom. Mrauk U served as the home for 49 kings of the Rakhine people until the kingdom was conquered by the Burmese in 1784. Mrauk U being close to the Bay of Bengal served as a trading hub between India, Persia, Arabia, Bengal, and Burma as well as the Portuguese and the Dutch East India Company.
As the kingdom prospered, the region became a center of religious focus. Pagodas and temples were built in honor of their Buddhist faith. And Mrauk-U rivaled Bagan with the second most amount of temples in the region.
Mrauk U is full of rolling hills with pagodas seemingly dotting every other hill top, compared to the flatness of Bagan. Another major difference in the temples of Bagan and Mrauk U is the construction material. The temples in Mrauk U are constructed with darker grey stones compared to the red-orange bricks found in Bagan. The hills make Mrauk U that much more challenging for exploring the temples on bikes. Foreigners can’t rent motorbikes in Mrauk U, but you can rent a bike for about $5 a day, while some guest houses provide them for free. The other option for exploring is a mini-version of a pick-up. The mini pick-ups with driver can be rented for about $40 a day. And a local guide will also run you about $40 a day.
Bagan can be reached quite easily with multiple flight options from Yangon with roundtrips costing under $200. Mrauk U is a bit more isolated. I flew from Yangon to Sittwe, and then took a fast ferry for $20 for three hours to Mrauk U. The benefit of its isolation is a lack of tourists. I spent four nights in Mrauk U and saw less than 50 tourists during my stay. In Bagan, at a popular temple for watching sunset there could be a couple of hundred tourists.
For sunset, I spent two evenings at Discovery Hill View Point. Set back from the main grouping of temples in the North Group, you take a short walk/hike (10 minutes) to a viewing point. Here you have a great view of a series of the large temples in Mrauk U mixed with mist and smoke. There is a small 500 Kyat fee. An experience not to be missed.
Lack of tourists in Mrauk-U. Sunset viewing point. Only a couple of people.
Temple overrun with tourists in Bagan.
My Favorite Temples
The Shai-thaung Temple also known as the Temple of 80,000 Buddha Images is one of those meaningful surprises of travel. The 16th century temple’s exterior will not overwhelm you, but the interior was incredibly impressive. In a long snaking passage, over 300 feet, that encircles the center Buddha, are hundreds and hundreds of stone carvings. These reliefs depict hundreds of figures in six rows including Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Kings of Spiritual abodes, Devas, guardian spirits, and animals, both real and imagined. The relief also show the 550 Jatakas, which are the stories of the previous lives of Buddha. The reliefs also show local Rakhine life with dancers, boxers, wrestlers, dancers, and humans praying. And you can expect also to see some Hindu deities.
I was so impressed with these carvings I came back for a second time. Take your time, and walk passages multiple times. There is a 5,000 Kyat fee to enter.
Imagine, I had this view all to myself.
Around the corner from Shai-thaung Temple is the Andaw Thein, another 16th century creation. This temple contains a tooth, a relic from Buddha. What caught my attention at this temple was another interior circular passage adorned with a handful of Buddha figures. It is a very camera-worthy place.
Another impressive temple is Koe-Thaung translates to shrine of the 90,000 images of the Buddha. This is the largest temple in Mrauk-U and it appears to be a well-built fortress. In fact many of the temples in Mrauk-U have a sturdy fortress feel to them. And in comparison the larger temples in Bagan are much more atheistically pleasing. Koe-Thaung measures 76 by 70 meters. The exterior of the temple is somewhat in disrepair and unfortunately a large blue military facility was built nearby which detracts from the experience.
What stood out during my visit to the 16th century Koe-Thaung was the interior and the thousands of Buddha figures carved into the rock. I am not sure if there are quite 90,000, but weaving among the passages was an impressive experience. And legend has it, that a father-son rivalry resulted in the construction of Koe-Thaung. His father built the Temple of 80,000 Buddha Images and the son decided to surpass him with an additional 10,000 figures. Sounds rather Game of Throne-ish.
Where To Stay
If you are ready to splurge, I have the perfect lodging solution for you. I stayed for two nights at the Mrauk U Princess. Set outside of the chaos of the local market and the dust of the temples is this perfect oasis, the Mrauk U Princess Resort. The grounds are impeccable and the traditional villas are a perfect way to relax after spending the day exploring the temples. Read more about my stay here. You can make a reservation here.
If you have to spend the night in Sittwe, I would suggest Memory Hotel. Overpriced at $50, but a clean and tidy room. If you are taking the fast ferry (about three hours) you need to buy a ticket the day before. Unfortunately, there is no website. When I arrived in Sittwe, the staff accompanied me to the ferry office to buy the ticket. The ferry office, the airport, and the harbor are all less than 10 minutes from the Memory Hotel. Other options include the slow ferry (about 8 hours) and renting a private boat. The ride will take you 64 km down the Kaladan river. Temples of Mrauk U – Must-See.
I spoke with this guide, but was not able to use him.
This mini pick up will set you back $40. Cheaper and better options in Bagan.
Temples of Mrauk U – Must-See
Disclaimer: I was an invited guest of the Mrauk U Princess. My true views are shared here. If you book through Agoda, I will earn a fee.