Mrauk U is a medieval town and archaeological site in Rakhine State, Western Myanmar. It was formerly known as Myohaung. All foreign nationals must pay a USD5 fee for their stay in Mrauk U.
Mrauk U may seem to be a sleepy village today but not so long ago it was the capital of a reasonable sized empire where Portuguese, Dutch and French traders rubbed shoulders with the literati of Bengal and Mughal princes on the run.
Mrauk U was declared capital of the Arakanese kingdom in 1431. At its peak, Mrauk U controlled half of Bangladesh, modern day Rakhine State and the western part of Lower Burma. As the city grew, many pagodas and temples were built. Several of them remain, and are the main attraction of the city.
The best time to visit Mrauk U is from November-mid-March when it's cooler in the morning with attractive mists.
Foreign nationals must pay a USD5 fee in Mrauk U. The official counter is in the Shittaung Pagoda, but the government fee collector will track you down sooner or later if you miss him.
The journey through the backwaters and then up the river is a wonderful trip. There were 2 large ferries running from Sittwe to Mrauk: the ex-government boat (XGov, now privatised) and the Aung Kyan Moe (AKM) double-decker boat. For both, tourists USD10, 7 hr. An express boat is USD20, 3 hr. You will be met at Sittwe airport by a tout selling private boats /places on private boats (5 passengers+, USD20, 6 hr, one-way), which may be useful if it goes that afternoon, as you save a night in Sittwe.
Sittwe to Mrauk U: a ferry goes M (AKM); Tu (XGov); F (Xgov); Sa (AKM) at 07:00. Express boat W, 14:00 and there one more sailing of the Aung Kyaw Moe, Th (possibly W).
Mrauk U to Sittwe: a ferry goes Tu (AKM); W (XGov); F (AKM); Sa (Xgov); Su (AKM) at 07:00. Express boat Th, 07:00.
Food is available for purchase. The ferry is not in great condition, but seems safe enough. Be warned though that the ferry has been known to skip a day or two every now and then so, if relying on it for travel, keep a reasonable buffer to avoid getting stuck. Private boats are available for rent in Sittwe and may do the trip considerably faster (4 to 6 hr) for USD80 (2008 price) depending on your negotiating skills and the number in your party. The principal advantage of renting a private boat is that you are no longer tied to the ferry schedule. In high season 2011 there were private boats leaving Mrauk U seemingly every day, which you could join for negotiated fare. Flights from Yangon arrive in Sittwe in the afternoon and it is easy to rent a boat and be in Mrauk U in the evening which means a travel time of one day from Yangon. With the government ferry, count on at least two days to get from Yangon to Mrauk U, longer if you arrive the day before a ferry off-day.
Buses leave for Sittwe and Yangon every morning, and foreign travellers are now permitted to travel to Mrauk U overland. In the early morning there are more buses. You have to get to the bus station in Sittway at 5:30 A.M to ensure you get a seat, unless you book your bus journey in advance. Buses heading to Yangon will stop at Mrauk U., normally starting at 7 A.M. The last bus is at 12 P.M or sometimes 1 P.M. if you miss the morning bus you can only take last bus.
You can get a bus from Yangon and Mandalay too. If you starting from Bagan, you have to take a bus to Magway and switch to the bus to Mrauk U. The bus from Mandalay stops at Magway near the bridge across the Irrawaddy river. There are also buses from Ngapali beach to Mrauk U.
In Mrauk U you can either walk, rent a bicycle (available from most hotels), hire a trishaw or a horse cart.
- Archaeology Museum (Just inside the royal palace). A collection of artifacts from the Mrauk U sites: Buddhas, slabs with inscriptions, Wethali era coins, paintings that show Mrauk U in its heyday, and an excellent model of Mrauk U that will help you get your bearings. Crumbling walls are all that remains of the royal palace itself. Free.
- Chin Villages. Day trips to semi-remote Chin villages can be arranged at most hotels. USD40.
- Mahamuni Paya (40 km N of Mrauk U along bumpy roads). Once housed the mahamuni Buddha that now resides in the Mahamuni Paya in Mandalay. There are several ancient artifacts on view at the Paya and at the small museum near the shrine. Hire a jeep (USD30-50) for a day outing to Wethali and the Mahamuni Paya from Mrauk U.
- Wethali (2 hr outing from Mrauk U by car, or all day outing by bicycle). Now a small village but fifteen hundred years ago Wethali was the capital of an ancient Arakan kingdom. While temples are probably buried under the many mounds that dot the area, the only thing to see today is the layout of the palace and a statue known as the Great Image of Hsu Taung Pre.
- Southwest of the temple area there is a market.
- Change money before you get to Mrauk U as exchange rates are reportedly to be very bad.
- Several small restaurants are at the market.
- Mo Cherry Restaurant (Follow the Yangon Sittwe Rd by the Narawat Hotel and Mrauk U Hotel E to the crossing, then turn right. After a few metres you see the restaurant on the left side). Offers good Chinese and semi-authentic Rakhine food. The food is good and less risky than the places in the market but, if you have the time explore other restaurants, often unnamed, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
- Pyae Wa Restaurant (In the marketplace). Authentic Rakhine food.
- This region is quite remote, and therefore the prices are somewhat higher. A bottle of Myanmar beer is about 2,500 kyat.
- Pleasant Island Guest House (On a tiny island near Royal City). Shower, WC. Bungalows, simple and close to the market.
- Prince Hotel, Mraund Bwe Rd, Alzee Quarter, ☎ +95 43 24200 ext 50174, e-mail: email@example.com. Bungalow-style rooms a bit away from the city (an easy bike ride). The best of budget choices. About USD25.
- Royal City Guest House, Mini Ba Gyi Rd (Around the corner from the Sittwe jetty). Simple rooms, some with attached bath. Two bungalows (concrete rooms) across the street. Friendly and helpful but, as it is on the main path to the jetty, it can be very noisy. No generator. USD5-15.
- Mrauk U Hotel, Yangon-Sittwe Rd, Nyaungpinzay Qtr (Opposite Narawath Hotel), ☎ +95 123060. Air-con, shower, WC, TV, fridge; very large rooms; large garden; well equipped. This hotel is run by the government. USD30-50.
- Nawarat Hotel, E-27, Yangon-Sittwe-Rd, Nyaungpinzay (200 m from the Shitthaung Pagoda), ☎ +95 1703885, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Very friendly, pleasant hotel; air-con, shower/bath, WC, TV, refrigerator; clean and beautiful, not too large rooms in bungalows. USD38-60, including breakfast.
- Vesali Resort Hotel (Near the Shwetaung Hügel), ☎ +95 1526593, +95 1525609, fax: +95 1526325, e-mail: email@example.com. Rooms are bungalow-type. Includes breakfast; good food. USD35-45.
- Mrauk U Princess Resort, Mrauk U, Aung Tat Yat, ☎ +95 43 50232.
- Internet available, expensive and unreliable, at Prince Hotel on the SW edge of town.
The area around Mrauk U is restricted and all foreigners must sleep in the town itself.