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Mrauk U

The archaeological site of Mrauk U lies in the northern west reaches of the Rakhine State, just south of the Bangladeshi boarder, and is one of Burma’s finest gems. A 40-mile, five-hour boat ride from the local market town of Sittwe, Mrauk U is a rural, rough and ready riverside town, surrounded by the lush and stunning Rakhine landscape, and where a traditional way of life still endures.

Most famously, Mrauk U is renowned for being the country's second most celebrated archaeological site after legendary Bagan. Whilst the temples are smaller and younger, and very different to those of Bagan, they are no less remarkable or impressive. The vast pagodas were previously mistaken for fortresses due to their thick bunker-like walls, which were built as such for protection from the fierce Rakhine winds. Dispersed through villages, rice paddies, hillocks and grazing cattle, the temples are very much part of everyday life, whereas Bagan’s temples stand slightly isolated from the main town. The best experiences to be had here would be to wonder around the temples at sunrise or sunset and mingle with charming local farmers who remain very much a part of the temple area. Best of all, as only approximately 4,000 visitors come here every year, it remains unspoilt and undiscovered to the masses, so you are likely to have the temples to yourself.

A day trip from Mrauk U will take you to the extraordinary Chin villages, to learn about the lives of the charming Chin people. On arrival, the most notable feature of the tribe is that many of the older women have fine-line tattooed faces. This was an old tribal tradition, something which was performed at a young age in order to mark out the Chin women, and to prevent men from other tribes from taking them as wives, or from wealthy men taking them as slaves. The practice is no longer performed so Chin children today can lead a normal life, hence you will see it is only the older women who bear these marks.

To get to Mrauk U it is a flight to Sittwe, and then a five- to six- hour boat journey to the charming Mrauk U Princess. It is possible to drive instead of taking a boat, but the roads are not in good condition and we would not recommend this as an option. There are plans for a long-delayed airport to open in the next few years which will open up the area to tourism, so we recommend you visit before that happens!

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I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.
Bill Bryson