Mrauk U is one of the most historically and culturally important places in Myanmar as it would have been the capital of the Arakanese Kingdom which came to power in 1431. This impressive kingdom would have reached into parts of Bangladesh and was the seat of power for the Bengal and Mughal royal families.
At that time lavish pagodas and palaces were erected all over Mrauk U and many of these testaments to the might of the royals still stand to this day.
If you love ancient archaeology, or just want to know more about the history of Myanmar, then this is a great place to come and you can also visit the surrounding villages at the same time which are the home of the ethnic Chin people.
Here are the best things to do in Mrauk U:
1. Learn some history at the Royal Palace and Archaeology Museum
Unfortunately you can’t see the original Royal Palace in Mrauk U as all that is left is the walls which are now slowly falling down.
On the grounds however you can visit the Archaeology Museum which has a collection of antiques that were rescued from all over Mrauk U. As you walk around you will find a number of statues of the Buddha and other items like ancient coins.
Also make sure to look out for the stones which have carved inscriptions and the paintings of Mrauk U which depict it in its former glory.
2. Admire Pitaka Taik
Pitaka Taik is known for being one of the seven famous libraries of Mrauk U, which would have numbered forty-eight in the days of old.
This library building dates from the 16th century when it was built by King Minphalang and used to house the Tripitaka which is a famous Buddhist tome which would have come from Sri Lanka originally.
This is a very small building and is only 13 feet by 9 feet but it is worth a visit to learn more about the different kinds of buildings that make up the lost city of Mrauk U.
3. Visit Kothaung Paya
Kothaung Paya is billed as one of the top places to visit in Mrauk U and is also the biggest temple in the region.
It is said to have been built in 1553 by King Mintaikkha and was supposed to be a rival for Shittaung Paya.
This temple would once have lain in ruins before it was reconstructed in the 1990s and the renovation project is a little rushed in places, but you can still get a good idea of how it would have been in the days of old.
Make sure you stop and check out the large stupas on the outside which are shaped like bells as well as the 90,000 Buddha images that are etched along the passageways.
4. Explore the Chin Villages
If you want to take a day trip from Mrauk U then you can visit the Chin Villages.
Many of these villages lie on the scenic Lemro River and the easiest way to visit them is as part of an organized tour.
The villages are famous for being ‘garden villages’ as they are covered in pretty plants and flowers and many visitors say that they are the highlight of a trip to Mrauk U. Note however that you are not allowed to stay overnight in the villages and will need to make your way back to Mrauk U in the evening.
5. Visit Wethali
Wethali is a quaint little village outside Mrauk U although it used to be the capital of the majestic Arakan Kingdom.
You won’t find any temples here anymore as they have all crumbled gracefully but people come here to check out the temple mounds and it is said that there are a number of temples buried underneath these.
Another great reason to visit is to admire the Great Image of Hsu Taung Pre which is actually a huge statue carved from a single piece of stone.
One of the nicest ways to get to the village is to rent a bike and cycle there which takes around 2 hours.
6. Visit Mahabodhi Shwegu
Mahabodhi Shwegu is a small temple that many visitors miss on a trip to Mrauk U. There is good reason to visit however as you can take in the bas reliefs which tell the story of the Buddhist legends of heaven, hell and earth.
There is also a large Buddha image here which is 6 feet tall and if you look closely you will also find some interesting stone carvings which feature a number of erotic scenes which are a rather unexpected sight.
7. Explore Mahamuni Paya
Mahamuni Paya is located some 40 kilometers away from Mrauk U and is made up of a pagoda which also has a small museum attached.
This will tell you the history of the shrine although most of the antiques that would have been housed here have been moved on to Mandalay.
If you are visiting Wethali Village then you can also swing by Mahamuni Paya at the same time as they are located on the same road.
8. Check out Dukkanthien Paya
Dukkanthien Paya dates from the 16th century when it was constructed under King Minphalaung.
To access the temple you need to head up some stone steps which will take you inside and the interior is covered in the usual stone carvings of the Buddha as well as scenes of daily life in Myanmar.
There are also a number of wide passageways here which make a nice place to stroll around in search of the large central stone Buddha image which basks in the afternoon sun.
9. Walk around the L’Amitie Art Gallery
Anyone interested in the local artwork should head to this quaint gallery which has some of the best artwork in town and depicts Mrauk U and the surrounding countryside.
As you peruse the galleries you will be able to see Mrauk U as it would have looked in days gone by and there are also paintings dedicated to the famous Chin Villages.
The gallery also sells pieces of art to visitors so you can also buy a souvenir of your time in Mrauk U if you see something that catches your eye.
10. Explore Shittaung Paya
Shittaung Shrine is known for its Buddha images and was built during the time of King Minbin in the 16th century.
This is also one of the best preserved and the prettiest temples in the region which is covered in twenty six large stupas as well as two storeys of courtyards.
There are said to be some 80,000 different figures and images on display here which is why many make the trip to see the temple.
Certainly this is one of the grandest temples in Mrauk U so if you are short of time then this is one building that you definitely don’t want to miss.
11. Admire Sanda Muhni Phara Gri Taung Taik
This monastery has a rather long name, but it is actually a reference to Sanda Muhni which is a statue of the Buddha which was made of metal and then bizarrely covered in concrete.
The Buddha image stands at a height of some 4 feet and people say that concrete was poured over the structure to guard it from being stolen in the British colonial period.
It was only rediscovered in the 1980s when one of the eyes fell off the Buddha and the metal statue was glimpsed through the concrete.
12. Check out the Ratanabon Paya
Ratanabon Paya is a large stupa which is surrounded by some 24 smaller stupas and this would have been built during the time of Queen Shin Htway in the 17th century.
This would have been one of the grandest temples in the area, but unfortunately this made it the target of thieves in later years and it was also bombed during the Second World War.
Nowadays however it has been restored and some elements of the temple have been added such as a large central spire.
13. Explore Pharaouk Paya
Pharaouk Paya is a temple set on a scenic hill which makes it a good spot to visit if you want to check out some of the views over Mrauk U. One of the signature highlights of the temple is the twenty nine Buddha statues and you can explore the temple and try to count every single one of them as you walk around.
The statues are said to be a reference to the twenty nine scenic townships that made up Mrauk U in the days of old.
14. Take a ferry ride
As Mrauk U is located on the water, one of the best things to do here is take a scenic ferry ride along its main waterway.
One of the main trips that many people take here is from Mrauk U to Sittwe which takes around five hours, although this route is sometimes closed depending on what is going on in the region at the time.
Rakhine State has seen some issues in recent years caused by tensions between the local communities, so you need to monitor the situation the ground if you want to travel to Sittwe.
Around Myanmar generally boat routes are likely to close at short notice so if you do want to book a trip then make sure to only do so when you are on the ground in Mrauk U to avoid disappointment.
15. Visit Andaw Paya
Andaw Paya is an unusual temple that has eight sides and sixteen different stupas or zedis.
There are a number of ornate passageways here that lead you past niches which contain Buddha images, and the reason to come here is to check out the unusual layout and construction of the temple which also has a sanctuary topped with several delightful spires.
16. Try the Rakhine cuisine
Mrauk U is part of Rakhine State and as such is known for its delicious Rakhine curries.
Many of the dishes that you will find here are also made from crisp local vegetables, so if you are a vegetarian then you will find that you have a lot of choice.
Some dishes to make sure not to miss include local delicacies like tamarind flowers.
17. Visit Sakyamanaung Paya
Just behind Shwegudaung Hill is the Sakyamanaung Paya which is said to date from the 17th century.
There is a central stupa here which is built to resemble and octagon and you will also find large bells which are covered in what look like umbrellas.
Another reason to come here is to check out the figures of giants who are said to guard the west gate into the temple.
18. Check out Peisi Daung Paya
Peisi Daung Paya lies on the top of a scenic hill and, amazingly, it is said to predate Mrauk U itself.
This is not a restored temple so you will need to walk through some vegetation to access it, but it is also more than worth it as you can check out four large Buddha images which are carved from sandstone but which have mesmerizing eyes made from marble.
Aside from the temple itself, this is also a great place to come if you want to enjoy the views from the hilltop over Mrauk U.
19. Visit Laungbanpyauk Paya
Laungbanpyauk Paya in Mrauk U is interesting as it has an octagonal shape and a stupa which tilts slightly to one side.
This temple is thought to date from 1525 when it would have been built under the watch of King Minkhaungraza.
One of the main elements that make this temple unusual is the fact that it features an outside wall which is covered in glazed tiles look more like Islamic art than the traditional Buddhist images.
20. Take a ride in a horse and cart
If you want to visit a number of temples in Mrauk U in one day then you will need to arrange some form of transportation.
One of the most traditional ways to get around in this area is to take a horse and cart, and this is very similar to the horse and cart rides that are available in Bagan.
There are a number of drivers who you can hire for the day and some will take you to the prettiest temples in the area if you ask them to give you a guided tour, or you can set your own itinerary.
21. Take in some history at Laymyetnha Paya
If you want to say that you have visited the oldest temple that was built during the Mrauk U era then you need to head to Laymyetnha Paya.
This temple is said to closely resemble Dukkanthein Paya but actually it predates it by 140 years.
It is not the grandest temple in the area but it is worth a visit if you want to see the most antique temple in this region.
22. Check out Laksaykan Gate
Laksaykan Gate is a large, pretty gate that is south of the former palace in Mrauk U. The reason to check out the gate is that it takes you down a path to the limpid Laksaykan Lake which stretches for some 100 acres and is one of the prettiest natural attractions in all of Mrauk U. If possible try to visit the gate and lake at sunset when the colors over the water are simply stunning.