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Up the creeks without a paddle

Turmeric and dried fish, Sittwe Market
Transport on the Kaladan River
The imposing Shitthaung Temple, Mrauk
Tattooed Chin lady

A journey to Rakhine State, in the west of Myanmar, is a fascinating affair taking in fishing villages, ancient ruins and landscapes that really haven't changed much in the last 50 years. As the plane touches down in Sittwe you know things are different as you walk across the tarmac into a tiny arrivals hall where your luggage is brought to you by one of a bevy of ‘tip hungry' local porters. A short drive brings you to Sittwe proper which is a two street town with a modest number of hotels that cater for the Western visitor. One of the best is the Shwe Thazin Hotel which is located on the main street just opposite a tree swarming with fruit bats. As you watch from the hotel's breakfast room the bats make a fabulous cacophony as they settle down for the day whilst tourists head out to look around the colourful market, the Cultural Museum and Payagyi Temple, home to a ‘golden faced' Buddha.

Most people who make it to Sittwe are on the way to Mrauk U, a fascinating region of Myanmar which has been home to several important kingdoms in the past - from Vesali in the 3rd century to the 18th century kingdom of Mrauk U which ultimately ceded power to the encroaching British. To reach this mystical land means taking a traditional boat for the six hour journey up the Kaladan River to the sleepy town of Mrauk U.The boat journey is very pleasant and punctuated with the antics of local fisherman, children and also water buffalo. Glistening pagodas can be seen in the background as you make progress upstream, and as you get closer to your ultimate destination the river banks start to close in and creeks start to form thereby making a natural protective barrier to the kingdoms within.

On arrival at Mrauk U you have a choice of hotels from the distinctly average to the comparatively luxurious Mrauk Oo Princess. However the main aim of a visit here is to discover the ancient capitals, that ruled these lands before the British set foot in Myanmar, and also to get a feel for the different minority people that live here - such as the Chin people who are famous for their tattooed ladies.

Bordering Bangladesh, this region has a long history of receiving Muslim traders, many of whom have made Rakhine State their home over the years. Unfortunately years of unchecked immigration from Bangladesh has given rise to a large Muslim population which in turn has drained resources from their Buddhist neighbours. This has led to tensions which have been poorly handled by the authorities and recently there have been violent outbreaks which have caused our FCO to advise against all but essential travel to the state. We are hopeful that this travel ban will be lifted sometime soon as this is an area that really should be seen to be believed..............and a paddle is not needed.

See our ‘The Temples & Trains of Burma' tour for an insight into how Rakhine State could be incorporated into your itinerary.

 

Posted by Tim on 11 June 2014

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