Myanmar – The Ancient City of Mrauk U

Mrauk U – Pronounced Mrow OO in Rakhine state and Meow OO in the rest of Myanmar, Mrauk U is located on the west side of the country. From the 15th – 18th centuries, Mrauk U was the wealthiest city in South East Asia. It was an important trading port for the Portuguese, Dutch and British. During this time the Rakhine kings built a beautiful palace and many pagodas, zedis and temples. Today many of those buildings are gone, but 200 still remain. Even with this rich history they still only see 4000 – 5000 tourists a year. This year they are expecting only around 2000. Mrauk U is close to the border with Bangladesh. With the recent Rohingya disturbance and the way it has been portrayed on the news, tourists are staying away. We found it perfectly safe and very far away from any unrest, but it is far from the wealthy city it once was. When the British arrived, they moved the state capital from here to Sittwe. These ancient Buddhist structures were forgotten about, and many became covered in an over-grown jungle. Even today they are still finding ruins that have been covered for years.

View of Mrauk U
View of Mrauk U
Weed growing over Buddha's alter
Weeds growing over Buddha’s altar
Pagodas Mrauk U
Pagodas Mrauk U

The architecture of these ruins is quite different from those in other parts of Myanmar and neighbouring Thailand. Most importantly, they used stone, rather than brick, but also the shape of the pagodas is more rounded, and bell shaped. Other pagodas have sharp corners which we hadn’t seen before.

Shittaung and Andaw Pagodas
Shittaung and Andaw Pagodas
Kothaung Pagoda
Kothaung Pagoda
Kothaung Pagoda, Mrauk U
Kothaung Pagoda, Mrauk U
Pagodas in Mrauk U
Pagodas in Mrauk U

We were able to enter some of the larger pagodas. There were 1 or sometimes 2 tight vaulted hallways around the inside of the pagoda. Each had Buddha statues along the walls of these hallways. One had statues depicting life, dancing, fashion and hairstyles of the time. Another had statues of all of the animals and mythical creatures of Buddha’s previous incarnations. It was very interesting to be inside the pagodas as we haven’t been able to do that at other sites.

Hallway inside a pagoda
Hallway inside a pagoda
Statues in pagoda hallway depicting Buddhas previous incarnations
Statues in pagoda hallway depicting Buddha’s previous incarnations
Statues in a pagoda hallway depicting daily life
Statues in a pagoda hallway depicting daily life
Buddha statue in a pagoda hallway
Buddha statue in a pagoda hallway

Zedis are Buddhist bell-shaped structures that either contain remains or relics or represent an important event or belief in Buddhism. Two Zedis in Mrauk U contain the ashes of the right and left testicles of Buddha!
The ruins are spread throughout the city and its rural country side, with homes, businesses and small farms in between. Exploring the sites means walking through the dusty community roads. The people in Mrauk U are very curious about us since they get even fewer tourists than other parts of Myanmar. They stare and then smile or say hello in Rakhine. Some stop as they drive by on their bikes and ask which country we’re from.

Mrauk U pagoda surrounded by pastures and rice fields
Mrauk U pagoda surrounded by pastures and rice fields
Mrauk U pagoda surrounded by pastures and rice fields
Mrauk U pagoda surrounded by pastures and rice fields
Myanmar home-made tractorwith entry way
Myanmar home-made tractor

It’s a beautiful area especially at sunrise and sunset. The combination of mist and smoke add another element to the sun’s redness.

Sunset in Mrauk U
Sunset in Mrauk U
Mrauk U at sunrise
Mrauk U at sunrise
Mrauk U at sunrise
Mrauk U at sunrise
Mrauk U at sunset
Mrauk U at sunset
Sunrise glow on the pagodas
Sunrise glow on the pagodas

Chin Tribal Villages – We took a boat up the Laymro River for 1 ½ hours to reach the Chin tribal villages.

Rakhine Mountain range from Laymro River
Rakhine Mountain range from Laymro River
Laymro River
Laymro River
Bamboo house in a Chin village
Bamboo house in a Chin village

Until 60 years ago all girls at the age of 9 had their faces tattooed. Each tribe had a different design. We visited 2 villages who had the spider web design. There are differing beliefs on why this was done; some say it was for cosmetic reasons; others say it was to distinguish from neighboring tribes, so they couldn’t be kidnapped away or marry outside of their tribe. The tattooed-face women, now in their late 70s and 80s, were very open to meeting us and letting us take their picture. At one village, each one came to greet us and shake our hands. They stayed close by waiting to pose for photos.

Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed lady from the Chin tribe
Tattooed lady from the Chin tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe

We met one family in their bamboo house and it was one of the best parts of our day. The tattooed-face lady was in her 80s as was her husband and family friend. The husband was very interested in speaking with us through our guide. He explained that he had 2 wives, close to his age, but when one died he took another who looked to be in her mid 20s! Polygamy is common in these tribes and although they are Buddhist, it seemed to be the common practice. He said that the three of us must have done a good dead in our previous lives to meet each other today – what a nice sentiment.

Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Tattooed-Face Lady from the Chin Tribe
Polygamist Chin tribe man
Polygamist Chin tribe man
The effect of Betel nut on teeth
The effect of Betel nut on teeth
Polygamist family in a Chin village
Polygamist family in a Chin village
Baby in a home-made cradle
Baby in a home-made cradle

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Myanmar. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca Click on a picture to view it as a slide show.
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