Getting to Burma’s second most famous archaeological site requires more than a casual effort. First you have to get Sittwe; the rough capital of Burma’s Rakhaing state. Even this first step isn’t always possible because the region is unsettled and violent clashes between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya often close the city to outsiders. (It is closed as I write this.) From Sittwe – after spending the night, because plane and boat schedules don’t match – you have to take a crowded, rickety old boat five plus hours up a shallow tributary of the Kaladan River to the town of Mrauk U (which only just became open to travelers), not far from the border with Bangladesh.
Mrauk U an ancient city with hundreds of temples currently sees fewer than 4,000 foreign visitors a year. Unlike Bagan where many of the residents were forced to move away from the tourist areas, the residents of Mrauk U still live among the temples as they have for centuries. Food and accommodation choices are quite limited but the people in the city are so warm and welcoming you hardly notice.
In its glory days during the 15th through the 18th centuries Mrauk U, the last great Rakhaing capital, was one of the richest cities in Asia and a trading port with the Middle East and Europe. Visitors compared it with Venice, London and Amsterdam. The Mrauk U dynasty was much feared military at its peak had a navy of over 10,000 boats which dominated the Bay of Bengal. But, after the first Anglo–Burmese War the British declared Sittwe the capital an Mrauk U slipped into obscurity.