Rakhine State is a state in Myanmar. Situated on the western coast, it is bordered by Chin State to the north, Magway Region, Bago Region and Ayeyarwady Region to the east, the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest.
Thandwe, called Sandoway by the British, is a city and major seaport in southern Myanmar. It is also a district. Thandwe is very ancient, and is said to have been at one time the capital of Rakhine State, then called Arakan. Thandwe is the main gateway to reach the beautiful Ngapali Beach.
Shwe San Daw Pagoda
Shwe Nan Daw Pagoda
Shwe Ann Daw Pagoda
Ngapali (pronounced Napally and said to be named after the Italian city of Naples) is Myanmar’s premier beach destination. Located on the Bay of Bengal coast in Rakhine State, its main feature is an idyllic stretch of white sand and palm tree-lined coast, with a number of resorts spread out next to traditional fishing villages.
Ngapali is about relaxing and enjoying the sun, but other activities include taking trips on local fishing boats; kayaking; snorkelling or scuba diving amongst the brightly coloured fish; and cycling or motorbiking down the beach and around some of the local villages.
Mrauk U, Myanmar’s second-most-famous archaeological site, is very different from Bagan. The temples – previously mistaken for forts due to their thick, bunker-like walls, built for protection from the fierce Rakhine winds – are smaller and newer and, unlike Bagan’s, predominantly made from stone, not brick. Mrauk U’s temples, too, are dispersed throughout a still-inhabited and fecund landscape of small villages, rice paddies, rounded hillocks and grazing cows, whereas Bagan’s temples stand in somewhat sterile isolation. Beyond its temples, Mrauk U remains a rough-and-ready riverside town surrounded by some beautiful countryside, where you’ll find Chin villages and other significant archaeological and religious sites. Best of all, you’re likely to have the temples all to yourself: only about 5000 foreigners make it to Mrauk U annually. That will change if a long-delayed airport opens in the next few years, so get here before the rush.
Shittaung means ‘Shrine of the 80,000 Images’, a reference to the number of holy images inside. King Minbin, the most powerful of Rakhine’s kings, built Shittaung in 1535. This is Mrauk U’s most complex temple – it’s a frenzy of stupas of various sizes; some 26 surround a central stupa. Thick walls, with windows and nooks, encircle the two-tiered structure, which has been highly reconstructed over the centuries – in some places rather clumsily.
One of Mrauk U’s star attractions, Kothaung Paya is also the area’s largest temple. It was built in 1553 by King Minbin’s son, King Mintaikkha, to outdo his dad’s Shittaung by 10,000 images (‘Kothaung’ means ‘Shrine of 90,000 Images’).
Kothaung Paya is located a mile or so east of the palace; follow the road directly north of the market, veering left on the much smaller road before the bridge.
The highlight of this squat, little-visited temple is its passageway with bas-relief illustrations of the tribumi – Buddhist visions of heaven, earth and hell – including acrobats, worshippers and animals. At the end there’s a 6ft central buddha and four buddhas in niches; the throne of the former includes some erotic carvings. Mahabodhi Shwegu is largely hidden behind shrubbery on a hilltop northeast of Ratanabon Paya. To get here, proceed up the barely discernible uphill path that starts behind the covered water well.
Built by King Minphalaung in 1571, Dukkanthein Paya smacks of a bunker (with stupas). Wide stone steps lead up the southern and eastern side of the building considered to be an ordination hall; take the east-side steps to reach the entrance. The interior features spiralling cloisters lined with images of buddhas and ordinary people (landlords, governors, officials and wives) sporting all of Mrauk U’s 64 traditional hairstyles. The passageway nearly encircles the centre three times before reaching the sun-drenched buddha image.
Twenty miles north of Wethali, just beyond the former ancient capital of Dhanyawady, is Mahamuni Paya, the alleged first home of the buddha image now housed in the temple of the same name in Mandalay. The legend goes that the image was cast when Buddha visited the area in 554 BC. Even now, some Rakhine recount with fiery passion how the Burmese king Bodawpaya sent soldiers to dismantle and remove the Mahamuni buddha in 1784.
Sanda Muhni Phara Gri Kyaung Taik
The highlight at this hilltop monastery, and the temple’s namesake, is the Sanda Muhni, a buddha statue said to have been cast from the precious metal left over from making the Mahamuni buddha. Legend has it that this 4ft image was encased in concrete in the 1850s to protect it from pillaging British troops, and then forgotten about for over a century. In April 1988 one of the glazed eyes dropped out, revealing the metal statue beneath.
About 7 miles north of Mrauk U are the barely discernible remains of the kingdom of Wethali. Founded in AD 327 by King Mahataing Chandra, according to the Rakhine chronicles, archaeologists believe that the kingdom lasted until the 8th century. Today, in addition to the walls of the 1650ft by 990ft central palace site, the main attraction for visitors is the so-called Great Image of Hsu Taung Pre, a 16.5ft Rakhine-style sitting Buddha said to date from AD 327.
Andaw Paya takes the form of an eight-sided monument with a linear layout: rectangular prayer hall to the east, multispired sanctuary to the west. Sixteen zedi (stupas) are aligned in a square-cornered U-shape around the southern, northern and western platforms. Two concentric passageways are lined with buddha niches; in the centre of the shrine, an eight-sided pillar supports the roof.