For Westerners planning a trip to Myanmar, it typically consists of the Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake trinity which can be seen in 10 days comfortably. We wanted to make the most of our 28 day visa, and decided after extensive research, that Mrauk U was a place we had to make a plan to get to. Mrauk U is in the Rakhine State, which up until a few years ago was completely closed to foreign tourists. Even now, you are not allowed to make the *relatively* short 18 hours bus trip from Bagan if you are not Burmese. What this meant for us was a flight in a small plane (NOT our favourite way of travelling after a traumatic incident in Bolivia) that would make multiple stops before arriving at Sittwe, from where we would take an 8 hour boat upstream to arrive in Mrauk U close to midnight.
Mrauk U is still largely off the tourist circuit which meant during our whole time there, we never saw more than 4 other travellers (the same ones, the whole time, and I’m sure by the end of it that German couple thought we were following them) and hordes of local university students driving around in old busses blaring 90s techno music around some of the sites, which was kind of a weird contrast to the peace you feel in a close to 500 year old Buddhist temple. While Bagan may win all the prizes for quantity of temples, Mrauk U must then surely win for the quality. Despite arriving well into the middle of the night, we were up as soon as we got enough sleep to be moderately functional and headed off with our awesome driver who despite his lack of English skills and our even worse failings with speaking Burmese, managed to get us around with a big grin of beetel-stained teeth to the widely spread temples in Mrauk U. In Myanmar we found each Buddhist temple had to have something that the others didn’t, meaning we went to the temple with the oldest buddha, one with the biggest reclining buddha, one carved out of the biggest single piece of marble and even one touched by Buddha himself (to name but a few…)! So when we arrived at the temple of the 90 000 buddhas, we thought nothing could impress us, but boy were we wrong…
One of the things that sets Mrauk U apart from Bagan is that while in Bagan the military government forcibly removed the people living around the old temples and pagodas, in Mrauk U people still live and farm around them, as they have since the time they were originally built.
The temple of the 90 000 buddhas (Koe-Thaung) was originally mistaken by the British for a fort due its imposing look. But this is apparently because of the hectic winds they have here and this design helps it withstand the elements (but not the nasty earthquakes that hit this area in the 1970s). Ironically, the temple of 90 000 buddhas was built by the son of the guy who built the temple of the 80 000 buddhas on the other side of town, in an attempt to one up his dad I imagine.
So we may have not counted all the buddhas carved into the walls or the statues that fill every nook and crevice, but I can totally believe that there are 90 000 buddhas around here!
“Refurbishing” some of the damaged buddhas.
Across the hill was another temple, this one badly eroded by time and lack of care. This one did have a spectacular Buddha who seemed to grow out of the hillside (he would have originally have been in the temple that lay in ruins around him). We managed to find ourselves with two young “tour guides” who showed us around what now seems to be little more than their playground. They attempted to beat Andy up with their Kung-Fu moves which was pretty hilarious to watch, unfortunately the only picture I have of this looks as though Andrew is trying to fly kick a kid, which is generally frowned upon…
With the Temple of the 90 000 Buddhas in the background, Andy fights off two *vicious* Kung-Fu masters, who had even nailed the appropriate sound effects.
Tour guide and Kung-Fu master.