Sittwe – Gateway of Mrauk U
Rakhine State’s capital, Sittwe is a port city the Bay of Bengal at the mouth of Kaladan River. Formerly known as Akyab to the British, the city boomed during the colonial years as an important trading port, but has lost its importance recently. Sittwe – gateway of Mrauk U, the historical heartland of the Rakhaine, therefore all travelers to the ancient city must pass through Sittwe on their way. All visitors must spend at least one night in this town where there are some interesting attractions.
Sittwe’s central market is recognizable by its uniquely styled iron clock tower (now out of use). If you like seeing fish by the thousands, don’t miss Fish Market, right on the jetty, which sells fish straight off the trawlers. The market which operates in the early hours is a great place for photographing the local people. Expect to see sharks along with the more common fish and rays. It is enjoyable to wander around and soak up the atmosphere of the market.
Sittwe has many pagodas and monasteries. Among them, the most famous one is the Shwezedi Kyaung (the ‘Golden Pagoda monastery’), one of Sittwe’s most beautiful buildings, at 10 minutes’ walk to the west of the Central Market. Founded in 1903, the monastery is one of the main Buddhist monasteries in the city and holds an important role in local religious and political life. It was the monastery of Venerable U Ottama, an anti-colonialist monk, during the 1920s and 1930s. He is considered as one of the national heroes of Burmese independence movement. You can wander in the monastery and the monks will show you around the main building, its school and its library.
Maka Kuthala Kyaungdawgyi (or ‘Large monastery of great merit’) is housed in a grand colonial mansion and boasts a museum that includes the bone relics of dead monks. The museum details the history of the 5,000 year old Rakhaing civilization.
One of the most popular places in Sittwe is called View Point, a lovely spot where you can enjoy breathing fresh sea breeze. Located at a few kilometers south of town, it features a small park and a watchtower with a panoramic view of the merging of Kaladan River and Bay of Bengal, the Phayonekar Island, and the western approaches of Arakan Yoma. You will never forget the sun setting over the Bay of Bengal.
To the west of View Point, Sittwe beach, although having dark sand, is fine for swimming.
Access to Sittwe is free. Foreigners don’t need a special permit to get to Sittwe even though some sources say that. Plus, the curfew which was imposed in 2012 has been removed.