SITTWE — Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, sits on the shores of the Bay of Bengal where three rivers, the Kaladan, Mayu and Lay, meet in a vast estuary of waterways in this south-western state of Burma.
Remote from Rangoon, Arakan State is, sadly, now better known for the bitter inter-communal conflict which has wracked the region in the past year and which now spreads insidiously across central Burma.
For the more adventurous traveler though, this delta region offers an insight into a very different world, slower paced, relaxed, occasionally trying on the patience, that is life in this vast network of waterways.
The local transport is very water-oriented, but be prepared for flights which may or may not get you into and out of Sittwe on any given day, and ferries which may or may not be running on the scheduled days or times. The wise visitor will allow extra days for accomodating travel plan ‘adjustments’.
The riverboat ferry ride from Sittwe to the former ancient Arakanese capital of Mrauk U gives a fine insight to life on and around the rivers which form a transport network reaching deep inland. Mrauk U itself is rich in Arakanese culture, ancient pagodas and temples of weathered sandstone stretch across the landscape in every direction
The Arakanese Mrauk U kingdom fell to King Bodawpaya who invaded from the kingdom of Burma in 1784 and defeated the Arakanese in a battle which was fought amongst the islands and waterways around present day Sittwe.
Many homes of farmers and fishermen are raised on poles to allow for the tidal flows and water buffalo plunge their heads underwater in search of submerged grasses. Locals gather on the banks to await their boat rides, fishermen ply their nets and wooden cargo boats of all sizes ferry everything from motorcycles to building materials along the ample waterways.