Travel

Distinctive Ethnic Cultures and Misty Mountain Towns — Destination Guide to Western Myanmar

By Marie Starr 26 March 2019

Ngapali

People walk along the shore at Ngapali Beach. / The Irrawaddy

Usually accessed by flight from Yangon and with many high-end hotels, Ngapali is known as a more upscale seaside getaway. Sunsets can be especially spectacular from this beach which has been dubbed one of Asia’s best. Though you’re likely to spend most of your time relaxing on the white-sand beaches or under the shade of coconut trees dining on fantastic seafood, visitors can also go snorkeling, diving or take a boat trip.

Sittwe

Strand Road in Sittwe is where locals go to exercise and relax in the early mornings and evenings. / Marie Starr

Usually only visited on the way to Mrauk-U, Sittwe is the capital of Rakhine State and the center of Arakanese culture. Arakanese food—all fresh green chilies and juicy seafood—is loved far beyond the state and is a must-try while you’re in town. In the morning, check out the bustling central market and in the evening join locals walking along the beach at sunset.

Mrauk-U

Koe Thaung Pagoda in Mrauk U which is preparing for nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. / Marie Starr

Mrauk-U is currently prone to outbreaks of conflict between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army and visitors should not travel to the area until it is officially declared safe.

Arguably one of the most special places in Myanmar, Mrauk-U was once the capital of the Arakan Kingdom which was a regionally powerful realm between the 15th and 18th centuries which is when most of the temples were built. Though some shoddy conservation work has been carried out, inside the most famous Shitthaung Pagoda is a series of tunnels lined with thousands of colorful carvings of religious and historical Arakan figures. Unlike Bagan, life in the vicinity of the temples remains as it always has been with farmers grazing their herds and kids fishing in the streams right next to the ancient structures.

Mount Victoria and Mindat/Kanpetlet

Some ethnic Chin women with traditional facial tattoos still live in southern Chin State. / Marie Starr

In southern Chin State, Mount Victoria is rising in popularity as an easygoing trekking destination set in a beautiful national park with wild orchids, cherry blossoms and rhododendron trees. Travelers usually base themselves at Mindat or Kantpetlet and drive to the base from where the trek to the peak takes two to three hours. There are now plenty of accommodation options, especially at Kantpetlet. Southern Chin State is where traditional facial tattoos are still seen on older women today.

Hakha and Falam

Wooden houses built at the mountain’s edge in the town of Falam in Chin State. / Marie Starr

Falam is a typical example of remotest ethnic Myanmar with an unstable electricity supply, minimal modern construction, basic infrastructure and strong cultural and religious values. And these are just some of the factors which make it such a special place to visit. The hilly streets and incredible mountain views in every direction are unforgettable. Hakha is the capital of Chin State located about four hours south of Falam. The cold, often foggy weather and conifer trees and cherry blossom in the winter make it feel like these towns are in a different country altogether.

Tedim and Rih Lake

Rih Lake is a famous heart-shaped lake close to the Indian border. / The Irrawaddy

Tedim in northern Chin State is a small Christian town set around a peak among the beautiful blue Chin mountains. There’s not much to do in the town apart from admiring the view. Hiking to Kennedy Peak, Chin State’s second highest mountain located 90 minutes from Tedim, is not too taxing and worth it for the views. Nearby, Siansawn is a unique village on a neighboring hillside where the people have created their own religious sect and marriages are arranged by the village leader. Rih Lake is a famous heart-shaped lake four hours’ drive from Tedim and close to the Indian border.

Loading