Myanmar Sittwe Port at Rakhine State

Myanmar Sittwe Port at Rakhine State

Myanmar Sittwe Port at Rakhine State is at the northwestern part of the country in Rakhine State formerly Arakan close to Bangladesh. Sittwe port is the biggest at the west coast of the country and a very interesting point to explore and watch the orient as it was during colonial times since almost nothing has changed since.

Main business is fishing and trading since there is a huge “hinterland” to supply. Sittwe hotels are few and tourism is rather not existent except u priver where the old city of Mrauk U is a place with ancient pagodas and temple like from a fairy tale. There are no real beaches or any other tourisms related places around.

The Kaladan river

flows slowly into the Bay of Bengal, at high tide the sea comes in quite strong. The place has been a busy harbor since ancient times because of the prominent location at the west coast, it was a popular anchor and restocking port with the Portuguese during colonial times. When the British emerged as the dominant colonial power the city went back to sleep since the British routing was from Madras in India to Moulmein (today Mawlamyine) and further south to Penang and today Singapore.

Rohingya in the Kaladan Delta at Sittwe
Rohingya in the Kaladan River Delta behind Sittwe port at Rakhine or Arakan

 

The city is somehow a Buddhist outpost in a Muslim flood. About 25 years ago the relation was 15% Muslim, about 80% Buddhist, the rest Christian and some other. Now (2012) its about 60% Muslim. This is because a high migration of Bangladeshi into Myanmar. Bangladesh cant support their people anymore (similar to China) there are simply to many and they opened the gate. The main group streaming into Myanmar are Bangladeshi who call themselves  Rohingya, they look like Bangladeshi, speak the same language and are Muslims.

Rohingya Boat People off Phuket
Rohingya Boat People off Phuket Thailand

Rohingya actually are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh

who came in over the last decades to flee the man made disasters in Bangladesh, there are simply too many people there and the population is still on a high growing rate. One of the results are the fighting now between the local Rakhine or Arakan people and the illegal immigrants from across the border.

One of the problems is the Bangladeshi undercut even the already very low wages of the local Myanmar and this makes lot of problems. It’s very similar to what happen with the Chinese migration into Myanmar in the north-east of Myanmar.

Plenty of  people also come in via the Sittwe port. The main activity in the city are related to the port, ship traffic coming in from the ocean plus up and down the river. Tourism is rather minimal and if a western traveler pass its only for a night to depart the next day for Mrauk U.

There is not much to do and people who have some money mount satellite dishes and that’s Myanmar entertainment. Another evening pastime is gambling. Officially forbidden but like some fun and excitement and maybe making some money. It usually takes place during a pagoda festival.

Home made game gear (usually copies of Chinese dice) suits the purpose and goodly sum of kyats (Myanmar money) is changing hands and the bank wins as usual.

The gambler who knows how to get permission, not through official channels, holds the bank and distributes some of the profits in the right way to the right people afterwards, entertainment and gambling is popular. Kerosene lights are used since electricity is on seldom like everywhere in the country.

Sittwe Port
Sittwe port is the biggest one on the the west coast of Burma.

 

Leaving from the jetty at Sattroegya creek at 7 am. Passengers wear heavy clothing as a cold breeze cuts through the salty fog.  We move upstream on the Kaladan river.

Vendors come on board at the second stop, waving bundles of Siberian-geese and wild ducks, their legs tied together. Vendors sell eggs, fried fish on sticks, bananas and other fruits.

Buddhist monks and novices  take shelter in their robes to escape the freezing morning temperatures. They are on a pilgrimage to one of the monasteries upstream.

A women is cutting firewood for the stall. She bought the pieces of wood laying around her for about half a dollar . A girl uses a small cut of a water-pipe to fan the flames, there are many different ethnic groups in the area.

Myanmar Sittwe pagoda festival entertainment gambling
Myanmar Sittwe pagoda festival entertainment gambling

 

In 1624, a Portuguese Augustinian Friar

Sebastiao Manrique traveled this river. He wrote of beautiful houseboats made of bamboo cruising up and down the river carrying rich merchants and high officials. The king had a floating palace made from fine teak wood and bamboo.

Actually from a tourist point of view the most interesting part in Rakhine State or Arakan is Mrauk U, it needs a ship to travel up the Kaladan river for around 5 hours to reach this last royal capital of the state.

Around the plains and low hills are plenty of pagodas. Its a bit like Bagan but the pagodas and temples are of a different style it rather reminds to Borobudur in Indonesia.

Buddhist Monks
Buddhist Monks on a ship up the Kaladan River

 

Mrauk U

was founded in 1430 and was the capital of a dynasty with the same name until around 1790 the city was famous to the Portuguese, Dutch and other who hat trading posts there because of the rich “hinterland”. Although the city is around 40 km inland it was possible to reach by their sea going vessels over the river and a network of creeks and canals.

Sittwe to Mrauk U
Sittwe to Mrauk U on the Kaladan River


Myanmar Sittwe Port near Bangladesh