The Rakhine capital, Sittwe (also known as Aykab, its Bengali name), occupies a strategic location at the mouth of the Kaladan River, in the far north west of the country. The British developed the town as a port and trade hub in the 19th century, but since Myanmar gained independence, political friction between the Arakanese and Burmese has marginalized the region, which now ranks among the most impoverished in the country.
A major setback to the town’s economic prospects was the spate of communal clashes between Buddhists and the local Muslim Rohingya minority in 2012 and 2013, following which the government tempo- rar ily sus pended all travel to the area. Hundreds died in the violence, and many thousands were forced into makeshift camps in safe havens, or across the border in Bangladesh. The situation has stabilized since, and a permit is no longer required to visit Sittwe.
For passing time between boat connections, visitors can explore the huge fish market at the east end of town, where some exotic merchandise is on sale from first light, or try the View Point, a mile (1.6 km) south, which is a popular spot for a breezy sunset stroll and a cold beer.
Less inspiring is the lackluster collection of inscriptions and other minor archeological finds in the Rakhine State Cultural Museum. Sittwe’s principal stupa is the gigantic, gilded Lokhananda Pagoda on the southern edge of town, com- missioned by General Than Shwe in 1997. An ordination hall on its northern side houses an intriguing bronze and brass Buddha thought to date from 24 BC, which local fishermen hauled out of the Kaladan.