On January 2, 2016, I flew from Yangon to Sittwe, the largest town in Rakhine State. This place provides a unique window to the many challenges facing a Myanmar that is not fully prepared to deal with its turblent history and rapidly changing present. Sittwe lies at the confluence of 3 rivers on the Bay of Bengal. Originally a fishing village, it has played an important role in maritime activities and commerce for centuries. Things are changing quickly as a deepwater port is being constructed here by India to facilitate shipping to international markets. The smaller vessels (which are so interesting to photograph) will soon be largely replaced by larger and more profitable ships and docks.
Street markets in Burma traditionally open very early in the morning, long before the sun rises. We found a long line of these markets on our way to shoot sunrise at the docks. They start long before sunrise and they were completely packed up and gone by the time we headed back for breakfast. These locals have traditionally displayed their wares in the pre-dawn illuminated only by candlelight. Despite attempts to stop the practice because of the fire risk, it has continued long after the arrival of electric light to deal with the (still) inconsistent and unpredictable power supplies. More recently however, the vendors have adopted the use of small hand-held LEDs, so seeing candlelit pre-dawn markets is now practically a thing of the past.
This city is most famous internationally because of serious riots in 2012 between the Rohingya muslims and Rakhine buddhists which resulted is significant destruction of property and claimed many lives. It is a difficult social problem and chronic humanitarian crisis. The city’s mosques remain boarded up with the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp while they await a political resolution to their fate. Like the rest of the world, I too could not bear the thought to look upon these desperate people that are now largely forgotten. I did not visit this camp. Myanmar shows positive signs of progress in many areas, but sadly there are no signs of this particular situation being resolved anytime soon.
Sittwe was the stepping off point for a 6+ hour boat ride to Mrauk U. It is a very long, slow journey, albeit significantly shorter than the 24 hours to get there by road (even longer in the rainy season). More about the trip to Mrauk U in my next post.