An eight hour boat ride northeast of Sittwe, in the Rakhine state of western Myanmar there exists a tiny, remote, ethnic, Chin village, where 9 of the last remaining Burmese tattoo faced women can be found. For those who make the extra effort to visit this out of the way place, the rewards are plentiful. The tattooed women are charming, delightful, and photogenic, but as they say, it’s not so much about the destination, but rather, the journey itself, which makes a visit to this seldom visited corner of northwestern coastal area Myanmar so special.

My friend and long time tour guide in Myanmar,  Mg Moe Swe, told me about the exotic, faces of a small handful of the last generation of tattooed, Burmese, Chin women; and they instantly went to the top of my Myanmar, “must see” list.  And so, with a few days of free time after a whirlwind trip to Bhutan and before heading to sevaral NGO assignments in the Philippines, I came to Myanmar to scout out the photo opportunities and logistics of bringing a small group of enthusiastic photographers on a “roughing it” extension of my annual Myanmar photo tours.

After visiting Myanmar for the first time in 2001, I’ve come to love this amazing country, which is just now opening up to tourism. Burma never disappoints; and the far flung west, with it’s amazing scenery and friendly people is no exception. The Rakhine state, has a low-lying, costal/estuary type of geography, spider webbed with tributaries and rivers of brackish and fresh water.  The verdant, emerald green rice paddies are among the most stunning that one will ever see, especially during this, the monsoon season.

Less than two hours by flight from Yangon, the town of Sittwe serves as the jumping off point for adventures in this area. A scenic 6 hour boat ride up river from Sittwe, is the town of Mrauk Oo, with it’s own collection of Bagan-like temples and pagodas dotting the landscape. In and of themselves, the historic stupas and other architectural wonders of Mrauk Oo are worth the trip here, but Mruak Oo is also the best stepping-off place, for another two hour trip further up-river to visit the Tattooed ladies.

I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that actually, it didn’t take more than the taxi ride from the airport to the boat dock in Sittwe to convince me that this was going to be a wonderful place for a photo tour. Sittwe has a wild west, gritty harbor town feel to it which I particularly enjoy. The boat ride to from Sittwe to Mrauk Oo was amazing, passing countless rice paddies replete with quintessential water buffalo and farmers adorned with traditional “Kha Maut” conical Burmese hats. The small town of Mrak Oo has an authentic frontier feel and its colorful market is a photographer’s dream. Of course, as I said, the tattooed ladies were charming, delightful and photogenic but it was the journey that made this trip so memorable.

Have a look at the short slide show at the bottom of this post, and let me know if you’d like to be added to the interest list for a photo tour extension that I plan to offer in this area.

If you’re like me, I think you’ll want to add a visit to the Tattooed women of Rakhine state to your personal “must see” list.

Meanwhile enjoy these other images from Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar.

OK, here’s that slideshow….enjoy




6 Responses to “Tattooed Faces, Rakhine State, Myanmar” Subscribe

  1. Karl Grobl September 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm #


    Beautiful and informative images. As you scroll down they just keep coming at you one by one, all great and so distinctively in a Karl Grobl style. Love them. Ruti

  2. Ayn Brown September 5, 2012 at 6:10 am #

    Such a wonderful documentary evidence to leave behind of a vanishing culture. Well done!

  3. travelerreport September 8, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Nice photography. Both documentary and aesthetic.

  4. Pawan September 9, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    felt like part of this trip 🙂


  5. sandar September 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    i jsut like to correct one information , agirl in the photo was wearing sandalwood that we called (tha nar kar ) is natural sandalwood to skin more smooth , cool and to protect the skin from sun with lovely sense . it is not tattoo because all the lady form myanmar were tha nar kar daily , until now most of the lady still wearing at home or night time for city , man also wearing is common .

  6. Karl Grobl September 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Thanks for your comment Sandar. Yes, I know that “tha nar ka” is different than a tattoo. The title of the blog post is “Tattooed Faces” but in addition to the tattooed faces which are shown in the multimedia slide show at the bottom of the post, I included some other photos of the people and places around Mruak Oo, including people wearing the traditional than nar ka, which is, as you say, quite commonly used in Myanmar as a beauty cream and an adornment to the striking and beautiful faces of the Burmese people. I’m sorry if the title of my blog post was confusing to you. Cheers, Karl

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