The most important Buddhist site in the city, Mahamuni Paya is a large complex south of the centre. At the heart of the pagoda is a 3.8metre-tall Buddha figure, stolen in 1784 from Mrauk U by King Bodawpaya’s army. Male devotees visit to apply gold leaf to the figure; women are not allowed within the inner area and instead hand their gold leaf to a male assistant. The figure itself is said to weigh six tonnes, and the gold leaf covering it adds another two tonnes. At 4am each day crowds gather while the face, pretty much the only part not covered in gold leaf, is washed. If you can get up in time then it’s fascinating to witness.
It’s worth spending some time exploring the complex. Northwest of the main shrine is a cream concrete building containing Hindu figures taken originally from Angkor Wat by the Rakhine, before being appropriated by Bodawpaya at the same time as the large Buddha. Outside the complex, to the southwest, is a dusty and noisy district of stone carving workshops (although the city authorities have threatened to have them moved).