The principal cultural and economic city of upper Myanmar and the former capital, Mandalay still evokes images of a romantic bygone era. The royal palace and its impressive surrounding moat sit at the foot of the imposing Mandalay Hill. Positioned on the banks of the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River, Mandalay lies within easy distance of former colonial hill stations, ancient cities and an abundance of cultural attractions.
In contrast to the colonial feel of Yangon, Mandalay embodies all that is traditional about Burma. Even today, we see very few motorized vehicles on the streets. Historically, this is Burma’s most “Burmese” city, close to the heart of the original national character and till one of the country’s most significant cultural and religious hubs. For centuries this was the capital of Burma’s kingdoms, and we can still visit three former royal remains here.
King Mindon Min, penultimate ruler of the Konbaung Dynasty, founded the city in 1857. Mandalay’s age of glory was short-lived as Mindon was succeeded by his son, Thibaw Min. King Thibaw’s accession to the throne stirred up violence and civil strife, and it was under his rule that Britain, which had already annexed Lower Myanmar, took Mandalay in 1885. Thibaw was deposed and exiled to India, where he remained until his death. Mandalay then became another jewel in the British crown.
Rich with monasteries and pagodas, Mandalay is still accepted as the art and cultural heartland of Myanmar. Skilled craftsmen create world famous genuine tapestry called “Shwe Chi Htoe” (Golden Weaving), beautiful articles of wood, marble, silverware and bronze according to the time-honored traditions of their forefathers.
Where to stay in Mandalay?
The 16-rooms Rupar Mandalar Resort and Hotel Red Canal is a top choice if you desire to stay in a boutique hotel with a romantic and exotic atmosphere. Nestled in landscaped gardens right in the city’s heart, the Sedona Hotel Mandalay faces the majestic Royal Palace and Mandalay, lovely sights that greatly complement the hotel stay. At the foot of Mandalay Hill, the Mandalay Hill Resort opens into panoramic views of the surrounding lands.
Where to go in Mandalay?
Within Mandalay City
The Myanansankyaw Golden Palace, built in 1857 and destroyed by a fire during World War II, is a replica of the old palace and definitely not to be missed. Revered as the holiest shrine in Mandalay, the Mahamuni Buddha image is said to have been cast in the lifetime of Buddha. We advise visits in the morning so as to witness the crowd of devotees in their rituals of washing the face of the Buddha’s image and sometimes even cleaning his teeth! The Mandalay Hillis 230 meters in elevation and visitors can climb the 1729 steps to enjoy the magnificent view of the city and surrounding environs from the summit. Lying at the foot of Mandalay Hill is Kuthodaw Pagoda, also known as the world’s biggest book for its 729 stone slabs inscribed with Buddhist scriptures. Not far from Kuthodaw Pagoda, the Ah-Tu-Ma-Shi Monasteryhouses the Great Marble Image, an image of Buddha sculpted from a single black of Sagyin marble. Reminiscent of the old Mandalay Palace, the Shwenadaw Monastery is famous for its exquisite woodcarvings and glided teak pavilions. ‘Zaycho’ means ‘reasonable price’ in Burmese, and at Zaycho Market, one can definitely find attractively priced shopping hunts and observe the lifestyles and cultures of the locals.
Outside Mandalay City
Situated 11km south of Mandalay, Amarapura features the world’s longest wooden bridge - U Bein. Built in 1782, the U Bein Bridge spans 1208 meters with over 1700 huge teak pillars. Other places of interests in Amarapura include silk weaving industry, Mahagandayon Monastery, Kyaukdawgyi Pagoda and Pahtodawgyi Pagoda.
20km southwest of Mandalay, Innwa (Ava) used to be the capital for ancient Shan and Myanmar Kings in the 12th century. Crossing the river and riding in a pony-cart, visitors can see Nanmyint Watch Tower, Maha Aung Myay Bonzan Okkyaung and Htilaingshin Pagoda.
Mingun is located across Irrawaddy River and lies approximately 12 kilometers north of Mandalay. It is famous for the world’s second largest ringing bell of 90 tons in weight and Mingun Payagyi. It is accessible by ferry boat rides which usually take 1 hour to sail up-river or 45 minutes to cruise downstream.
Sagaing is located 21 km southwest of Mandalay on the west bank of Irrawaddy River. Dotted with over 400 pagodas, monasteries and nunneries, the Sagaing Hill is noted as a religious retreat. About 10 km from Sagaing stands Kaungmudaw, an enormous dome-shaped pagoda built by King Thalun in 1636. Nearby is Ywahtaung village, famous of its silver craftsmanship.
Pyin Oo Lwin is located 69 km east of Mandalay at over 1100 meters above sea level. Nicknamed “the city of flowers”, Pyin Oo Lwin is a popular summer retreat with its pleasant cool climate and scenic spots. The National Kandawgyi Garden is well-known in Myanmar for its rich biodiversity. Other places of interest include the Chinese Temple, Pwekauk Waterfalls and Peik Chin Myaung Cave.
Located 136 km west of Mandalay, Monywacan be reached via a 3 ½ hours drive. It is a picturesque town on the Chindwin River. On the way to Monywa, you can visit Mohnyin Thanboddhay spread across 37 acres of land. Monywa is also famous for Po Win Taung (Mt. Po Win), where caves, niches, staircases and Buddha Images are carved into the entire mountain of Mt. Shwe Ba.
Take a day to explore the villages in the Mandalay and observe local fishermen using traditional methods to catch fish. Watch out for the Irrawaddy Dolphin, and endangered freshwater mammal, in the waterways. Opt for a river cruise along the Irrawaddy River to experience the picturesque sceneries, local lifestyles and handicrafts. For the more adventurous, embark on a cycling tour of Mandalay and peddle past rustic vistas in Mandalay outskirts, Sagaing, Mingun and Irrawaddy River. If you prefer exploring caves, then head to the Padalin Caves, a cluster of large caves that contains ancient mural paintings in a primitive forest.
Where to dine in Mandalay?
A Little Bit of Mandalay restaurant serves more than local dishes in Mandalay; it also whips up a delightful range of Myanmar specialties. The Green Elephant features Burmese and Asian cuisine in the peaceful surroundings of a 1920s colonial house. For regional cuisine, we recommend Golden Duck for its mouth-watering Chinese food and Ko’s Kitchen that specializes in Thai food.
Mandalay – Attractions
Situated about 11 km south of Mandalay, Amarapura is an ancient capital of the Konbaung Dynasty. Places of interest include the Patodawgyi Pagoda, silk and cotton weaving workshops and U Bein, the world’s longest Teakwood Bridge (1208 meters long). Another of Amarapura’s treasures is Maha Gandayon Monastery with more than 1000 monks.
Lies 20 km south west of Mandalay. Founded by the Shan King Thadominbya in 1364, it remained the royal capital for almost 5 centuries. Visitors cross the river on a ferry and ride around the sites of Inwa in a horse-drawn pony cart. Highlights include the Nanmyint Watchtower, Bagaya Teak wood Monastery, Maha Aungmye Bonzan, Htilaingshin Paya and the workshop making lacquer alms bowls for monks.
Kyaukme & Hsipaw
On the road to Lashio, Kyaukme and Hsipaw are neighboring towns in the cool Shan valley.
Both towns are very picturesque and offer unique styles of Shan and Burmese architecture.
The Bawgyo Pagoda, Aungzedhi Monastery and the town markets are popular sites to visit.
Near these towns are the Shan papers making workshops.
In relative proximity to China is a trading town in a mountain basin at 855 meters above sea level and inhabited mostly by ethnic Shan-Chinese and Chinese. This township is located at the southern end of the formerly famous Burma Road. Mya Kantha Hill in the northern part of town offers good views of the city. Testimony to Lashio’s predominately Chinese population bears the steady traffic at Myanmar’s largest Chinese temple dedicated to the goddess of mercy Quan Yin.
Lies on the banks of the Chindwin River, 140-km northwest of Mandalay. It is the gate way for excursions to the cave temples of Phowin Taung, situated across the river and reached by ferry. The caves are famous for their Buddha statues, mural paintings and woodcarvings. There are quite a few legends about the caves, related mostly to nats (the Myanmar spirits). There are supposed to have been over 400,000 Buddha image carved out in the caves. Another highly important attraction is Thambuddhe (or Sambuddha Kat Kyaw) Pagoda, completed in 1951 after 12 years of construction with over 800 small stupas on and around the pagoda. There are also reportedly 582,357 Buddha statues on the ceiling, walls, and archways and in niches in and on the temple compound.
Is 11 km upriver from Mandalay on the western bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. It is noted for the Mingun Paya, a huge unfinished pagoda, Myatheindan Pagoda and a gigantic 90-ton bell - the largest uncracked ringing bell in the world. The 45 minute boat trip to Mingun is a very pleasant way to see the life along the Ayeyarwaddy River.
Roughly 200 km north of Mandalay, Mogok is famous for its gem mines of rubies and sapphires. The town is nestled in a valley at over 1000 m around a large lake - the weather is cool. Mogok means ‘ruby land’.
The ancient capital of Sagaing lies 21 km southwest of Mandalay on the west bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. The Sagaing Hills offer famous religious retreats where monks and nuns go for study and meditation in over 400 monasteries. Nearby is Ywataung Village known for its silver craftsmen.
Pyin Oo Lwin
This one-time British hill town hideaway, about two hours drive from Mandalay, offers cool weather, eclectic architecture and stagecoaches. The town dates from the early 20th century and its main street is part of the famous Burma Road, an important route that leads north to the trading town of Lashio and beyond to the Chinese border. The street is an interesting place to walk about, lined with a mishmash of building styles; iron grillwork, balconies, chimneys and wood-carved decorations accent the architecture. The town’s clock tower, the Purcell Tower with its Big Ben chime, is said to be a present from Queen Victoria, identical to one in Capetown, South Africa. Close to Pyin Oo Lwin are several natural attractions, waterfalls and caves. Sports of major tourist interest include the Peik Chin Myaing Cave, which houses many Buddha images, and some models of Myanmar’s most revered pagodas. The cave lies in a beautiful setting with some waterfalls around. It is a favorite weekend destination for local tourists. Also of interest is the national Kandawgyi Botanical Garden. The garden, founded back in 1915, is home to a large variety of trees and flowers from Myanmar and abroad as well as numerous birds. What really makes Pyin Oo Lwin unique are brightly painted miniature stagecoaches drawn by lively.