My first destination in Myanmar was Mandalay, also known as the last royal capital of erstwhile Myanmar (Burma) before British Annexation. Mandalay is the second-largest city in Myanmar and is also an economic and commercial epicenter in Upper Myanmar. Apart from the highlights of Myanmar including Bagan, Inle Lake, and Yangon, there are several interesting things to do in Mandalay, which needs a minimum of 2-3 full days at least to explore.
Well for me, I started from Imphal to Tamu (Burmese border town to India) and traveled overnight by road to reach Mandalay the next morning. Mandalay is a business district but is home to several pagodas and museums.
Read about my Border Crossing Experience between India-Myanmar
Top Places to Visit in Mandalay
After reaching Mandalay city post 18 hours of road journey from Tamu, I decided to take it slow and explore the colonial charms of the Mandalay on my own for the rest of the day. I decided to walk as much as possible.
One of the best ways to explore Mandalay is to hire an E-Bike/ Bicycle for as low as 5-7 USD the entire day.
The number of places that I have mentioned below was explored on foot as everything was pretty close to each other. Also, I had chosen to stay very centrally in the city for a convenient commute.
There is a Mandalay Archeological Zone Combo Fee of 10000 Kyats, which allows entry at many of the popular places inside Mandalay. However, it is valid for seven days.
Exploring the Grand Mandalay Palace
It is a huge fortress walled complex which was constructed in mid-1800. But, during world war II, most of it was destroyed. What is now left has been converted into a museum for visitors. Visitors can enter from the eastern side. Most of the buildings are open to visitors, including the watchtower, which is worth climbing for the view of the palace grounds below.
The main entrance fee is 10,000 kyats for one person.
Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery
Shwenandaw Monastery is not an active monastery, as no monks inhabit the beautiful building that has become a popular attraction for tourists, photographers, and history buffs. The outside carvings are in different weathered and restored states, with glimpses of faded gold leaf patches. So, exploring the temple from outside was what I chose to do.
Climbing up the Mandalay Hill
It is the highest point in Mandalay assuring a beautiful panoramic city view. Although, I was tired to the bone as I didn’t get enough sleep for the last 24 hours before reaching Mandalay. But, I still made sure that I didn’t miss out on catching a glimpse of the panoramic view of Mandalay city from the hilltop. The highlight is Su Taung Pyae pagoda on top and the views up there.
But, be prepared to climb a few hundred steps to reach the topmost point of Mandalay Hill. But the sunset view is worth the effort. I would highly recommend this visit. Although some say that there could be a fee to go up there and take photos, but honestly I wasn’t charged anything!
Marveling at the stunning Sandamuni Pagoda
After spending some time at Mandalay hill, I quickly rushed towards Sandamuni Pagoda which lies in Southwest of Mandalay Hill. It can be well observed from Mandalay Hill for its grandeur which lies in well laid out 1700 small Buddhist shrines, each having unique significance. It has the largest iron Buddha statue in Myanmar called the Sandamani.
This is also a stunning place to capture a sunset shot from the backdrop of Sandamuni Pagoda.
Explore Kuthodaw Pagoda
Kuthodaw Pagoda is also at a walking distance from Sandamani Pagoda. It houses the world’s largest book but it is smaller and more compact. Kuthodaw is spread out with avenues of trees between the rows of shrines whereas at Sandamuni they are all lined up in rows side by side and clustered around the central pagoda with little space in between.
Visit Kyauktawgyi Pagoda
Another pagoda which lies in the southern part of Mandalay Hill and can be easily visited. It was built by King Mindon. The Kyauktawgyi Buddha is a huge sculpted image of the Buddha made of marble. It was built on a similar resemblance with Ananda Temple in Bagan but after completion looked completely different.
Mandalay thriving Buddhist culture can be well observed by exploring various Buddhist Pagodas and Temples.
Visit to Zay Cho Market and Jade Market
Jadestone is one of the precious and most commonly found semi-precious stones in Mandalay and there is a huge demand from Myanmar. Hence, exploring various collections of Jade exquisites and other artifacts should definitely be on the cards while visiting Mandalay.
This vibrant market opens from 6 AM until 5 PM and offers anything from fresh fruits, fresh spices to kitchen tools. The best way to see and explore the local way is to visit a market and witness the hustle and bustle.
The next day started with a sumptuous food walk through the local markets of Mandalay and this experience was powered by Beyond Boundaries Myanmar.
Exploring Mandalay for its unseen side and for experiencing what Mandalay has to offer in terms of unique food experience. I do recommend a bespoke tour by Beyond Boundaries Myanmar.
Second half it was time for a breezy boat ride through Irrawaddy river to cross over and explore the other side. It was a good 60 mins boat ride with a scenic view. One can either do the same on your own by getting into public boats which run at regular intervals or can book through local tour operators. I did it through Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar.
A huge massive unfinished structure can be seen from far away as it lies right on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. It was built as the largest pagoda in Myanmar. But two large earthquakes did considerable damage to the Mingun Pagoda. In front of the pagoda facing the river are the remains of two giant Chinthe lions about 29 meters high, guarding the temple.
Various street shops are selling local handicrafts and other local items from Myanmar. And, also at reasonable rates. But, as a tourist, I recommend checking the rates before buying.
Few meters away from Mingun Pagoda is the huge famous bell known as Mingun Bell built by King Bodawpaya. Consider not to miss this interesting place as it attracts a lot of Buddhist disciples and locals as well. The bell is rung by striking its exterior with a wood log.
The Hsinbyume Pagoda is a beautiful all-white structure on the banks of the Irrawaddy River just North of Mandalay. The pagoda that is also known as the MyaTheindan Pagoda is located in the Northern part of Mingun town a few hundred meters from the massive Mingun Pagoda. It is undoubtedly one of the best pagoda to be visited in Mandalay.
The pagoda’s architectural style is very different from other pagodas in Myanmar. The base of the structure shaped like circular terraces is a representation of the seven mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru, the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. The pagoda that is topped with a gold spire enshrines a Buddha image. The seven-tiered concentric base shaped like waves contains niches, some of which contain small statues of mythological figures.
It is possible to climb the stairway to the top of the structure. From the top there are great views of the Irrawaddy River and the nearby Mingun Pagoda.
Mingun archeological zone costs US$ 4. This ticket is valid for the Mingun Pagoda and other monuments in the area like the nearby Hsinbyume Pagoda.
One of the most common pictures of Mandalay on the net is either a sunrise or a sunset picture from a wooden bridge popularly known as U-Bein Bridge.
Hence, after completing the Mingun Pagoda tour, we crossed the Ayarwaddy river to come back to this bank and witness the sunset at U-Bein Bridge. It is considered the most ancient and longest wooden bridge in the world.
Built on Tayngthman lake, this bridge is about 1.4 km long and is built from 1000 big pillars and thousands of wooden pallets.
Well, for me I wasn’t very lucky to get a stunning shot of Sunset from U-bein Bridge because I got late to reach there and it was overcrowded to find a suitable spot. Hence, as advice, I would recommend visiting the place at least twice, especially early mornings for sunrises.
Mahamuni Buddhist Temple
Lastly, before heading back, I visited one of the most revered Buddhist temples of Mandalay, Mahamuni Temple. The temple or the pagoda was built in 1785 by King Bodawpaya of the Konbaung dynasty after the Mahamuni image was captured during the invasion of the Arakan Kingdom.
When I visited this temple complex, it was an auspicious moment as the head of the temple had just walked in and I witnessed some rituals were performed in front of several devotees. There is also a museum which has detailed information about Buddhism.
Several shops around the temple sell offerings for the Mahamuni Buddha image such as incense sticks, candles, and flowers.
Entry fees to Mahamuni Temple is 4 USD.
Also, you may like to read a photo story about the life in Myanmar
Where to stay in Mandalay
While traveling during high season in Myanmar, it is advisable to pre-book the stay either in a hostel or a hotel depending on one’s budget. Also, sometimes the hotel rates are quite reasonable as compared to the Hostels. Hence, consider looking into options of choosing a hotel over hostels. I had pre-booked through booking.com just before I arrived in Mandalay.
Also, if traveling alone, there are pretty amazing hostels as well which suits mostly the solo backpackers. Consider looking into hostelworld.com.
What to eat in Mandalay
So, through Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar, I experienced a unique food tour in Mandalay understanding various flavors of Burmese cuisine which was quite diverse. Savored some tempura, Mohenga, Rice cakes, Lafatau, Shan noodles, and of course the very famous Burmese Khauswey. Avocado is one of the most easily available fruits, hence relishing a smoothie is a must.
Burmese cuisine includes various varieties of greens and fish into their preparation and is full of condiments, from sweet, sour to savory.
Best time to visit Mandalay
The dry season from November to May has the best weather for sightseeing around Mandalay. From June to October, the area has increased chances for daily rainfall, which helps alleviate the high temperatures at the end of the summer. Hence, wintertime is the ideal time for visiting Mandalay.
However, Mandalay does get cold during Dec end till January. Therefore, a light jacket/ warm fleece is generally ideal for the weather.
What to wear in Mandalay
Mandalay city has a mix of modern and traditional tourist attractions. But, being mostly famed for its beautiful Buddhist Temples and Pagodas. One needs to respect the religious sentiments of local people, hence it is advised to generally wear something which can cover legs and arms basically to dress conservatively.
Also, it does get hot and humid mostly during the day time, hence carrying a hat or a stole is generally advisable along with an ample amount of hydration.
In most of the Buddhist Temples, it is generally a mandate to take off shoes before entering.
Summarized 2 Day Itinerary of Mandalay
Day 1- Visit all the pagodas and day walking/ cycling tour around Mandalay city and explore Mandalay Palace, Sandamani Pagoda, Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Kyauktawgyi Pagoda and explore the local markets in the evening.
Also, please note that all the markets, local street eating places usually close by 9 pm, so plan accordingly.
Day 2 – Head to U-Bein Bridge as early as 5 am to catch the stunning sunrise. Or, if not one can plan the same during sunset as well. But, do expect a larger number of people at that time.
Take a half-day culinary tour through Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar, and then later head for a boat ride to cross over to explore the Mingun Pagoda complex.
Later the day can be spent exploring the local markets.
So, whether it is at the end of the tour or the beginning, Mandalay is a beautiful place that is not to be missed while in Myanmar (Burma).
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