This bustling metropolis and former royal capital sits by the grand Ayeyarwady River, it is an ideal base to stopover between Bagan, Inle Lake and other regions of the North. At the heart of the city lies Mandalay Palace (rebuilt after the WWII), it is still a spectacular sight fortified by a huge wall and moat. It’s not until you reach the top of Mandalay Hill you see how the city has expanded, becoming an economic and tourist centre of Myanmar. Glimpses of the past, artisan crafts, glistening stupas, tea houses and the romantic views can still be found in this fast changing city.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in the wonderful Hotel 82, located surprisingly on 82nd Street. Mandalay is easy to navigate thanks to it’s grid layout and numbered roads. As we came by bus, we were dropped off at directly the door of the hotel. The hotel is modern and comes with all you’d expect; AC, WiFi, private bathrooms and even a minibar. Breakfast is a buffet service and a very filling start to the day. Again, the hotel can help you with your plans in Mandalay and book onward transport.
WHAT TO SEE
Mandalay’s sights are spread out, if you don’t mind a bit of exercise and braving the city’s busy streets, explore the city by bicycle (check if your hotel provides this, Hotel 82 has free bikes for guests). Cycling around the great Palace is a good starting point, there is a concrete path that wraps around the moat providing a safe and pleasant ride. Some parts of the path particularly on the North and West sides are narrow and crumbly in places.
Mandalay Palace is only accessible from the East gate (this is the only entrance for tourists). You will need to pay an entrance fee of 10,000 kyat (£6/$8) (which is the 5 day combi ticket allowing visits to other sights in Mandalay) and register with the military personnel too. Make sure you take some form of Photo ID (drivers’ licence is probably best), as you must also leave that at the entrance. The palace itself is straight down the road in the middle of the citadel and tourists are not permitted to veer off this path as the surrounding areas are used as an army base. Also note that photos are only permitted inside the palace and it’s grounds. The site itself is quite large and has many beautiful buildings to explore and shaded areas to rest. Mandalay Palace, is a replica after the original buildings were destroyed during Allied bombing in World War II. There is also a tower to climb, which offers you a good view over the grounds.
Probably Mandalay’s most iconic landmark is the U Bein Bridge; a 1.2 kilometre bridge over Taungthaman Lake. It was built around 1850 and is thought to be the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world. The best time to visit is sunset to capture the stunning views. It takes around 20 minutes or so to walk over and there are plenty of stalls for snacks and souvenirs. Do be careful walking over the bridge as the majority of it has no sides. Getting here is easiest by taxi and should cost around 15000 kyats (£9/$11) for a return trip with the driver waiting for you for a few hours.
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay. The best time to come is sunset.Kuthodaw Pagoda is home to “the World’s Largest Book”, which consists of over 700 engraved slabs, each housed in its own shrine. It is quite an impressive sight to walk around and the pagoda itself is worth the visit.
Sandamuni Pagoda is next to Kuthodaw and is also a good place to wander around as the pagoda is surrounded by stunning architecture. It’s better to go in the morning here as a good portion is open to the sun and the dark tiles get hot.
The Shwenandaw Monastery is another place you need to show your ticket. It was originally part of the royal palace at Amarapura, but was moved to Mandalay. The carvings are what makes this building so incredible and where you can see the intricate work of the craftsman of the day. Buddhist myths carved in teak cover the facades and were coated with gold in its prime.
Mandalay Hill, is a fantastic place to get a birds eye view of the city and the most popular time to go is the evening to watch the sunset. Take the challenge and walk up the 1700 steps to reach the top, there are several pagodas and monasteries along the way help break up the hike and provide good photo opportunities. At the top of the hill lies Sutaungpyei Pagoda, in the late afternoon towards sunset – monks may approach you to practice their English.
WHERE TO EAT
Mandalay seems to be a bit more expensive than Yangon and Bagan, and a lovely (but not overly cheap) place to have a light lunch is Nova Coffee. It’s air conditioned plus they have a good selection of sandwiches, nice coffee and tea, which is served in a light bulb!
If you are more budget conscious and wanting more local food, head over to Pan Tha Khin for some delicious noodles and sweet treats. This is a Burmese tea shop, so you grab a table, and you will be given a menu. This has English on it too, but we only found one waitress who spoke some English. She looked after us every time we went too. You will be brought a plate of cakes and normally something fried as an appetiser and you get charged for this at the end – it isn’t expensive though, but you can refuse it.
For an awesomely cheap but amazing dinner, go to Shwe Ma Ma. The restaurant is outside with a buffet style setup and it’s popular with locals, families and as well as tourists. You can ask for rice and the server will tell you what each dish is. You then pick what you want, find a table and order a beer to wash it down with. You pay around 2000 kyat (£1.20/$1.50) for your plate, so it’s a very good deal.
- Roads are busy in Mandalay and pavements are limited for pedestrians. It’s safe to walk along the road, but keep in to the side and carry a torch with you when walking or cycling at night.
- Mandalay has many one way roads, some motorcyclists don’t obey this. Take care and be aware of oncoming traffic.
- Avoid the midday sun, it is very strong. Have a leisurely lunch, cooling off at a local tea house.
- We found that English was a little limited in smaller places, but with an app on your phone and a smile, you won’t have any problems.
- Dusty roads, heat and pollution can make the air quality poor in busy areas.
- If you want to avoid the crowds at U Bein Bridge, rent a boat.
- Mandalay Hill has 1700 steps to reach the top and takes about 40-60 mins depending how often you stop. If you don’t fancy the hike up, organise a taxi driver who can whizz you up and wait for you for your return trip back. We recommend you check the skies first, if it’s smoggy and cloudy this will distort the view.
- Wear appropriate clothing when visiting religious sites, covering shoulders and legs. Remove footwear (and socks) before you enter.
- If you have more time, explore the markets and artisan workshops of the city. There are ancient cities with stunning Buddhist temples outside of Mandalay e.g. Inwa. Your hotel may be able to explain these sights and organise transport for you. For more information on Mandalay go to: www.myanmartourism.org/index.php/mandalay