The second largest city in Myanmar, still considered the cultural and religious center of the country, Mandalay appears as a set of dusty roads and streets when you first set foot in it. Yet as the city's soul soaks in to you, you realize the beauty and elegance of this ever changing city of Burma.
How to get around the city
- On foot
- Getting around down town Mandalay can be done on foot which will allow you to get a first hand experience of the market places, temples and restaurants offering local cuisine.
- By Motorbike
- If venturing further away from the city to places like the Mahamuni Temple, Mandalay Hill or the Shwenandaw, hiring a motorbike for about $15 per day would be economical. To hire a bike you can check out places like mandalaymotorbike.blogspot.co.uk.
- By pick-up or taxi
- When traveling with more than two or three people, taking a taxi or a pick-up ride would be the wisest thing to do, but it does come with a bit of waiting around and crowded seating. You can easily find one of these in downtown Mandalay (Zegyo Market-at the corner of 29th and 84th streets). Remember to make sure that the driver knows where you want to go.
To enter tourist sites in Mandalay you need a $10 ticket which is valid for 7 days. This can be bought at the entrance of any of these sights. On a positive note, they rarely ask for the ticket when entering some of these places (in Inwa, Sagaing and Amarapura).
Places to see:
- The historical Capitals
- Mingun lies at the end of a boat ride along Irrawaddy river, where you can visit the world's largest non-cracked bell.
- Sagaing hills known as the capital of the self-governed Shan Kingdom in the 14th and 18th centuries and famed as a center of Buddhism due to its collection of magnificent nunneries and monasteries.
- Inwa is home to well-preserved monasteries, dried up swimming baths, a derelict watch tower and the sad sight of the remnants of the once grand entrance gate which stands in testament to a lost city of grandeur.
- Amarapura the last of the four capitals, boasting of its very own U Bien Bridge built by King Bodawpaya, this city of ancient wonder, lying 11 kms away from Mandalay, was the center of power from 1783 to 1857 when the country's capital moved to Mandalay. The remains of the palace, city gates, tombs of old kings and queens and Buddhist sites of the likes of Kyauktawgyi Pagoda and Maha Gandhayon monastery make Amarapura worth visiting.
U Bein Bridge
- This beautiful teak structure (1.2 km long) put together by U Bein, the local mayor, using teak planks of the dismantled palace of Amarapura, spans a mile across Taungthaman Lake. An most amazing view of the bridge can be captured at sunset crayoned with the silhouette figures of locals trudging home on bikes and on foot proving the fact that the beauty of this creation lies not only in its ancient origin but also in the significant role it plays as a central part of the local community.
- Mandalay Palace
- The initial glimpse of the palace will surly give you an insight into the strength of King Mindont's ambition. This palace Stands surrounded with a huge moat in the middle of Mandalay city, housing an army camp and poorly reconstructed replica of the original palace which was destroyed due to bombing in the Second World War. It is worth a visit if only to visit the museum displaying precious artifacts of this once prospering capital.
- Shwenandaw Kyaung
- This well preserved monastery is made of teak adorning detailed carvings. It was once located inside the Mandalay palace but moved to its present location by King Mindont's son Thibaw who had reformed it as a monastery (Last King of Burma). This is said to be the royal apartment of King Mindont who had died within its walls. You need to show the $10 Mandalay zone ticket to enter.
- Mandalay Hill
- This oasis away from the dust and heat of the streets offers a stunning bird's eye view of the Irrawaddy river and the whole of Mandalay from the top, especially at sunset and sunrise. It is also a place of reverence and holiness to the locals as it houses the Sutaungpyei Pagoda in the summit and as they believe that Buddha visited it once and foretold the birth of a great city where Buddhism flourishes. (you will have to pay $1 to take photos at the top). The way to earn merits from a Buddhist perspective is to climb bare foot to the top. It won't take more than 45 minutes, as the way up is smooth yet a bit hot and sweaty. Various fascinating stupas (pagodas) and statues like the giant white Chintes (lions) guarding the entrance will keep your spirits up on your way up.
- Zegyo(Zay Cho) Market
- This market which is as old as the city itself is located at the end of the 27th street, giving life to the whole of Mandalay. Though the building is modern and has nothing ancient about it, its market place adds up to the lack of character by coming alive with the homely ambiance of the Burmese and a vast selection of goods, handicraft and fresh produce.
- Shwe In Bin Monastery
- Built in 1895 by Chinese merchants, located in a relaxing atmosphere by a tiny river on 89th and 38th streets, this beautifully designed teak monastery has nicely stood the test of time and consists of traditional artwork and woodcarvings.
- Mahamuni Buddha Temple
- One of those places that no one forgets to visit in Myanmar which is often justified by the huge crowd of pilgrims gathered at the site. This site located between 82nd and 84th streets, is famed for its statue of Buddha in a seating Mudra with a body that looks like a mass of golden blobs as a result of many layers of gold and a beaming face which gets its teeth cleaned and face washed by monks every morning in a ceremonial process (4 am and 4.30 am).
Culture and Art
Boasting of its own art and music scene Mandalay is well known for Mustache brothers who have their own a-nyient Pwe comedy team and who had to suffer blows from the ex-junta for being too sarcastically critical of its rule. Do not miss their performance on the 39th street in Mandalay.
To enjoy a bit of Myanmar theater and dance pay a visit to Mandalay Marionette or the Mintha Theater, at the corner of 27th and 66th streets. To find out more please visit the following websites:
- Kyauktawgyi Pagoda Festival
- This festival which takes place in October gathers a whole crowd from all over the country who celebrate the Buddha statue made of Marble resting at the Pagoda with robe weaving events (the robes are offered to the Buddha at full moon).
- The Taungbyone Nat Festival
- This festivals draws in a considerable crowd of gay and transgender visitors form all over the world and takes place at Taungbyone village about 20 km north of Mandalay which lasts for about five days (at the end of July or the beginning of August) till the full lunar night. It involves the celebration of nat -spirits where transgender or homosexual dancers perform as nats. As there is not much in terms of accommodation in Taungbyone many make it a day trip, visiting the festival for the day by taxi and returning to Mandalay at night.
- Irinaku Nat Festival
- Irinaku Nat Festival is celebrated at Amarapura in September where they commemorate Popa Madaw, guardian of women and the mother of two brothers who turned into nats (spirits) after being executed.
- Chinlone Festival
- One of the many festivals that takes place centered around the Mahamuni Pagoda is Chinlone Festival (Chinlone is a traditional sport played by Burmese) where players from all over the country gather here, at the end of every June, to win the trophy. If you happen to visit the Pagoda in January you could also witness the Payagyi Festival which holds rice cooking contests in the evening which is followed by burning of incense to pay homage to the Buddha the following morning.
Places to eat and drink
You are sure to find a choice of tasty continental, Chinese, Indian, Tibetan and local cuisine if you wonder around downtown Mandalay between 22nd and 28th streets.