Mandalay Myanmar – After Yangon, Mandalay is the second largest city of the country of Myanmar. It was the last royal capital of the country from 1860 to 1885 and is situated northwards on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. Gosh, it was so soothing to walk along that river.
Mandalay kind of faded a bit during British colonial rule, commercially and politically speaking. Yangon took advantage of the situation and became the country’s capital at the time.
Sometimes, travellers prefer to visit Bagan and the Inle Lake when they travel to Myanmar. If you’re only staying there for a few days, I’d advise you to do the same, but if you have more time on your hands, spend a day or two in Mandalay, it’ll be more than worth it.
When I was there, meeting the local people was a magical experience for me. They were too kind to me and sometimes it would literally be embarrassing. I’ll tell you more about it later.
How to get there?
You can take a flight from Yangon to Mandalay and the trip takes around one hour. If you are not in a rush, you can take the bus from Yangon and it takes around 8 hours to reach Mandalay. You can book your bus tickets online here.
To book a hotel rom in Mandalay, you really need to plan ahead because high tourist seasons tend to be crowded, especially that there are not many hotels there. I recommend you try the ET hotel; it’s rather cheap and located near everything you’d possibly want to visit.
But if you want something more confortable and luxurious, go for the The Link 78. It’s a boutique hotel that opened recently and it offers all you need for a great stay at Mandalay. For your information, the trip for Mandalay airport is covered by the hotel.
And check out this link if you want to discover awesome Resorts in Myanmar.
I can’t wait to share with you my seven favorite places to visit in Mandalay! You’d need a bike to visit the first five attractions and probably a motorbike or a car to visit the last two.
1. Mandalay Myanmar – Mahamuni Pagoda
If there’s somewhere you need to go right when you land in Mandalay, it’s probably the Mahamuni Pagoda, and when I say pagoda, don’t picture a sad, lonely momnument because this is a huge pilgrimage site! The first temple you’ll find to your right tells the story of Buddha and how he lived his life through beautiful pictures. As you walk through the temple, you will learn about Buddha’s travels from India to other Asian countries, all beautifully mapped out on raised-relief representations.
Here’s a glimpse of what’s waiting for you there!
On your way out of the pagoda, you can walk along the alleys and pass by popular neighborhoods where everyone will smile at you like smiling is the simplest thing in the world.
I remember walking along those alleys and hearing people shouting tea! tea! at me so I stopped -because I wasn’t in a hurry- and ordered a milk tea, a British colonial heritage they were really excited to serve me.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a dozen people whose company made my day. They wanted me to try the local dishes –all the local dishes. They would gather the money to pay for the food and just wouldn’t let me pay for myself, and though I did insist, they said I was their guest and guests cannot pay for the food they’re offered.
I was really moved by their kindheartedness because I knew that they were really poor people and yet their generosity was overwhelming. I was determined to thank them for that so the next day, I went back to the café we sat at, left $20 to the owner and said my new friends could get anything they wanted with that money.
2. Mandalay Myanmar – Gold Leaf Factories
Mandalay is also known for its gold leaf factories. It’s those very leaves that Buddhists decorate their statues with, as a religious offering. Those leaves are traditionally hammered by hand into thin golden sheets.
Artisans would use a wooden hammer to tap on small pieces of gold to crush and refine them. It’s a very long and repetitive process. I can say that because I tried it myself and was quickly out of breath!
If you’d like to see how everything is made, you can go to the Gold Rose factory at the 78th and 36th street crossroads (feels like New York by the way!) or to King Galon which is on the opposite street.
I couldn’t help asking why gold leaf artisans didn’t use more industrial methods and they themselves told me that goldbeating by hand is an ancient tradition they intended to perpetuate and that the repetitiveness of the task was considered a meditation rather than a job to be done. The way they explain it is that repetitive physical effort empties the mind and provides a feeling of comfort and well-being to the worker. Doesn’t it sound interesting?
It’s like the Hindus’ mantras, you know, those famous Om sounds. It appears that the repetition of a simple word or movement helps with concentration and letting go of tensions. In preparing for meditation, this is called the object of meditation. If you’re interested in meditation and its different techniques, I’m going to post a complete beginners’ guide to help you start your own practice so stay tuned for that by subscribing to the website’s Facebook page and group and by following me on Instagram.
3. Mandalay Myanmar – The Palace
Don’t be surprised to find Burmese military soldiers in the Mandalay Palace. By the way, public access to the palace is unauthorized except for one building where entry isn’t free of charge and you’d have to pay something like $10 to get in, which is quite expensive. As someone who is quite frankly not a big fan of the Burmese military, I decided not to visit the only building left open to the public and enjoyed an exterior view of the palace instead.
Feel free to visit the Palace though; you can do that through the east gate so if you do, make sure to let me know how it was in the comment section below!
4. Mandalay Myanmar – Kyautawgyi Pagoda
Let’s not climb up Mandalay Hill just yet but you’ll notice that on your way there, you’ll come across many temples; Kyautawgyi is one of them. I really encourage you to visit as many of these temples as you can before you head to the top of the hill.
5. Mandalay Myanmar – The Hill
Did you know that Mandalay was named after Mandalay Hill and not the other way round ?
That mountain is the perfect spot to watch the sun set on the entire city. Don’t try to bike your way up there though; I know it’s nearly impossible because I’ve tried it so leave your bike down the hill and walk your way up, like Burmese people do.
If you’re too lazy to walk to the top, go ahead and grab a cab, hop on a motorbike or drive there if you wish!
My backpack and I finally made it to the top and what we found up there made our day. How romantic does that sound?
The sun set and I went down Mandalay Hill. On my way back to my hotel, some sort of a street music band was performing in public, on their own truck. Have a look!
They do know how to party in Mandalay, don’t they?
6. Mandalay Myanmar – U Bein Bridge
15 kilometers south of Mandalay, U Bein Bridge is one of the most visited local attractions. It’s a huge wooden bridge that spans the Taungthaman Lake. It was built in 1850 and is 1.2 kilometers long. It’s even believed to be the oldest and longest wooden bridge in the world -at the time of course. If you happen to be a photography enthusiast, U Bein Bridge will speak to your deepest sense of creativity.
I went to U Bein bridge with a scooter I rented in Mandalay but if you prefer to avoid riding a motor bike in Myanmar, you can book this tour.
Sagaing is a city situated 25 kilometers southwest Manadalay. Two bridges span the Irawaddy River and lead to Sagaing: the Yadanabon Bridge and the Innwa Bridge. I rented a motorbike to go there but let’s be honest, driving in Myanmar is a bit of a mental challenge so grab a cab or ask your travel agency what are the best options to move around the city.
As soon as you get to Sagaing, you will be surprised at the astonishing number of pagodas there are. But if you know that Sagaing was the capital of the Sagaing Kingdom and also the capital of the country of Myanmar for a brief period of time from 1760 to 1763, it might not be as surprising to you.
Just like in Mandalay Hill, Sagaing Hill is the ideal spot to enjoy a terrific view of all the city’s pagodas. Of course, if you get there by sunset, you’re guaranteed a much nicer experience. It almost feels like Bagan!
I hope you enjoyed this post and that it helps you plan your next trip to Mandalay. Please share it around and let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below.
Have a nice trip and see you all very soon,