Mandalay was the last great capital of Burma, is Burma's second city and at the core
of their culture and religion.
a city of over one million people, but leafy, flat and a haven for winging
flocks of bicycles - and just like birds, none have lights!
There's no shortage of things to see and do in the city, and getting
to them in the comfort of a trishaw is one
of a tourist's special pleasures, though a lot of the place is quite modern.
There are also enjoyable day trips possible to the ancient royal cities of Amarapura, Inwa,
Sagain and Mingun; these will need either one more wheel
or a rudder.
Mandalay weather is much drier than the tropical south and winters are colder.
***Mandalay Hill, dominating
the area and offering sensational sunset views. Combine a trip with visiting various shrines, including 'the world's largest book' (see below), a pagoda partially walled with mirrors, a giant standing Buddha called
Shweyattaw and King Mindon's Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery (see below).
Buses and other vehicles can go up the hill if you don't feel like walking.
***Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery (aka Golden Palace Monastery) is a gorgeous
teak monastery (photo at top) with exquisitely carved decor, typical of this
area but quite unlike any other monasteries in Myanmar.
*Kuthodaw Pagoda (Book Temple), known as the world's biggest book, on the 729 stupas of which
are inscribed the whole Tripikata (Buddhist Bible). It's an impressive mass of white stupas but interest wanes quickly.
**Gold leaf factory and marble carving street.
It's interesting to see these manual industries, particularly
to discover how hard gold beating is and how few security precautions
there are. Buy some leaf and paper your home with it!
*Mahamuni Paya, the most
important and biggest pagoda in the city, containing the respected
ancient Rakhine Buddha, but not nearly as impressive as the Shwedagon Pagoda
*Puppet Show. Myanmar's
#1 puppet master performs at the Marionette Theatre near the Sedona
*Mandalay Fort/Palace, including a recently
reconstructed palace. It must have been magnificent at the time
though now it's mainly just a great, really great, set of walls with a sterile interior.
Take trishaws to explore the inner city. This can be exhilarating
or terrifying depending on your disposition, since they cross busy
main roads without stopping, and hurtle along unlit streets disregarding
pot holes and each other.
Locals love to see you enjoying trishaws and may wave and shout
hellos, not to mention that your money will NOT be going towards supporting the military junta.
Cycling is another good option, with rentals available.
For longer journeys taxis can be hired but it can be difficult to negotiate a decent price.
Those waiting near hotels are naturally more expensive than ones
cruising, but more likely to speak English.
Pickup trucks cruise around picking up folk just like buses and at a good price.
- Flights. Mandalay airport is new and reasonably efficient, accepting flights from a couple of international destinations (e.g. China) as well as from all over Myanmar. The airport is 45kms on a highway to the city.
- Trains. Many trains run from Yangon, taking about 15 hours during the day. There is also a pricey overnight sleeper train, the Dagon Mann Express. Trains also run to Mandalay to/from Bagan, twice a day, taking 7 hours. Tickets are cheap but conditions more like cattle cars than passenger cars that westerners are used to, with little or no space for bottoms or baggage storage.
- Buses from Yangon take about 14 hours overnight, leaving at 6pm. Buses to/from Lake Inle take about 9 hours in a daytime minibus or slowly and bumpily overnight in a regular bus.
- Ferries. The last interesting public transport option is a ferry downstream from Mandalay to Bagan, taking five hours but costing a pricey $25+. Upstream travel is also available for less cost but a lot more time, maybe up to two days.
More general domestic transport information.
Day trip 1 ***Amarapura
You have to see the
superb, 200 year old U Bein's Bridge,
across Taungthaman Lake. Unique in Burma, it's 1.2km long and made
of 984 teak posts. Taking a walk and meeting
amiable locals on the amazing bridge is a very agreeable experience, especially if you are not embedded in a packaged herd. See Photo.
Another popular sight near Amarapura is Mahagandhayon
Kyaung (monastery) to see thousands of monks dining at 11am,
but it's quite touristy, with an intensive camera rush by tour groups.
11 kms south of Mandalay. See Photo.
A capital of the Burma kingdom for 400 years, today Inwa is a sleepy,
rural zone scattered with superb relics.
Take a horse cart for sightseeing, because the sites are hidden
and the ride is half the fun. It seems to be a standard deal and
a driver knows exactly where to show you. 2 hours, a few $!
most unmissable place is Bagaya Kyaung
(monastery), built of exquisitely carved dark teak. See Photo. A view from Palace Tower, the 'leaning
tower of Inwa' is refreshing. Very few visitors.
A religious centre with stupas and temples spread over a broad green
hill. If you do not go to Bagan for some reason it's worth
visiting, otherwise it's not a must-see.
trip 2 - ***Mingun
Day-tripping to the village
of Mingun is the most popular excursion from Mandalay (45 minutes
by boat) and takes half a day.
It has a well-known and massive unfinished temple base, Mingun
Paya, that would have been the world's largest temple. It's
worth climbing to the top for the fantastic view. The Mingun
Bell is the biggest (uncracked) bell in the world.
The downside here is the unusually pushy souvenir sellers.
trip 3 -
*Pyin U Lwin (Maymyo)
hill town two hours bumpy drive from Mandalay. Some lovely old colonial
houses and genuine stage coaches in everyday use. But not really
worth making a great effort unless you have a lot of time on your
hands; if you go beware the steep temperature drop in wintertime coming from Mandalay, especially if you plan to sleep over.
This is the second largest city in Burma, so there is no shortage
of good - if not great - eating places, from superb Chinese restaurants to popular