Myanmar - Getting to know Mandalay

Mention the city of Mandalay and it conjures up evocative images of old world colonialism and the mystical Far East, due in part to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem. However, Mandalay is a relatively young and dynamic city, where glinting glass structures built by its large Chinese immigrant population, sit alongside lavish Buddhist stupas; an ethically diverse city, as well known for its newly-rich, gem-sellers as for its large population of monks.

Myanmar Mandalay Travel Guide

Despite its growing modernity, evidence of Mandalay’s years as Myanmar’s royal capital (between 1857 & 1885) is still visible. Its most imposing attraction is the Royal Palace citadel, which occupies a perfect square and sits, surrounded by a broad standoffish moat, at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The city has also held onto its tradition of arts and crafts. Workshops, many of which employ time-honoured methods, can be found dotted throughout the city, producing everything from the gold leaf sheets that worshippers place onto sacred Buddha images, to stone statues (mainly Buddhas), distinctive kalaga tapestries, and polished jade.    

When it comes to evening entertainment, there are a sprinkling of bars and restaurants serving a variety of cuisine. For an authentic taste of Mandalay, get your lips around some gorgeous Muslim Chinese Noodles (pronounced pan-thei-kao-sweh). Served with a generous blend of spices, chilli and chicken, they’re delicious and add a certain kick to your visit!

What to do in Mandalay

  • Mandalay Hill, with its glittering abundance of monasteries & pagodas, has received Buddhist pilgrims for centuries. It’s definitely worth a trip to the summit for views across the city, whether you feel up to puffing your way up the slope on foot, or prefer a bouncy pick-up ride up the narrow hillside track.
  • Watch sunrise over U Bein Bridge – the world’s longest teak bridge. Built in 1782, it’s an impressive piece of engineering that’s still used today. Dawn is the perfect time to visit, when monks and local residents commute across the bridge; sunset is equally picturesque although you’re more likely to be jostling with other tourists for a good spot. 
  • Another early start is required (4am) to witness the rather unusual spectacle of devotees at the Mahamuni Pagoda ceremoniously washing the face and brushing the teeth of the pagoda’s 13ft-tall seated gold Buddha.

Around Mandalay

  • Widely regarded as the country’s religious centre, Sagaing is home to thousands of monks and nuns, and its hillsides are covered with white-washed pagodas and golden stupas. For the best views of the surrounding landscape head up Sagaing Hill.
  • A 45-minute boat ride from Mandalay, Mingun is best known for its huge unfinished stupa – Mingun Paya. Intended to be the world’s biggest stupa, work stopped when King Bodawpaya died in 1819, leaving only the bottom third complete.
  • Another attraction is the mighty Mingun Bell: a 13ft high, 90-tonne bronze bell that is allegedly the world’s largest un-damaged bell.Head to the hills! Sitting at an altitude of 3,510 feet, around two hours east of Mandalay, Maymyo (a.k.a Pyin Oo Lwin) was the summer capital of Myanmar during Colonial times when the British flocked to this pleasant hill station to escape the Mandalay heat.
  • Aside from the Colonial-era architecture, other points of interest include the beautifully maintained Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens.

Nearly 90% of Burmese are Buddhist and the country is home to around 600,000 Buddhist monks and nuns – the highest percentage of monks in the world. Mandalay is one of Myanmar’s most important religious centres, and half of the country’s monastic population live in and around the city.

Rudyard Kipling never visited Mandalay

...the poem ‘Mandalay’ was allegedly written after he visited Mawlamyine.