The proclaimed cultural capital of Myanmar, Mandalay lays at the foot of the stunningly infamous Mandalay Hill. Studded with glorious ancient pagodas, today the hill overlooks a bustling commercial hub and acts as the perfect gateway for many adventures. Founded in 1857 by King Mindon, sadly the region was heavily bombed during World War II, meaning the surprisingly youthful city has undergone a lot of reconstruction over the years. Nevertheless, the city is easily explored by bicycle and holds plenty of sites of cultural interest including Mandalay Palace andMahamuni Paya as well as being home to a thriving local teahouse scene.
Perhaps the most perfect reason to visit Mandalay is to use it as a local base for exploring surrounding, lesser known regions such as the ancient imperial capital of Inwa, the infamous unfinished stupa of Mingun and not forgetting, the collection of unmissable pagodas and monasteries at Sagaing.
Mandalay undoubtedly offers an authentic bustling city life experience in one of Myanmar’s largest cities, with a wonderful balance of historic and cultural sites within easy reach and brimming with opportunities for exploration and adventure.
It’s not hard to see why Mandalay Hill is so loved by locals and tourists alike. The perfect place to get a real feel for the city below, by far the best time to embark on the 45-minute climb is to reach the peak by sunset. There are several routes to the top and each one is lined with shrines, pagodas and refreshment stalls, so allow enough time to enjoy the whole experience. For the less active, it is possible to drive most the way up the hill and leave your car in the car park. When you reach the top, be prepared to be rewarded with breath taking views across the city and the stunning Sutaungpyi Paya where young monks like to gather to practice their English language. Truly the perfect way to experience a glorious Burmese sunset and an enjoyable explorative hike.
Built as a residence for King Mindon, the original palace complex unfortunately burnt to the ground towards the end of World War II. As a result, the palace was completely reconstructed in 1990. With its impressive palace walls, watch tower and moat, Mandalay Palace is well worth a visit for a journey back into Burmese history.
This enormous gold leaved Buddha statue measures in at a remarkable 3.8 metres tall making it one of the most important Buddhist sites in Mandalay. Inside the complex lays an array of notable shrines, pagodas and Hindu figures making it the ideal place for an immersive afternoon stroll.
20 kilometres outside of Mandalay is one of Myanmar’s most sacred ancient capitals. Lovingly referred to by locals as the ‘Kingdom of Ava’, since 1364, Inwa has been named the royal capital on 4 separate occasions. The perfect place to escape the bustle of Mandalay city, today Inwa offers visitors a relaxed and charming atmosphere dotted with ancient, crumbling ruins of stupas, pagodas and temples, best explored by bicycle.
11 kilometres up the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay lays Mingun, home to what should have been the largest temple in the world. Accessible by boat, taxi or motorcycle, the journey to Mingun is simply spectacular. This quaint riverside village would perhaps be lesser known today if it weren’t for the construction of Mingun Paya that started back in 1790. Legend has it, the temple was not completed due to a claim by an astrologer that King Bodawpaya would die upon its completion. With this in mind, the King ordered for a giant bell to be erected instead. Today, the site of Mingun Paya, with its giant foundations and half-built appearance remains utterly impressive and the Mingun Bell has successfully proclaimed itself as the world’s heaviest ringing bell several times over the years.
Just 20 kms down the Irrawaddy River and sitting on the opposite bank to Mandalay you will find a region of scenic grassy hills littered with ancient Buddhist monasteries and temples. Sagaing offers the perfect escape from city life and the opportunity to breathe some fresh air. Often compared to a small scale, elevated Bagan, Sagaing is home to Mandalay’s most impressive and most sacred landscapes consisting of hundreds of glittering stupas to explore by foot. Perhaps the best place to take in Sagaing’s breath taking views is from Sagaing Hill, home to the region’s most impressive pagoda which dates way back to 1312, Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda. Home to over 6,000 monks, Sagaing promises both an educational and visually dazzling day away from the city.
Food and Drink
Some of Myanmar’s best teahouses can be enjoyed in Mandalay. Its thriving teahouse scene means you can find one on most street corners. Myanmar tea is mostly served milky, sweet and piping hot and can be enjoyed with simple snacks such as noodle and rice dishes. Often dishes contain meat, although due to elements of rich Buddhist culture in Mandalay, vegetarians are well catered for.
Indulge in Mandalay’s many street food vendors and food markets for an authentic experience and to mingle with Mandalay’s notoriously friendly locals.