Mandalay is Myanmar’s second city; it is considerably smaller than Yangon with a population of just over one million but many consider it to be the culture capital of Myanmar. Despite being a relatively young city (becoming a city properly in the last 1800s) it nevertheless still has some fascinating religious and historical sites to visit.
The city itself is modest in its offerings but has enough to keep even the most stubborn traveler occupied and is a great based for visiting some of the sights in the upper part of Myanmar.
Mandalay has a fantastic and well serviced airport that is easy to get to from Thailand and China and has good connections to the rest of Myanmar. It’s a good distance from the city and it will take you at least an hour and $12 to get to the center.
Options to getting here are similar to those of Yangon: you can take the longer and cheaper train or a niftier and only slightly pricier bus. There are several bus stops with the largest being 6 miles outside of the city and the rest being closer to the city center. Plan for a day long trip if you go to Yangon, Inle Lake, or Bagan by train or bus, many of the trips will be overnight.
Where to visit
Before wandering off to check out some of the fancier pagodas and sites around the area make sure to see what Mandalay has to offer.
Mandalay Hill is a fairly simple walk of 760 foot (though basic fitness is required) that offers fantastic views over the city and leads you to some of the most impressive religious sites in the city. This is an essential trip to make and can be timed to view it at sunset.
There are many monasteries and pagodas on the way and the peak is Sutaunpyei Pagoda. Gives yourself most of the day to experience all this wonderful hill has to offer and make sure to take supplies and sun protection with you.
Maha Myat Muni Paya or Mahamuni Paya
Mahamuni paya is one of the most impressive temples in Myanmar and is home to a 13-foot-tall Buddha statue. If you are a man you may get close to it and apply gold leaf, and if you are a woman you may stare forlornly as they do it as you are permitted to approach too closely.
There are many interesting locations around the building full of special Hindu artifacts so explore widely around the area.
It will cost you $10 to enter the palace but it is enormous and well worth a visit. It was destroyed during the Second World War but after being rebuilt in the 1990s is now quite an impressive building to behold with its huge lengths of walls and many chambers and builders to explore. Foreigners must enter from the east gate and there is a lot of walking involved but cycling is also possible.
Shwenandaw Monastery is a fascinating building made largely out of hand carved wood and is one of the last true sites of old Myanmar that you will still be able to view in its original form. If you pay $10 you can see this Sanamuni Paya, Kuthodaw Paya, and Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda as you please. These are definitely worth a day of your trip.