The name ‘Mandalay' is perhaps the most evocative of any destination in Myanmar and yet it is a city whose significant charms need to be uncovered.
Mandalay has never failed any visitors on how amazing this city is. Not just being the economic center of Upper Burma and considered the center of Burmese culture, the fact that all masterpieces in Mandalay had suffered so much through wartime and series of earthquakes but still remain, every single part of those remain constructions just makes us wow.
Hot Air Balloon In Mandalay
The History of Mandalay
During King Mindon's reign in the Kingdom of Amarapura, he issued an order to establish a new royal capital for the Konbaung dynasty. Mandalay was constructed on a plain land from 1857 to 1859, following the ancient prophesy that the land would grow into the future of Buddhism. It was named after the holy Mandalay Hill nearby.
Only two Burmese kings ruled there before the annexation by the British Empire in 1885, which stripped Mandalay of most of its charm. However, it was soon reconstructed and played a part in the rise of Yangon, the new capital of British Burma. Now, many of the sites are modern constructions. Mandalay plays a vital part in Myanmar for its role in trading with China and India, as well as for its cultural value, brought about by the cone-topped historical pagodas, religious sites, and exciting market streets.
It has remained Upper Burma's major commercial, educational and health center beyond the fast growth of Naypyidaw. In October 2018, Mandalay was ranked by CIO Asia as #5 among the top 10 cities in Southeast Asia in the process of becoming a smart city for the ASEAN Smart Cities Network.
Main attractions in Mandalay
A pagoda in Mandalay
- Mahamuni Pagoda: Mahamuni Pagoda is known for the gorgeous statue that covered with layers of overlapping gold leaves that reach up to 15 centimeters in thickness. Besides, Mahamuni Pagoda also focuses on a lot of specific yet amazing activities that may surprise you. For example, they use Neem trees brush to spread rituals for the statues and wipe perfume statues’ faces every morning. Tourists can also visit some other places in the temple complex which includes a Museum of Buddha's life together with many stalls selling incense, flowers, candles, etc. to serve visitors. There is also a small market where tourists can find the most beautiful Burmese puppets for souvenirs.
- Myingyan: Myingyan is famous for the literally golden Mount Popa, which requires visitors to climb up to the peak of the mountain. But the most interesting part of this is that Mount Popa is considered a sacred place, so travelers must trigger for doing athlete activities on bare feet wearing appropriate clothes. So before joining this 777-step journey, treat yourself nicely with a lot of food and drinks, and be well-prepared with some extra chocolate bars with lots of water in your travel bag.
- Bagaya Monastery: Also called “Teak Monastery”, this is the oldest structure in Mandalay and also the least suffer after a series of earthquakes. It is kept originally so you can have the full special nostalgic feels just by looking at the carving on wood. This place was built for the royals to educate their offspring, and the Burmese still keep that tradition today when they literally use this place to teach local kids.
- Innwa: Innwa was used to be the capital city of Burma erratically 6 centuries, also the place that was originate set up the Buddhism spirits into Burmese until now. Those amazing edifices in Innwa were mostly collapsed, but it really worth visiting like Brick Monastery - a special well-preserved architecture in pale brownish yellow color constructed during the Konbaung dynasty. This one was stand out for its owner - Queen Me Nu. She built this as a residence of the Royal Abbott. With all customary details on wood along with stuccoed sculptures, you would really amazed of how talented and meticulous Burmese were.
Culture Features in Mandalay
Monks in Mandalay
Mandalay is Burma's cultural and religious center of Buddhism, having numerous monasteries and more than 700 temples and pagodas. King Mandon had shaped and directed the styles of Mandalay Buddha statues along with Buddha images and had filled Mandalay with them until Buddhist art became Myanmar’s pure art by using his devout Buddhism.
Mandalay fully features the weather of tropical wet and dry climate. On average, the temperature is high with a low chance of rain throughout the year, which makes Mandalay quite hot overall.
November to February is the cool season when the weather is most pleasant. During this time, it attracts the largest number of tourists in the year, due to the comfortable climate and low rainfall, which makes it perfect for traveling. However, it is important to plan your trip early and book in advance.
March to April is the hottest season, but it is also the choice of some tourists for the Water Festival in mid-April. It is essential to pack sunscreen/sunblock, sunglasses, and other protective accessories to avoid harmful and fiery sun exposure. On average, the warmest month is April.
May to October is the rainy season when transportation and tourist service costs are much lower. However, if you visit on days with unpleasant downpours, your plans might be delayed or canceled. The month of October is when it rains the most, so keep in mind while planning a visit to Mandalay.
How to get to Mandalay
- Plane: Mandalay is well connected with Yangon, Bagan Nyang U, Heho (Inle Lake, Kalaw, and TaungGyi), Kalaymyo, Kyaing Tong, Myitkyina, Tachileik, Putao, Monywa, Lashio, Homalin, Bhamo. It is around one hour’s drive to downtown Mandalay from Mandalay International Airport.
- Train: There are several trains departing daily from Yangon, Bagan, and other regions in Myanmar. Tickets usually range from 15-25 dollars for a seat.
- Bus: Kwe Se Kan bus station is the main bus station. It is located 10km south of downtown and buses arrive and departs from here for major destinations south of Mandalay, including Yangon, Bagan, Kalaw, and Inle Lake.
- Boat: From Bagan, there are boat services at different levels of luxury. The fast boat is the quickest and most comfortable way, and there is also a twice-weekly slow boat from Bagan
Suggested read: How to travel to Mandalay.
How to travel around Mandalay
- Private cabs: Taxi is the fastest and most convenient way of moving, without having to navigate your way. It is recommended to book vehicles via the Grab app to save your budget and travel effectively.
- Bikes: You can easily hire bikes to freely ride around the city at a cheap price. The downside is that you might not be used to the traffic and directions.
- Horse-carriage: A horse-carriage ride would be such an extraordinary and Instagram-worthy experience, but not every tourist is willing to try this kind of transportation.
- Walking: It is not really advisable to walk around and move between places in Mandalay because of the tropical heat and you would easily get tired before you can even enjoy gorgeous palaces in Mandalay. But it would be suitable for active travelers who love to experience the locals’ lifestyle along the way.
Mandalay Travel Tips
- You have to buy a 10 US dollar ticket to have full access for a week to the Mandalay archeological zone including monasteries, Amarapura, Innwa, Sagaing as well as the Shwenandaw Golden Monastery and Atumashi Pagoda in Mandalay.
- Mandalay is the city of sanctuary, remember to wear appropriate clothes before visiting any places. Shirts have to go with sleeves, and pants must go below the knee line. You should beware of touching the fragile details since they are too delicate. Also, don’t forget to bring yourself a bottle of water to avoid dehydration as well as prepare sandals or slip-on since you have to take off your shoes before getting to any spiritual places.
Money (Currency exchange)
You can official bank and private licensed exchange booths at Mandalay airports, so there is no need to worry much. When exchanging money, remember to get and count Burmese money Kyat before handing out your money. It is preferred for you to always have cash in hand because there are not so many places that have ATMs or accept credit card payments. With cash, it would be a plus for you to easily enjoy the local Burmese life.