Places to Visit and Things to Do in Mandalay
Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, has so many attractions and things to do. From the Shwenandaw Monastery and the Hsinbyume pagoda to the U Bein Bridge and the colorful Zegyo Market, these are just some of the best places to visit in Mandalay. Among the many attractions, you can also find some things to do for culture lovers like us, so get all the details and tips in our Mandalay Guide!
We arrived to Mandalay at the end of our trip, not expecting much of this large city. We had a few days to spend here and after visiting Bagan and Inle Lake we thought we’d already seen the best of Myanmar’s attractions. Boy, we were wrong because we LOVED our time here and we couldn’t get enough of the colorful markets and the day trips to nearby villages (not to mention the Indian restaurant we have visited 3 times). Mandalay is located on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River which provides a wonderful setting for many Instagram-worthy pictures. Allow for at least 3-4 days to explore Mandalay and its surrounding area if you can include it in your Myanmar itinerary.
Things to Do and Places to Visit in Mandalay
Mandalay Attractions Guide - Pagodas and Monasteries
Climb Up Mandalay Hill
Once you get to Mandalay, you can’t miss Mandalay Hill in what is otherwise a very flat city. Though it is only 240 meters high, Mandalay Hill still provides great panoramic views of the city. It is especially beautiful during the late afternoon and sunset time. The hill is dotted with many pagodas and monasteries and at the top you’ll find the Sutaungpyei Pagoda. You can either use one of the 4 stairways (a climb of about 40-50 minutes which you have to do barefoot of course) or use a taxi to bring you to the lift which will take you all the way up to the Sutaungpyei Pagoda and the wonderful viewpoint.
Visit the Sandamuni Pagoda and Kuthodaw Pagoda
Both the Sandamuni Pagoda and the Kuthodaw Pagoda are located very close to Mandalay Hill. In Sandamuni you will find the largest iron image of Buddha which was cast in 1802 and in Kuthodaw Pagoda you’ll find the world’s largest book. This book is actually comprised from 729 stone tablets (inscribed with Buddhist scriptures) which can be found inside the 729 stupas in this pagoda. Both of these pagodas are very interesting places to visit in Mandalay and since they resemble one another, we chose to only visit The Kuthodaw Pagoda. What we loved about visiting the different pagodas in Myanmar is the fact we always saw people who were praying and so these visits were always very special.
Explore the Shwenandaw Monastery
The Golden Palace Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung) is a historic Buddhist monastery located near Mandalay Hill and it is the only major original structure of the original Royal Palace. This beautiful monastery is made from teak wood and it is a great example for wooden monasteries that were built in Burma during the 19th century. Both the exterior and interior of the monastery are decorated with intricate wood carvings. It is impossible not the admire the beautiful Shwenandaw Monastery and the craftsmanship required to build it. An interesting fact is that this monastery used to be part of the Royal Palace in Amarapura but after it was moved to Mandalay, the Shwenandaw Monastery was taken apart and rebuilt as part of the new Royal Palace in Mandalay.
Take a Peek at Mandalay Palace
Mandalay was the last royal royal capital of Burma before the British arrived and the Mandalay Palace was the last royal place of residence of the Konbaung dynasty, the dynasty which ruled Burma from 1752 to 1885. The palace itself was built between 1857 and 1859. When the British arrived, they turned the palace into a fort and later it was almost completely destroyed during World War II. Mandalay Palace went through renovations during the 1990’s. The palace is one of the main tourist attractions in Mandalay but personally, we preferred exploring the markets, local artist workshops and other attractions in Mandalay. Nevertheless, for history lovers a visit to the palace can be quite interesting and if you do come, don’t forget to climb the tower.
Visit a Local Monastery in the Evening or Morning Time
From the start we knew we would like to visit one of the local monasteries in the area in the morning or just before sunset and witness the long line of monks who are on their way to the evening pray which is followed by supper. The problem is we’ve heard many mixed reviews about such visits since many times there are so many other tourists around you can’t really enjoy the experience. Therefore, we asked our guide to take us to a relatively less-known monastery in the afternoon since most tourists arrive in the mornings, and apart from us we saw perhaps 4 other tourists around. An important tip: our recommendation is to come in the afternoon to a smaller monastery if you want to enjoy your visit.
Discover Mandalay Markets
If you are a market person (as we are) Mandalay is blessed with many great markets such as the fish market, flower market and fresh produce market. Our guide was wise enough to understand that just one visit to one of the markets was not going to satisfy our thirst and we came back a few times because markets are a little bit like Disneyland for us… At the largest market in Mandalay (and in this part of Myanmar), Zegyo Market (or Zay Cho Market) you’ll find everything you are looking for. This amazing market has products from Myanmar, Thailand, China and India. For us the real pleasure was strolling around the open-air markets and capturing the heart and soul of Mandalay. Before choosing which market to visit, you’d better consult your guide or hotel regarding the best time of day to visit each of the markets. We couldn’t get enough of the sights and sounds (though we could do without the fishy odor of the fish market) of these market. We just strolled around, taking pictures, trying to spot unfamiliar fruits and veggies and basically inhale the richness and liveliness of these markets.
Watch the Sunset on the Banks of the Irrawaddy River
One of the highlights of our visit in Mandalay was watching the sunset on the banks of the Irrawaddy. Our guide, noticed we loved interacting with the locals and we had enough of pagodas, so she took us to the market to buy some snacks and then brought us to a a little park where the locals like to come and watch the sunset at the viewpoint just above the village of the bamboo weavers (where villagers are weaving the bamboo which is used to build everything from roofs and walls to fans). The sunset was spectacular, coloring the scene in golden hues and warm tones and it was a great spot to take some sunset pictures. Another bonus – many couples come to have a romantic evening here and many local kids and families come to enjoy the small park and playground.
Visit the Gold Leaf Makers of Mandalay
If you’ve already visited one of the many temples and pagodas in Myanmar you’ve probably seen local worshipers place these thin golden sheets on images of Buddha. Mandalay is the center of the handmade gold leaf industry and one of the most interesting places to visit in Mandalay must be one of the local gold-leaf workshops. You’ll find many local workshops in an area of about two blocks in the center of Mandalay just near the intersection of 36th and 78th streets. You can visit them for free and see the process for yourself and then you’ll have an opportunity to buy something in the souvenir shop (we didn’t feel any pressure to buy anything but we do suggest leaving a tip for the workers. After seeing how much hard work is involved in this process, we gladly left something for them). After watching so many people piously placing this thin golden foil on Buddha images we were very curious to see how these gold leaves are produced. You can watch the rows of men pounding gold sheets into very thin and delicate pieces that are then cut into squares and sold to believers. The process actually starts with the waxy paper (made out of bamboo) that is used to separate the gold leaves and it takes more than three years altogether. For culture lovers this is a must and for us it was one of the best things we did in Mandalay.
Places to Visit and Things to Do around Mandalay
Take a Ferry to Mingun
Mingun is a small village which is situated on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River. We took a small boat to get there and for a moment felt like trainee pirates because we had to cross long planks to get on and off the boat. The next couple of hours we spent strolling around Mingun, visiting the many unique places of interests and browsing the numerous souvenir stands.
Things to Do in Mingun
See the Incomplete Mingun Pahtodawgyi
The Mingun Pahtodawgyi is an incomplete monument that was built by King Bodawpaya in 1790. The king intended it to be a huge and impressive stupa; however, this ambitious project took its toll on the resources and workforce in the area. Legend has it that a prophecy was created to stop the building of this project. The prophecy predicted that once the Mingun Pahtodawgyi was completed, Burma would be destroyed and so there were many delays to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy. Once the king died, it was never completed. Don’t forget also to have a look at the Lions of Stones located between the Mingun Pagoda and the Irrawaddy River. These two huge statues of lions were built in 1799 and were intended to serve as guardians of the Mingun Pahtodawgyi.
Visit Sat Taw Yar Pagode
The Sat Taw Yar Pagoda is another beautiful white pagoda just near Mingun Pahtodawgyi. It is not one of the most famous attractions in Mingun, which means you will probably have the places to yourself. Although it is not as unique as the Hsinbyume Pagoda, it offers a beautiful view of the Irrawaddy River and is still worth visiting if you love Burmese temples.
Check Out Mingun Bell
Initially, the Mingun Bell was built to accompany the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, and though the stupa was never finished the Mingun Bell was completed in 1810. Until the year of 2,000 this 90-ton bell was considered to be the largest ringing bell in the world (until a larger one was built in China). Although it is no longer the largest bell in the world, it is still quite impressive and in very good condition.
Strike a Pose at Hsinbyume Pagoda
Our favorite attraction in Mingun was without a doubt the Hsinbyume Pagoda (the pagoda of love). Built in 1816, the Hsinbyume Pagoda is very unique in its bright white color and the design that is similar to waves or as someone else described it – “a great white meringue style pavlova”. Climb up the stairs, get lost among the waves and if you’re lucky, you might even see a monk or two. When we were there, we had the place to ourselves but nowadays, you can find many pictures of this gorgeous pagoda on Instagram, so it might get busier soon. This is definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Mandalay!
Watch the Sunset at U Bein Bridge
The famous U Bein Bridge (the longest wooden bridge in the world) is located in Amarapura (about 30 minutes by car from Mandalay). It is such a beautiful sight to watch the sunset from one of the boats on the river. We arrived here about two hours before the sunset and had some time to cross the bridge and hire a boat to watch the sunset. Since many tourists have this attraction on their Myanmar bucket list, make sure to make a reservation in advance with one of the local boats because sometimes there are no more boats to hire (yep, talking from experience). An important tip – even if there are no more boats available, ask around and perhaps share a boat with someone who has already hired one. For a more romantic experience you can also hire one of the small boats which provide drinks and a bite to eat in this stunning setting. Just before sunset dozens of boats dock in front of the bridge in a long chain-like structure, almost touching one another while waiting for the sunset to color the sky in golden hues. The U Bein Bridge is one of the best places in Mandalay to watch the sunset and relax.
Best Mandalay Attractions for Art Lovers
Visit the Family-Owned Workshops
If you have been following our Myanmar itinerary then you already know we love the local family-owned workshops. We really loved the unique small factories/workshops in the villages around Mandalay because it was a great opportunity to experience the every-day life of the villagers. We found out that most of the villages here choose to concentrate on one kind of specialty such as clay or terracotta. Each family makes a different kind of item such as clay candle-holders or vases and people from all around the area know they can find every clay item they need in this specific village. We strolled around the different workshops with our guide and viewed the various phases involved in making such items. In the first village we learned about the different stages of making clay vases and money boxes for children.
In another workshop just at the outskirts of Mandalay we saw the different stages of making paper mache toys.
One of our most memorable experience form Myanmar is our visit to the hand-made broom workshop. You can see these lovely colorful brooms all over Myanmar. What made this visit so memorable was the fact that we were the main attraction there. After all of the explanations about the production process and spending some time taking pictures, the workers got over their shyness and asked us to pose with them for selfies. By then we were already used to these kind of requests but this time we had to spend about 30 minutes posing with everyone, making videos and joking around. It was such a fun experience and this small factory has such an old charm to it we just loved our time there. Definitely one of the best places we visited in Mandalay.
How to Get to Mandalay
Located 716 km north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, there are numerous ways to get to Mandalay. First and foremost, if you are on a tight schedule but not on a tight budget, you can fly into Mandalay. Mandalay airport serves both domestic and international flights so that would be the easiest option. However if you arrive from Bagan you can take a bus (about 6 hours driving through very boring landscape) or hire a private driver. We preferred hiring a driver since we wanted to stop at the unique villages between Bagan and Mandalay (some of which we’ve already mentioned here). Another interesting option, if you have the time, is to take a cruise on the Irrawaddy River from Bagan to Mandalay (or vice versa). It will take you about 12 hours or longer with stops in the villages along the way, but anyway it is more fun than taking the bus. Since we haven’t done this ourselves we can’t recommend a specific company. From Inle Lake you can either fly to Mandalay, take the bus (about 9 hours) or hire a private driver (4.5 hours). We’ve heard some local agents also arrange for a shared taxi so ask around.
Getting around Mandalay
Mandalay is quite large but it is possible to walk to some of the attractions, depending on your accommodation’s location. In addition, the fact that the streets are organized by a grid system with consecutive numbers, will make your life even easier. However, not all of the attractions are very close to each other and the weather can be very hot, so you can always hire a bike, or better yet order a taxi since their prices are quite cheap. If you are looking to explore the city for the day, arrange for a driver for the whole day, it will save you time and money.
Where to Stay in Mandalay
First of all, stay in the center of Mandalay. It is fun to walk at night and in the city’s center there are many restaurants to choose from. We stayed in the southern part of the Palace (in a hotel that has been closed recently) where we could find many restaurants for dinner. If you are looking for a budget option, you can try Mansion Hostel Mandalay, Moon Light Hotel, Hotel 8 or Ned Kelly Hotel. For mid-range try the Link 78 Mandalay Boutique Hotel or Mandalay City Hotel and for Luxury you can try the famous Mercure Mandalay Hill Resort (in the North of the Palace – with fewer restaurant options) or the Hotel by the Red Canal.
Where to Eat in Mandalay
There are many restaurants in Mandalay, especially in the Southern part of the Palace. However, we must confess that after craving some Indian food we ate our first dinner at Indian Tadka, and we got hooked. During our three nights in Mandalay we ate at that restaurant and couldn’t get enough of their delicious food. However, if you want to mix things up, Mingalabar Myanmar Restaurant seems like a very good choice and it was always full when we passed it on our way to satisfy our paneer carvings.
As you can probably tell we really enjoyed our time in Mandalay and it was a great city to finish off our Myanmar adventure. So if we sparked some wanderlust in your bones, check out our tips to help you plan your perfect Myanmar trip!