Mandaly is located on the bank of Irrawaddy River and is the second largest city in Myanmar. It was the royal capital of the last monarchy of Myanmar and unfortunately was badly damaged during fierce fighting in World War II. Mandalay is well known for its cultural, traditional, and spiritual splendor but also for its exquisite handicraft such as embroidery, gold leaves, wood and stone carving. Nearby Mandalay stands several old capitals such as Amapura, Sagaing, Ava, Mingun where the Kongboung dynasty kings established their capitals.
Walking through the city, the most important spots that worth a visit are:
Mandalay palace: it is a walled citadel, surrounded by a large moat, situated in the middle of the city. Built between 1857 and 1859 as part of King Mindon, despite the fact it looks imposing from the outside, it was devastated by bombing in the Second World War. Within its walls you can now find a reconstruction of the original palace, which is still interesting to visit in order to get an impression of what used to be. A few original artefacts are held inside the museum.
Shwenandaw Kyaung temple: it is the most significant of Mandalay’s historic buildings due to the fact it’s the only remaining of the former wooden Royal Palace. It was originally the royal apartment in which King Mindon died, located within the palace walls. It was moved to its current location by Mindon’s son ( king Thibaw, the last king of Burma ) and converted into a monastery in memory of King Mindon. Made entirely out of teakwood it is adorned with beautifully intricate carvings.
Mandalay Hill : during the susent, it’s a must do to get the top of the hill that offers stunning 360 degree views of the whole city, the Irrawaddy River, and the distant hills. While the sun sets down, its warm light glint off the gold and green of the Sutaungpyei Pagoda, which is located at the summit. Mandalay Hill is a holy site, and is said it has been climbed by the Buddha, who prophesied that a great city would be built here. The uphill road to the top is spotted by numerous interesting payas and starts with two giant white chintes that guard the entrance.
Kuthodaw Pagoda: built in 1857 by King Mindon Min, this temple building is completely gilded on the exterior, giving it the look of a solid gold spectacle. Within the white stupas with a pinnacled roofs, take place 730 marble tablets (729 contain body of the text, while the 730th tablet describes their creation) covered on both sides with dense script. Filled in the past with gold ink and decorated with precious stone, after the British invasion , the troops stripped everything and was refilled with simple black ink. Taken all the together, these comprise the entirety of Theravāda Buddhism’s religious canon, and it’s called ‘’the world’s largest book‘’.
Mahamuni Buddha Temple: this is one of the most important religious sites of Myanmar, and it is set in a large religious complex famous for its seated Buddha, which stands at 3.8 metres tall and has been adorned with so much gold that its body is now a mass of golden blobs. The one part that is still clear is its beaming face, which is washed by monks, and has its teeth cleaned, in a ceremony every morning (at 4am or 4.30am). Male pilgrims travel from far and wide to place gold leaves upon the statue, believing it will give them good fortune in this life and the next. During the ritual, male devotees cram into the small room which houses the Buddha, quietly jostling for position as they add their offering.
Zegyo (Zay Cho) Market: it says that if you haven’t been to Zegyo market you haven’t been to Mandalay. It is the biggest market in Mandalay and one of the biggest of Myanmar. Inside the main building and its neighbouring alleys you can live a real slice of local life. There are many shops and stalls surrounding the perimeter of the market selling everything. Fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, spices, household items, prayer’s ites, souvenirs and so on. The best moment to wander around the market is early in the morning.
Getting there: you can reach Mandalay from the main cities by flight, bus, train or boat (only from Bagan). The airport is Mandalay international , once there take a taxi to get to downtown ( around K 30.000 ). The main bus station is Kwe Se Kan, 10 km south from the downtown. All the buses to / from the main cities depart and arrive here (Yangon – Mandalay is around 9 hrs). Taking the train is not so worth because from Yangon Central to Mandalay Railway station is around 15 hours. If you are in Bagan and you like to reach Mandalay by boat you have 2 options: taking the express boat (around 12 hrs) or the slow boat, a basic old fashioned ferry with local people ( 15 hours or more, it depends on the river level ).
Where to sleep and eat: you’ll find a wide range of accommodations everywhere, anyways one of the best area for the budget guest houses is around Zegyo market. I slept at Silver Star hotel, close to Zegyo market (http://www.silverstarhotelmandalay.com/). Here you’ll also find restaurants and stalls selling tasty street food.
Going around: most of the attractions can be done on foot, but you can easily move around the city by taxi, motorcycle taxi, pick-up or renting a self-drive motorbike (just be careful because the traffic is very crazy).
Mandalay ticket: it’s required to visit the main sites of Mandalay and surroundings (Inwa,Amarapura and Saigang). Buy it at one of the entrance of the sites ( price 10.000k).