When touring Myanmar there are the four major cities that most tourists visit; Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. While I was there a lot of other travelers were skipping Mandalay because, unless you fly, transportation between the four cities can take precious time out of your itinerary so seeing the old royal capital wasn’t worth the trip. Big mistake. Mandalay has a completely different feel from the others and there is plenty to see and do to make it worth the trouble of the LONG bus ride or train. Here are some of my favorite Mandalay moments.
Climb a hill
Where the city gets it name, the near 800 foot hill rests in the city center. There is a pagoda at the top with a panoramic view of the city and surrounding area making for a great spot for sunrise or sunset. Head to the southern staircase to see the iconic lions protecting the steps. Around the base of the hill is where a lot of the tourist attractions are located so you can spend much of your time in town in and around this area.
Act like royalty
The last palace of the royal Burmese monarchy, the Royal Palace in Mandalay was the primary residence of the king. Much of it was destroyed in World War II so many of the buildings on the complex are replicas. Make sure to climb the rickety stairs of the watchtower, one of the original buildings on the property, giving you a wonderful lookout point of the palace and surrounding areas of Mandalay. The late afternoon provides warm light pouring through the windows and doorways, creating mysterious shadows and a great place to wander around and photograph.
Check out a bumpy Buddha
Mahamuni Buddha temple is a pilgrimage site for many Buddhists, as this is one of the few said images that was made of the likeness of Buddha while he was still alive. What started out as a smooth 6 ton image, now after years of visitors adorning the statue with gold leaf there is a cover that is several inches thick creating a lumpy gilded covering.
Be sure to circle around the pagoda and you’ll find six statues that have been moved from Angkor Wat, Cambodia during a 15th century war. The two warrior statues are said to have healing properties so devotees line up to rub their hands over a part of the body that is ailing in hopes to be cured by the bronze guards.
Try and find the world’s largest book
This is a great example on reading up before heading somewhere. I knew the world’s largest book was here but I didn’t do much more research than that because honestly, I thought I’d show up and there would be a huge book sitting there. I arrived early in the morning and thought I would stumble on the book inside, but after walking through a maze of small white buildings and then circling the pagoda there wasn’t a larger than life book in sight. I went out the way I came in and asked one of the girls selling postcards and she pointed inside where I had just been. Puzzled, I decided to go in once more and see if I could find someone who spoke English well enough to fill me in on the mystery. It turns out that each of the hundreds of small white buildings that I had mistook for mausoleums were each a page of the largest book so as it turns out as I was walking through looking for it I had actually been standing IN it.
Be sure to check out the monasteries that are located near the pagoda, several have some amazing wood carvings.
Go on an adventure
Mandalay provides you with a lot to see but the gems are the small towns surrounding the city. I took a bike ride with Grasshopper Adventures through the countryside, exploring small villages as we breezed over dusty paths. We biked through the ancient capital, Ava and checked out a few shops along the way, getting to learn more about the silk, teak, weaving and the handicraft industry in the region. We had the opportunity to meet a lot of friendly locals, learn more about their lives and rural Burma, it was one of my favorite afternoons in Myanmar.
See THE sunset
U Bein bridge is one of those iconic images of Burma, and a rickety walkway from the late 1800’s is said to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. It stretches across a lake and provides you with some stunning sunset. We hired a boat to take us out on the water to get a better view of the bridge and the people admiring the view, sitting peacefully with drinks and snacks. It can get crowded during those peak ‘photo op’ times so this was a smart way to avoid being elbow to elbow with a bunch of tourists. The other old capital, Amarapura isn’t far and also is a stop for day trips.