So much to see in Mandalay! The best way in my opinion…Motorbike! Only 12,000kyat (~$8usd) for a semi-automatic and full-day rental. Fuel is also really cheap around Mandalay – 2 liters cost me 2000kyat (~$1.5usd) and that was all I needed to get around 100km of driving.
A very busy city! The traffic is quite daunting at first. It was very difficult for me to find the flow of things (and I’ve driven almost everywhere in Asia). It felt very unruly, but now I am coming from some of the best Asian drivers in Thailand! (the ease of traffic there is easy to fall into). But after 2 days of riding my bike and renting a motorbike, I was able to adjust and ease with the flow of traffic.
There are many intersections without stop lights, or stop signs. You can kind of honk your horn and look both ways and slow down a little bit. Then if there is room for you to go, you go. If someone else decided they had room to go, then you squeeze them brakes. I also chose to stay almost entirely on the far right (they drive on the right-hand side over here). There is a lot of weaving and winding and honking going on and I still haven’t quite figured out all of the traffic yet. Maybe a few more days on a bike will get me there.
NOTE: I’ve found Mandalay to be the second most difficult place to drive after India. With a similar disregard for pedestrians, so be careful crossing the street – they’ll speed up to get past you instead of slow down to go around you…
Some of these places cost money to see and some have small parking fees. I’ve listed these expenses at the very beginning of each site’s description 🙂
There is a great day made up of several visits to closely clustered attractions within the city. Try to end the day walking up Mandalay Hill for a beautiful sunset 🙂
Cost: 10,000kyat (you get a ticket good for 5 attractions and valid for 5 days)
This is a giant square in the northern part of Mandalay. It’s ~9.5km (6mi) all the way around. It’ll cost you 10,000kyat ($6.50usd), but this ticket will get you into 4 other sites as well. The palace itself is well worth the visit. Although most of the place was destroyed during WWII (when the British turned it into a fort) and everything, except for the tower, has been rebuilt as replicas in the 1990s, it’ll bring you back to those older times. It isn’t the most loved attraction in Mandalay, but I’d recommend it! I viewed it as just a really nice park to take a walk in.
The original palace was completed in 1859, when the capital of Burma moved from, nearby, Amarapura to Mandalay. This square definitely looks like the lungs of the city – so green and filled with trees! The top of the corner tower grants nice views of the palace grounds as well as the city outside it’s walls.
The old buildings here can really take you back those 150 years. Feel the life that once bustled around this place. There is a little museum in the back, that is easy to miss, so make sure you get yourself all to the end 🙂
5 Temples and Pagodas
Just by the palace are multiple temple grounds nearby each other! The great thing is that they are all in the same direction heading towards Mandalay Hill.
Atumashi Kyaung (large inside, cool ceiling)
Cost: Part of Palace Ticket (one of five)
Parking: Free with bicycle, maybe 200kyat with motorbike
Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery) Wooden Temple
Cost: Part of Palace ticket (One of five), 1000kyat without that ticket
Directly next to Atumashi Kyaung (above) is Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung. It’s known for being an all wooden temple, which gives it it’s own special beauty. I thought it was ok. It’s only 1000kyat or “free”, so might as well check it out.
Kuthodaw Pagoda (biggest book in the world)
There are over 100 “caves”, as they’re called, with a giant slab in each one. On each slab is a page of an ancient Buddhist scripture. Monks actually come here to read and study the book recorded here! That is something I learned from Juanna, a monk you’ll read about below 🙂
Sandar Mu Ni Pagoda (smaller book caves)
Down the street you’ll next see the Sandar Mu Ni Pagoda, which also has it’s own set of caves. I’m not sure what is written on these slabs, but something similar as Kuthodaw.
Kyauktawgyi Pagoda (very green space, large Buddha)
This was actually my favorite one to visit. I think it’s not really a tourist temple to hit, but it’s got more trees, more green going on. And it had a fantastic giant Buddha room that was very nice to meditate in.
Cost: I heard there was a fee for taking pictures, but I was never asked to pay anywhere
Just near the royal palace is Mandalay Hill and 5 Temples and Pagodas below that (shown next). You can take a tuktuk taxi up the hill (I’m not sure how much that will be, but nothing outrageous) or you can walk up the mountain through many different pagodas and views along the way. If it wasn’t too obvious…I highly recommend the walking 🙂
NOTE: You walk through many temples on the way up, and you’ll have to remove your shoes for each one. So I just carried my shoes and went bare foot the whole time.
It’s a great spot to go for sunset.
On the way back down, after the sunset, I decided that these ladies looked really nice and that we should stop here for a quick bite to eat. We said “thet dah low” to ask for vegetarian and they nodded their heads and said “tea leaf salad?” Small smiles crept onto our faces as we said “Yes…” hoping they understood. On top of that they offered us free tea, and it was a very nice first Burmese tea leaf salad.
1. Min Kun (Mingun) Historical Site
Cost: 5,000kyat (for the entire Min Kun historical area)
Min Kun is pretty neat. There’s quite a few things to see there, but I listed the most popular three below.
There are a few ways to get to Min Kun:
1. Ferry across the river for 5,000kyat each.
2. Get a tuktuk day ride (25-45000kyat) where they take you to a bunch of different sites.
3. Rent a motorbike for 12,000kyat. (we paid 1800kyat for gas on a whole day’s ride)
Mingun Paya (Ruins)
Parking: 200kyat (but you could just park for free in the street instead of the little ruin parking area)
The ruins are an unfinished giant pagoda. It was originally designed to be 150 meters tall (the tallest pagoda in the world!), but when the king ordering the build died, it was decided to stop building. You can also see some damage to the building from a series of earthquakes that hit mandalay over the past century.
If you go around to the side you can head up the stairs to a locked gate, but nice views. I believe that even as close as 2016 it was possible to go up top, but I guess it has been deemed too dangerous now 🙁
Mingun Giant Bell
Just down the road is the world’s second largest bell built in 1808 to be put at the top of the tallest pagoda, but that was never completed. So the sad bell sits at ground height for all to enjoy. It’s a short stop and it’s pretty fun to stand inside the bell while it’s being rung.
Mingun Hsinbyume Paya (White Temple)
This is probably the most picturesque spot in Mandalay. If you are looking for that new Facebook profile pic you’ll get it here 😉 You’ve probably already seen a hundred of them researching Mandalay! I’m not one for profile pics, but this is a really nice temple.
We walked around the the backside and it was all quiet with few other tourists. We pulled out some food we brought with us and had a nice picnic here 🙂
2. Sagaing Hill
Temples on the Hill
Half way to the main touristy temple at the top of the hill, there was a very nice Buddah stairway. Making it especially neat were the monks coming down the stairway. The image was great! Several flights of stairs leading 30 meters high to a Big Buddha; 5 monks walking down the stairs at different levels and different ages – from teenager to elderly. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture this one on camera. Woah is me!! ;p
Then we continued to drive to the tippy-top temple. The temple was ok, a temple like most others, but the views here are very nice. We were able to see the river far down below, tracking it back to the bridge we crossed earlier that day. Off in the distance is Mandalay and the large palace grounds. To the other side we see the rolling Sagain Hill(s) pocketed with temples and pagodas and walkways between them.
Although the views and the tippy-top temple are nice, I think the real joy at Sagian Hill would be walking the trails and stairs between all of the temples through the hills. I’d suggest having 2 hours to enjoy that. I stood there, seeing the stairs connecting the temples below and seeing the dotted lines on MAPS.ME (suggesting “hiking” trails or walkways), and wishing we had time to go exploring! I promise you, there was hardly a tourist wandering through there!
Sitagu International Buddhist Academy
Not seen in most tourist suggestions, we stumbled into it just driving past. It has this incredible golden dome building (that I think is a lecture hall as it is called an “Academy”). We went late in the afternoon and the building was locked…maybe you could get inside if you were there a bit earlier.
Sitagu is a quick stop and worth the visit as the arched entryway and intricate details are modern beauties reminiscent of their past brethren.
4. Inn Wa (Ancient Society)
Cost: Free without Horse Carriage
Parking: No Parking Fees
This is a little canal island that brings you back to a more traditional time 100-200 years ago. There are sprinklings of old temples (often showing the strength of the jungle to retake their lost territories). Many are featuring different styles as well, so it’s worth seeing quite a few.
We got delayed in our morning and got here too late to truly enjoy it. However, it was great fun riding our motorbike around the small dirt roads leading through various crop fields. It was also super fun getting our motorbike to the island by ferry. 2,000kyat total to get Antonia, the bike, and myself across the river to Inn Wa. That’s a different experience!
Another popular way to explore Inn Way is by horse drawn carriage. Even in the off season, late in the afternoon, we saw a few foreigners going along for a ride. I saw nearly a hundred carriages just lining up beside the road near the ferry. Made me a little worried how Inn Wa could look when it’s busy :O
There are many places to see on the island as well as on the roads just across the canal. One specific site to see on the island, is the Ancient Wooden Temple. As I frequently do, I went unawares to Inn Wa with very little knowledge about it. As such I apparently missed this number one attraction.
Lastly! Our favorite ride the whole day was heading to Amarapura from Inn Wa. Some of the streets were lined with lush tall trees, crossing over rivers, seeing more temple grounds, and locals outside of the city.
This is one of the largest monasteries in all of Myanmar with ~1500 monks living here. The number will fluctuate as monks join the monk-hood, begin studying at this monastery, or leave to another as best suits their studies and training.
This space is best known for the monk’s lunch procession that takes place at 10:30am everyday. We did not arrive early enough to see their demonstration of monk humbleness as nearly the entire 1500 community of monks walk with their alms bowls begging for food to help support their way of life. If you are new to Buddhist temples and monasteries, I would highly recommend trying to arrive near 10am to see this ancient tradition.
We missed their lunch, but I wanted to explore and see this place. Having spent several months in other Buddhist monasteries throughout Thailand, I was curious to see how things were done in Myanmar. And although we didn’t get there until 11am, we got really lucky! A monk, Juanna, saw us wondering around a little clueless and stopped us with a kind smile and friendly “Hello.” That “Hello,” turned into a 90 minute conversation about Buddhism in Myanmar, his 13 years of studies, my brief experiences in Thailand, his take on the conflicts in Myanmar and the Myanmar government, and about our lives as well. Juanna even gave us a brief tour of monastery! This was very neat 🙂
Something quite interesting I learned from Juanna is that there are monasteries for study and there are monasteries for meditation. I was completely unaware of this fact. My entire experience is that monasteries are spaces specifically designed to improve conditions for meditation and awareness. But Juanna specifically chose to come to this temple because it did not focus on meditation. They have a group meditation every night for 20-30minutes, so meditation is not the name of the game here. Instead reading, studying, and lecturing about Buddha texts, principles, and philosophies is the goal here 🙂
Longest Teak Wood Bridge (U Bein Bridge)
Definitely check out this bridge during sunset. This was superb! Our day was crazy rushed…mostly because we spent an hour and a half talking with the incredibly friendly monk at the Mahagandaryon Monastery!…so we didn’t get to spend nearly enough time here. We actually barely made it in time to see the sunset :O
Funnily enough, we fricken ran into Juanna the monk from earlier in the day! That was crazy 😀
6. Good Food in Mandalay
Zay Cho (Zegyo) Market
The Zegyo Market is huge! And seems to last most of the day from morning to afternoon. You can find everything from food, to clothes, to fruit, to candy, to tea leaves, to nuts and beans, to watches, to scarfs, to anything. And surprisingly we were the only tourists I found walking around. It’s a fantastic place to get to know how the local Burmese people live their lives.
Just a block or two away form the Zegyo Market is the Night Market. But it’s not really worth the visit. It’s only 2 blocks long and doesn’t have much going on. We did however find a vegie springroll place. And after buying one to try, a lovely lady eating there bought us two more!
It was so quiet that I didn’t even think to take a picture.
This is one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Myanmar. They have a large menu with plenty of vegetarian options, as well as many non-vegetarian too. We were not even close to being able to finish our meal. Luckily we had our container with us and packed our leftovers for lunch the next day!
There is a lot to do in Mandalay. It’s a big city, with many tourist sites. It’ll take at least 2 days just to enjoy all of them. So give yourself at least one day to just go exploring without purpose 😀 These days will often lead to your most special memories!
What do you think about Mandalay? What amazing things didn’t I mention? What’s some really convenient information to have that I didn’t put here?!? Let me know in the comments!