Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay is the commercial and transportation hub of the north. With a population exceeding one million, the city is experiencing a mini-boom as trade along the Lashio Road (which starts here) to and from China multiplies. Mandalay is also the pre-eminent river port on the great Ayeyarwady and the centre of tourism in Upper Myanmar.
Mandalay, the ‘Golden City’, was established by King Mindon Min, the penultimate ruler of the Konbaung dynasty in 1857, in accordance with an ancient Buddhist prophecy. The King built on a huge scale, constructing the vast Mandalay Fort and Palace, as well as many impressive Pagodas. Mandalay became the country’s capital until the British conquest of Upper Myanmar in 1885, when the new King, Thibaw Min was exiled to India and the capital was moved to Yangon. Mandalay remains an important cultural and religious centre; some 300,000 monks and nuns live in the Mandalay area.
The city is an important art and craft centre. When visiting the great Mahamuni image in the southwest of the city, stop to look around the stone carving workshops that proliferate in the area. The artisans produce some excellent quality Buddha images as well as Chinese deities for export. Much of today’s wealth is based on the Jade trade. In the same general area, Mandalay’s Jade market is a great place to wander in the early morning, watch gems being cut and polished and have breakfast at one of the many teashops. Popular souvenirs from the Mandalay area include ‘kalaga’ embroidered tapestries and traditional puppets. Items can be picked up from the Zeigyo market, the biggest in Upper Myanmar, or craft shops dotting the city.
Make time during your stay to visit the gold-leaf workshops. This is where all that gold plastered onto the Mahamuni image and other Buddha images came from. The manufacturing process is fascinating and little-changed from centuries past. You can observe the process of making the 0.00005 inch thick pieces of gold, and purchase some in preparation for your next visit to a pagoda. If you do not want to donate your gold, you could always eat it! (It tastes good with banana).
Finally, Mandalay is the base for exploring the ‘ancient cities’ along the course of the Ayeyarwady River – please see the ‘Daytrips from Mandalay’ page of our website. Return to the Golden City in the evening for sunset from Mandalay Hill, a delicious meal, and an atmospheric walk along the Royal city moat.
The main entrances to the hill are on the South side, facing the city. The climb must be made barefoot and takes about 30 minutes. Along the way is a shrine containing the Peshawar Relics, three bones of the Buddha discovered in now Muslim Pakistan. Alternatively, your car can drop you near the top of the hill; an escalator goes the rest of the way. There are fantastic views from the top of the palace, the surrounding city, the Shan Hills and the Ayeyarwady River. Mr Myanmar Travel day tours end at the hill for sunset.
Mandalay Palace and Fort.
Shwe In Bin Monastery.
Mr Myanmar Travel can also organise trips on the mighty Ayeyarwady River. Cruises depart Mandalay for the Upper Ayeyarwady town of Bhamo, and downstream to spectacular Bagan. Mr Myanmar Travel can also charter private riverboats with comfortable cabins for these journeys, plus the off-the-beaten-track destination of the Chindwin River. In season there are ‘fast’ ferries to Bagan which sail during the day so that you can enjoy the scenery. Please be aware that these boasts can have a very unreliable schedule. We can also arrange a private boat for the scenic one hour journey upriver to Mingun. We recommend taking this trip in the morning and spending the afternoon touring some of the sights of Mandalay to make up a full day excursion.
If you have the time we recommend spending at least two full days in Mandalay City including one spent touring Mingun and some of the more far-flung attractions. We suggest a third day for a tour of the ancient cities of Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing. The city and its environs play host to many festivals throughout the year; we would recommend that you extend your stay at these times to make the most of the opportunity to attend. Mandalay boasts a wide range of good value accommodation choices from comfortable two star, to luxurious boutique and five star options. Please do not hesitate to ask us to recommend a property to meet your needs.