What to do in Mandalay, Myanmar
Mandalay is one of the most important cities in Myanmar, with its heritage dating back millennia. Mandalay was also a royal capital city in the yesteryears and its palace and huge pagodas have remained to tell the tales.
In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a visit to Mandalay including how to reach Mandalay, visiting some of the best sights in the city and doing a day trip to Mingun. Also, find details on where to stay and what to eat in Mandalay.
Visit Mandalay Hill and the Su Taung Pyae Pagoda
The best viewpoint of Mandalay is on top of the Mandalay Hill which is on the north side of the city. There is a Pagoda at the top of the Hill and many locals offer their worship to Buddha everyday. The walls, arches and pillars of the temple are beautifully decorated with coloured glass chips and mirrors.
There is a small entrance fee of MMK 1,000 (USD 1 or INR 50).
Tip: Go here in the morning to avoid the crowds and afternoon haze, and to get a good view of the city.
Admire the legendary Shwenandaw Monastery
Completely built in wood in the 1800s, the building was constructed as a royal house of the King of Mandalay and was used as a meditation hall. It used to be covered in gold and glass mosaic work, but now only the original teak carvings of Buddhism have remained. It is a must-visit in Mandalay!
Tip: Buy a Mandalay Zone ticket for MMK 10,000 (INR 470 or USD 7) to get free entry to this and three other sites in the city.
Read the largest book in the world at Kuthodaw Pagoda
The Kuthodaw Pagoda was built in Mandalay in the 1800s as a school. There are 729 stupas containing marble slabs which are the pages to the largest book in the world. Expect to spend an hour here wandering between the rows of stupas.
Meditate in peace at the Atumashi Monastery
This monastery is right behind the Shwenandaw Monastery, although it is much larger and has a huge central hall meant for community gatherings. Its white and gold exterior makes it a simple, yet grand monument in Mandalay. Expect to spend an hour hear before drinking fresh coconut water at the snack stalls on the street.
Tip: The entry to the Kuthodaw Pagoda and the Atumashi Monastery is covered in the Mandalay Zone Fee.
Get lost in the Mandalay Royal Palace
Surrounded by a moat, the Royal Palace is the largest monument in Mandalay. The design is traditional Indo-Chinese with many royal buildings surrounding the main palace halls. The Palace is 1 km away from the main gate at the moat, where you can park your bike.
Don’t forget to climb up the watch tower at sunset time!
Ride a scooter in Mandalay
The most convenient way of seeing Mandalay is to get a rental scooter. This way, its possible to visit Mandalay Hill, the Palace, the monastery and Pagodas on the same day. The roads in Mandalay are well laid and easy to ride on. The bike is very useful to visit Mingun, the town across the Irrawaddy river, from Mandalay.
Tip: Book your scooter with a reliable agency. We used TT Bike Rentals owned by a group of fun, young friends who make sure that every bike is well-maintained and insured. Rent a TVS Wego for MMK 15,000 (USD 10) a day with helmets for two. Fuel is cheap.
Do a day trip to the enchanting Mingun region
There are two ways to get to Mingun: road (1.5 hour) or ferry (1 hour). We chose to ride our rental bike along the rustic village roads between Mandalay and Mingun.
In Mingun, pay MMK 10,000 (USD 7 or INR 470) as Zone Fees to enter four pagodas. These are all equally interesting, starting with the strange looking Mingun Pagoda, a flat, square temple built in red sandstone. It is incomplete yet absolutely huge.
Tip: Carry an umbrella or a hat to avoid the strong sun
There are two other major pagodas in Mingun and each of them have a different design or importance.
The Big Bell pagoda houses the world’s second largest bell inside a white-and-red shrine (the largest bell being in Moscow, Russia). The temple and the neighbouring monastery can be explored in one hour, before breaking for lunch and coconut water.
The best monument in Mandalay is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, that is modelled after Mount Meru, the sacred mountain in Buddhism. The pagoda is stunning in white, especially when it is sunny in Mandalay. There are seven layers designed like waves and you can take the stairway to the top tier.
Tip: Shoot a photo of this Instagram-famous temple from the south side to avoid the crowd There is free parking and some small cafes for lunch/snacks.
Other monuments in Mingun are also on the same road. One of them is a pagoda with its white stairs leading down to the Irrawaddy river. These are more off-beat than the main temples of Mingun.
Feasting on traditional cuisine of Mandalay
A visit to Mandalay is not complete without eating at Mingalabar, the most authentic Burmese restaurant in the city! Serving many vegetarian dishes, the restaurant is frequented by foreigners and locals alike. A full meal costs only MMK 5,000 (aroung INR 250 or USD 4) for two! Lentils, many curries, salads, cashew and peanuts, chutneys and soup are served with rice.
Don’t miss the Sunset at U-Bein Bridge
While passing on the Amarapura-Mandalay road, stop at U-Bein Bridge for sunset. Its the longest foot bridge in the world! Take a leisure walk just as the sun comes down and sit on the benches while hearing the locals fish, sing or even cook snacks in front of you.
Tip: Mandalay is a big city, and quite modern. It is a warmer than Bagan and can tire you out if you don’t hydrate well. Also, dressing styles are conservative at the pagodas and monasteries, so it is good to respect the culture there. Avoid travlling to Mandalay in Summer.
How to travel to Mandalay
Getting to Mandalay has many options:
Air: There are many daily flights from most cities in Myanmar, but very few international flights (route through Yangon instead).
Bus: The most convenient way to go from Yangon to Mandalay is by an overnight sleeper bus (cost is less than USD 15 or INR 1,000). You can also take a bus from Inle to Mandalay or even do the Mandalay-Bagan route for about the same price.
Train: This is the cheapest way of travelling in and out of Mandalay. We took the overnight train from Mandalay to Bagan and it was crazy!
Book your bus and train tickets here
Where to stay in Mandalay
Staying near the Royal Palace is the best part of Mandalay. It’s got many hostels and hotels, and the Railway station is also very close. You can pick up a scooter from TT Bike Rentals in the neighbourhood.
Tip: We stayed at this amazing little place called Kaung Hostel. It offers provate dorms to couples or friends who want privacy as much as a cheap stay! With breakfast, wifi and air-con, it costs only USD 7 (or INR 500) a night.
See all accommodations here
Mandalay is one of our favourite places in Myanmar – why? Its probably how those two days in the city came together. We spent a whole day in Mandalay and a good part of the second day in Mingun, roadtripping on a scooter in a land of simplicity.
If you are planning to go to Myanmar, then make sure to add Mandalay to your list!