Raisa Gabrielli shares the highlights of magical Mandalay and its nearby ancient capitals
Images: Raisa Gabrielli and 123RF
Myanmar remains relatively rare on bucket lists, but that may be its advantage. Local traditions, such as men wearing longyi (a sarong-like cloth) and women applying thanaka (tree bark paste) are practiced in daily life. Most tourists flock to the largest city Yangon but Mandalay has just as much to offer. If you’re wondering what to do in Mandalay then this list has the answers.
INNER CITY SIGHTS
Considering the grandiosity of the Royal Palace, it’s not surprising that the complex is surrounded by moats – because back in its heyday, who wouldn’t want access to an extensive amount of gold inlaid architecture and artefacts? Even now (several natural disasters and fires later), the Royal Palace is huge, consisting of a watchtower, throne room, supreme court, library, monastery, mausoleum, and more! Entry costs MMK10,000 (USD7.40) and includes access to the Shwenandaw Monastery and other sights around Mandalay.
The architecture of Shwenandaw Monastery is the main attraction as the monastery is made entirely from teak wood. Detailed carvings decorate the complex, transporting you to another era.
If you were hesitant upon seeing the word ‘hill’, fret not as you can ascend Mandalay Hill on the tuk-tuk idling at the bottom of this famous sight. And once you arrive at the entrance, there’s an escalator taking you to the top! The entrance fee into the temple costs MMK1,000 (USD0.70). It’s a small price to pay as the temple is a sparkling dream, especially during sunrise or sunset.
Located within the vicinity of Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also the largest book in the world; instead of paper pages, each pagoda has a page written on marble or stone, housed. Entrance is free.
Traditional Puppet Show
Besides visiting markets, you should also indulge in a traditional puppet show. Fun fact: the oldest puppeteer is still actively showcasing his skills at age 82. You can catch him at Mandalay Marionettes Theatre, which has hourly (8.30am-9.30pm) shows daily.
OUTER CITY SIGHTS
Located close to Mandalay are several ancient cities, with Sagaing and Mingun being the popular choice for a day-trip via organised or private tour. The main sight in Sagaing would be Sagaing Hill, home to a beautiful temple boasting a panoramic view of a landscape dotted with glistening pagodas. It’s rather similar to the Great Wall of China as entryways snake through the greenery, passing by mountainous terrain.
Not as high up but also entailing temple-hopping, Mingun is famous for Hsinbyume Pagoda and Pahtodawgyi Pagoda. The latter has affected by earthquakes, its giant cracks adding character to the facade. The entrance fee costs MMK5,000 (USD3.70) and is a combined ticket, allowing entry into both Sagaing and Mingun.
U Bein Bridge
Visiting U Bein Bridge, the longest teakwood bridge in the world, is almost a rite of passage for visitors to Mandalay. If you’re not into walking 1.2km for a glimpse of local life, then snap a photo on a boat and sit by one of the many restaurants near the bridge.
Food, food, food
The produce in Myanmar reminds me of those in Vietnam – but with a focus on nuts and beans. Each main course is served with a variety of side dishes. Get a taste of the tea leaf salad Myanmar is known for. Other must-try dishes include eggplant salad, seaweed salad, local curry, and any type of local noodle (especially Shan state noodles).
Speaking of Shan state, if you have time, and enjoy adventure, you should visit Hsipaw. Known for trekking, Hsipaw is a quaint village just 5 hours from Mandalay by car or 12 hours, if you opt for the scenic (and bumpy) train journey.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies from Bangkok to Mandalay. airasia.com
About the Author
Raisa Gabrielli is the author of Raisa Reviews, a Malaysia-based lifestyle website with a focus on food and travel reviews. She just returned from a three-month solo backpacking journey around Southeast Asia and has plenty to say about it; but when she’s not penning about her adventures, she’s probably curled up in a corner reading.