The Best of Mandalay
We spent 4 days in Mandalay (to the surprise of our hotel staff). We normally keep our “city” stays very short, but Mandalay – although a big crazy and dirty city – had the most intriguing culture and sights.
These were our favourites experiences in the city:
The name refers to the largest iron Buddha, the “Sandman“. This Iron Buddha has previously been moved over 7 times because of various wars, making its final journey here to Mandalay.
This pagoda is very similar to the Kuthodaw Pagoda next door. We actually came here by accident thinking it was the famous Kuthodaw. Such a great find as this pagoda was completely empty. Words can’t even describe how peaceful it was to walk around this entire area, alone!
Lunching with locals
We would say “make sure you eat local or try some traditional dishes” but I don’t think there is actually much choice. There is almost nothing in the way of tourist infrastructure here so you eat where the locals eat. Which was honestly such a highlight for us because the food was amazing!
Firstly, it’s ridiculously cheap – a Myanmar draught costs 750 Kyat (R7.5 / $0.5 / €0.52) and this whole meal at the Zaycho night market cost 2 200 Kyat in total (R22).
Secondly, you also get a more natural experience with the locals compared to the more “server and reciever” vibe. While in the queue for lunch we started chatting with a Burmese Buddhist monk on how good samosas are. He then offered us a place at his table where we chatted over tea about our different lives. His concepts and ideas were so interesting – will be treasuring this moment for quite some time.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda holds “The World’s Largest Book”, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Each white shrine has a large marble slab inside that is inscribed with Pali script (the Theravada Buddhism’s sacred texts). All the slabs together contain the entire text of the Tripitaka, forming the world’s largest book. The monk we had tea with explained that he had studied the Pali language for 27 years in order to come here and read the Tripitaka. There is also a large gold pagoda in the centre.
This area has quite a few different pagodas, shrines and art halls. But because we came here in the heat of the day, the tall ceilings and cold tiles were more then enough to impress us!
You can either climb the 1 729 steps to the top or you can be lazy like us and hire a scooter.
To be completely honest, this sunset view is extremely raved about and we didn’t exactly get it. We try not to be sunset snobs (coming from Cape Town) but the view is of the city below and there is a lot of smoke coming from the town, making the view very hazy.
The amount of tourists also made the relaxing sunset appeal a bit overrated. We had maybe bumped in to a hand full of tourists in the 4 full days we had in the city, and no wonder, they were all up here!
So if you do come, make sure you get here well before the sunset to book your spot on the rail.
What we did love, was the mosaic work in the Sutaungpyai Pagoda. It was really amazing!
Then on day 4, Rudi got the infamous “Burma-Belly” and was man down for 2 days. But nothing a day in bed with some Game of Thrones couldn’t cure.
But if we had gone out, we would have gone to these last 3 spots:
U Bein Bridge – Here people watch the sunset over this incredibly long teak bridge.
Shwenandaw Monastery – This is a traditional Buddhist monastery made from carved teak wood.
Mandalay Palace – This is actually the last Royal Palace from the time of the Burmese Monarchy.
These last 2 spots have entrance fees whereas the attractions we went to were free. The fee is the Mandalay Archaeological Zone fee. Each spot costs 10 000 Kyats per person entry.
Travel Tips to Mandalay:
How to get around:
Try to stay between 23rd and 85th street. It is nice and central and only a 15 minute walk from the train station and a 10 minute walk from the night market. We would recommend renting a bike for 2 000 Kyat each (but only if you’re relatively confident on a bike, the roads are pretty insane)!!
Looking for accommodation in Mandalay, click on the below link for the best deals:
How to get to Mandalay:
Personally we flew in from Bangkok via Air Asia to Mandalay (as it is the main gateway in to the country, alongside Yangon). The airport is a 40 minute shuttle ride away. We then caught the most beautiful 11 hour train ride to Hsipaw (even though there is a more direct 7 hour bus).
Otherwise you can do the following as explained on Seat61 (our favourite transport website):
Mandalay to Bagan – 9 hour bus, 12 hour train or 10,5 hour boat
Mandalay to Yangon – 15 hour train or 12 hour bus
Mandalay to Inle Lake – Train to Thazi then train to Kalaw or a 8 hour bus