Travel in Mandalay, Myanmar

Machismo, Gold and Grit

Trips to Myanmar don’t typically begin in the north. In spite of the fact that things to do in Mandalay outnumber those on offer further south, most travelers begin their trip in the grittier (and, to be fair, larger—it’s Myanmar’s former capital) city of Yangon. Which is not to say Mandalay is all glitz and glamour.

To be sure, whether you travel by road or with a flight from Yangon to Mandalay, one thing I can guarantee is that the swanky Las Vegas hotel which apparently lifts its name from this city will be the furthest thing from your mind. But don’t that discourage you: There is significantly more to Mandalay, Myanmar than the overbearing grit of your first impression.

Need helping planning your trip to Myanmar? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

Mahamuni Paya

Perhaps starkest in contrast to Mandalay’s generally roughness is Mahamuni Paya, an ancient shrine around 10 kilometers south of the city. The centerpiece of this shrine is a five-story Buddha image, one locals repeatedly and constantly re-finish with sheets of the 24-carat gold leaf for which Mandalay is also famous. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Mandalay with very good reason.

 

When I first arrived at the shrine, I was amazed by the sheer number of men praying in front of the statue. They were bowing, gold foil sheets in hand, eagerly anticipating their turn to press the gold onto the statue. Behind them, rows of women and children (in this particular temple, segregation is not only practiced, but mandated) said their prayers from a distance.Other highlights within the Mahamuni Paya complex are a collection of aptly-named “Large Bronze Figures,” which were passed around the modern-day ASEAN countries starting in about 1563. A series of wars saw the three figures — a man, an elephant and a lion — take up residence in Thailand and at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, among other places.

Mandalay City Palace

Near the end of the aforementioned wars, the Thai king suffered a “crushing defeat” at the hands of Myanmar’s Rakhine king. As a result, he was made to cede the relics of Mahamuni Paya back to his eastern neighbor. The physical spoils of war, however, wouldn’t return to Myanmar until 1784, when the crown prince under King Bodawphaya picked them up on his way back from the battlefield.

 

In spite of this epic story, I’m told that the seemingly grand Mandalay City Palace, located on several hundred conspicuous acres in the city center, is not worth actually entering. I’ll leave whether or not it measures up to Mahamuni Paya for you to decide , but I will have you know that the east entrance is at least five kilometers from town by taxi. This will seem like the huge relative distance that it is only after you see what both a road and a taxi look like in Mandalay. When I listen Mandalay Cit Palace among my favorite things to do in Mandalay, it’s just an observation of it from the outside.

Climbing Mandalay Hill

How many days to spend in Mandalay (I recommend that you spend at least two because of these amazing day trips from Mandalay you can take), make it a point to end at least one of them with a sunset climb up Mandalay Hill, a towering, pagoda-strewn summit that provides humbling views of what is, in fact, an extremely small urban agglomeration set in the middle of seemingly endless rolling hills, tranquil ponds and farming settlements.

 

The quantity of merchants who’ve set up shop along either of the two staircases leading to the top can be a bit overwhelming, but you’ll also probably run into some local teenage monks who are looking to practice their English with foreign visitors. Their gratitude whenever you do decide to make your way back down should be more than enough to counteract any annoyance, and re-affirm that this is one of the things to do in Mandalay you can’t miss.

Mandalay Hotels

You will no doubt be asking where to stay in Mandalay when you finish each day’s sightseeing. The recommendations I can make to you all happen to be along Mandalay’s 25th Street corridor, one indistinguishable from the rest of the dusty boulevards and avenues that cut the city into a grid pattern from the amount of foreigner-catering guest houses running up and down it.

The first Mandalay hotel you’ll encounter (and the cheapest, at around $50 for a double) is the Royal Pearl Hotel. Due to its prime location, the hotel will probably be full when you try to find a room. Accordingly, you should make your way to either E.T. or the Nylon Hotel. Both are a bit pricer than Royal Pearl (plan to pay at least $30-40 per person if there are two of you) but are comfortable and clean with spacious rooms and pleasant staff.

Restaurants in Mandalay

Coming back to gender segregation again, a quick walk south down 83th Street, the north-south road that intersects 25th directly in front of the latter of the aforementioned hotels, will lead you to the aptly-named “Mann” restaurant which, in spite of its perhaps unintentional misspelling, will only serve men. Of course, if you’re traveling with a woman, you may bring her. You may in fact also dine there if you travel in Myanmar as a solo woman: The rule only applies to local Burmese women.

Cigar smoke, whisky and other signs of unbridled masculinity not your thing? Walk east on 25th Street until you dead end into the river and stop in at V Cafe, a self-described European eatery that serves up burgers, liquor and a long menu full of other Western delights in a dimly-lit bar setting that feels more like Mumbai than Mandalay.

The Bottom Line

Although things to do in Mandalay extend above and beyond the recommendations I’ve provided here, the attractions I’ve listed are a great place to start. Observe morning prayers at Mahamuni Paya, spend the afternoon walking amid Mandalay City Palace and watch the sunset from Mandalay Hill in the evening. Take your Mandalay itinerary to the next level by checking out my Myanmar itinerary, as well as my recommendations for two months in Southeast Asia.

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Myanmar

About The Author

is the author of 1039 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Kyushu, Japan October 28-November 12
  • Sydney, Australia January 16-19
  • New Zealand January 20-February 4
 
 

Previous post:

Next post: