Mandalay is the second-largest city of Myanmar, located on the east bank of Ayeyarwady river. It is an important economic centre of the northern side of Myanmar and is regarded as a cultural centre of the country. The city has been named after the nearby Mandalay Hill. Mandalay was the former capital of the country and has a rich history behind it. It was founded at the foothills of the Mandalay hill in 1857 by King Mindon. The city was founded to fulfil a prophecy of founding a metropolis of Buddhism on the occasion of the 2400th anniversary of setting up of Buddhism. The city served as the capital of the country until its final annexation by the British Empire in 1885. From the ornate royal palace to breathtaking sunsets over the river, Mandalay takes days to explore. It provides a thorough glimpse of the culture of Myanmar and its people.
Origin: Mandalay has people from Myanmar, Kayin, Kayah, Chin, Pao, Mon, Shan. Most people speak Myanmarese/Burmese, Shan, Chinese, limited English and follow Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism.
Geography: Mandalay has a mild climate with no rainy season like a dry zone. It is bordered by Magway Region, Sagaing Region and Shan State. It spreads across 37,024 sq.km/ 14,295 miles.
Interesting Facts: Mandalay City is the capital of Mandalay Region and is the former capital of Myanmar. As per 2014 data, 6.1 million people live here.
A TRIP DOWN HISTORY
With a significant history behind it, Mandalay takes a tourist back to the 19th Century when the city was formed. Mandalay was the last royal city before the country was colonised by Britain in 1885. Evidence of this rich history can be seen in the royal city which houses the magnificent palace complex which was devastated during World War II. Tourists can also visit the Mandalay Palace which was the last palace built by Burmese royals. The palace is located at the heart of Mandalay and is surrounded by a moat and a wall. Another significant monument to visit is the gigantic Mingun Bell stupa located near the city. Mandalay also hosts a number of Monasteries and Pagodas of historical significance such as the Atumashi Monastery, Kyuktawgui Pagoda, Maha Mya Muni Pagoda, Shwenandaw Monastery, Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun Pahtodawgyi and many more. The Kuthodoaw Pagoda hosts the world’s biggest book, a listed item on the Memory of UNESCO.
RICH CULTURAL HERITAGE
Myanmar is often regarded as the cultural centre of the country and rightly deserves the name. Apart from the innumerable cultural monuments and historic buildings, Myanmar is also home to several art and craft centres. Tourists can visit the stone carving workshops near the Mahamuni pagoda and watch artisans at work. The Mandalay region is famous for its wood-work and tourists are welcome to visit wood carving workshops. Tourists can also visit bronze casting workshops, pottery village and silk weaving mills. Mandalay is also home to several shopping areas where tourists can purchase mementoes and traditional Myanmarese handicrafts. Zeygo is the central market located at the heart of Mandalay. From groceries and consumer goods to jewellery, an enormous range of products is available in this market. Mandalay also hosts two 18 hole golf courses which are located 12 kilometres outside the city. Tourists can also enjoy artistic performances which keep happening all over the city. A visit to Mandalay is incomplete without gorging on some mouthwatering local delicacies served by warm and friendly locals.
NEARBY PLACES TO VISIT
The Ayeyarwady being the main river of the country has been the source of development of several towns big and small. While Mandalay is one of the largest such settlement, there are several smaller towns located only a few kilometres away from Mandalay which are heaven for tourists. One such town of significance is Mingun located 10 kilometres away from Mandalay. It has impressive sights and takes about half a day to explore. Mingun is known for its enormous unfinished stupa Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Mingun Bell and Hsinbyume Pagoda. Another town which tourists can visit is Innwa which has immense historical background. It is about 21 kilometres from Mandalay and was the capital of several kingdoms from the 14th till the 19th century. It hosts the Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery, the Bagaya Kyaung Monastery and a 1200 metre long bridge which crosses from Ava to Sagaing. There are several pottery villages such as the Yandabo village and the Kyauk Myaung village which can be visited too.
Royal Palace Mandalay hosts the erstwhile royal city which houses the royal palace and a museum. It is located on a square citadel surrounded by four 2-kilometre long walls with 48 turrets and 12 gates, one for each zodiac. Encircling the citadel is a picturesque 60-metre wide moat with a number of bridges. The complex contains audience halls, throne halls, a monastery, a watchtower, a court building, a tooth relic building and a library.
Mandalay Hill lies north of downtown Mandalay and is 230m high. It is dotted with pagodas and Buddhist temples. The fabulous panoramic view of the city, especially at sunrise or sunset, is worth the effort of the barefooted climb on the covered stairway on the hill’s southern slope. Tourists can also drive, however the colourful processions of prayer and the hawkers selling their wares are only visible while walking uphill. The climb also provides opportunities to catch glimpses of the amazing views. Lying at the foot of the hill is Shwe Mann Taung Golf Course, an 18-hole course with some spectacular scenery and Mandalay Hill as a stunning backdrop.
U Bein Bridge Amarapura is an old capital of the KoneBaung dynasty and is famous for silk weaving. U Bein Bridge, built in the mid 19th century using reclaimed teak from dismantled buildings, is a glorious sight especially in the early evening as it becomes silhouetted against the vivid sunsets. Worth a visit nearby is MaharWai Yan Bon TharBargaya Monastery, decorated with over 28,000 carved wooden figures.
Mingun A compact riverside town in Sagaing Region, Mingun lies on the Ayeyarwady River on the west bank about 10km from Mandalay. It is a popular excursion and worth spending at least half a day exploring its impressive sights. Arriving by boat from Mandalay is the most enjoyable although you can also arrive by road from Sagaing. Mingun is of immense historical significance and holds monuments which stand evidence of history. One can explore the Mingun Bell, Mingun Pahtodawgyi and the Hsinbuume Pagoda n Mingun.
Innwa (also known as Ava) the capital of several kingdoms between the 14th and 19th century, is located on the banks of both the Ayeyarwady and Myitnge rivers. It is about 21km from Mandalay and its main attractions are the 19th-century MahaAungMyeBonzan Monastery and the BagayaKyaung Monastery supported by nearly 300 huge teak stilts built around 1830. It is known for its intricate woodcarvings.
Pyin Oo Lwin At an altitude of 1,070m, Pyin Oo Lwin is the nearest hill station with a cool alpine climate. It is the perfect escape from the heat of the Mandalay city. The refreshing colonial hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin was a summer retreat during British rule. It takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay and can be reached through road or train.
Kyauktawgyi Pagoda also known as the Pagoda of the Great Marble Image, stands at the foot of the Mandalay Hill. It was built by King Mindon in 1865 and houses a large image of Buddha sculpted from a single block of beautiful Sagyin marble. One of the largest festivals of Myanmar, Kyauktawgyi Paya, is conducted at this place in October which attracts tourists from all over the world.
Hsinbyume Three years before King Bagyidaw succeeded to the throne, he built Hsinbyume Pagoda in 1816, in memory of his late wife the Hsinbyume Princess. A representation of the Sulamani Pagoda, this pagoda stands atop Mount Meru. The seven wavy terraces around the pagoda represent the seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru. Badly damaged in 1838 by a quake, it was restored by King Mindon in 1874.
Maha Myat Muni Pagoda is located at the southwest of Mandalay. The highlight of this pagoda is the 4 metres high bronze statue of Buddha weighing 6.5 tons with a crown decorated with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and variety of jewels. The early morning rituals of washing the face of Buddha ‘s image draws a daily crowd of devotees.
Atumashi Monastery is located at the north-eastern part of the Mandalay Palace and is only a 10-minutes drive from the Royal Palace. Built by King Mindon in 1857, the original teak structure burned down in 1890 after a fire in the city destroyed the monastery and a 30-feet tall Buddha image. The monument was reconstructed in 1996 by the country’s Archaeological Department and is must visit place in Mandalay.
Kuthodaw Pagoda lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill and is one of the must-visit places for tourists. This pagoda was built by King Mindon in 1868 and is surrounded with 729 marble slabs inscribed with the Tipitaka text. It is famous for World’s largest book which is a listed item in Memories of UNESCO.
Shwenandaw Monastery is located quite close to the Atumashi Monastery in Mandalay. The teak building is carved with beautifully designed motifs and mystical creatures. It was once entirely covered in thick gold, but at present, only the interior gold remains due to the harshness of the tropical weather.
Yandabo is a village on the bank of the Ayeyarwady river in Myingyan township, Mandalay region. It is famous for the Anglo-Myanmar peace treaty that was signed in 1826 in the same place. This village is famous for making beautiful pots and houses skills artisans who can make 30 to 50 pots a day. Tourists can visit the village and see them at work while mingling with friendly locals.
Shwe Kyin Monastery is one of the oldest monastery and most invaluable in Myanmar. The Monastery is made of teak pillars and has scenes of the monks reciting Buddha’s teachings and Buddha’s Glories depicted on its walls. The monks of Shwe Kyin Monastery respect and obey Buddha’s laws. They are very rigid and follow strict discipline. The monastery has a tranquil environment.
Saint Joseph’s Cathedral also known as Father Lafon Church is a lovely and pleasant Roman Catholic church in Mandalay well cared for by the local parishioners. It is a gothic style architecture church built by French Fathers in 1894. The interiors of the church have decorations of gold, the beautiful colour of Myanmar.
Stone Carving The marble carving workshops are near the Mahamuni Pagoda. Marbles are sources from the Sagin quarry around 56 kilometres north of Mandalay. Many religious items, mainly Buddha images and stone slabs for inscription are produced at these workshops. Tourists can visit these workshops, understand how the craft is done as well as purchase some memorabilia.
Wood Carving The Mandalay area is famous for intricate wood carving work. There are several wood carving workshops located all around which produces ornate items ranging from religious statues to decorative flowers. These workshops are located near the Mahamuni pagoda and are worth a visit.
Bronze Casting WorkshopsTourists can visit bronze casting workshops at the Tempawaddy ward located between Mandalay and Amarapura. Statues of Buddha, bells, gongs, tri-gongs and other products are made in these workshops. These are great places to pick up some gifting items.
Weaving is one of the main professions of the Amarapura people. The town hosts over one hundred looms which are used to create ornate designs and patterns on silk. The Myanmarese people wear these clothes on ceremonies and special occasions. This is a famous cottage industry of the country and is worth visiting.
Zegyo Market Tourists who would like to take a glimpse of the local market as well as indulge in a shopping spree can visit the Zegyo Market Place located at the heart of Mandalay. One can get practically everything here – from groceries to fine fabric. Tourists can pick up souvenirs and local products here.
Eain Daw Yar Pagoda is located to the west of Zegyo Market. It was built by King Bagan Min on his accession to the throne and in the memory of Theebaw’s only son. Bagan Min was deposed, though spared, following the palace revolution of 1853. He lived out his life in a monastery of this site, eventually dying of smallpox.
The Botanical Garden in Pyin Oo Lwin named as The National Kandawgyi Garden was first founded during 1915-16 by a British botanist, Mr Alex Rogers, a forest researcher. Originally, the Botanical Garden was spread over 170 acres of land and 70 acres of water. Since the climate of the area is cool alpine, most of the 4840 trees planted here are of pine varieties. It also has 575 different floral species.
Chinese Temple One of the delightful places to visit in Pyin Oo Lwin, built by Yannan immigrants is the Chinese temple. Built in a typical Chinese architecture and exhibiting traditional Chinese art, this temple is also home to an orphanage and nursing home. The shoe-friendly ground includes a Chinese style six-storied tower. The temple is home to innumerable monks who predict future upon receiving a small donation from people.
Dattawgyaik Waterfall A place for trekking travellers, the Dattawgyaik Waterfall is located in Ani Sakhan, a half-way point between Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin. The height of the waterfall is nearly 400 feet (122 metres) and the depth is about 300 feet (91 metres). It has blue water and fresh air to relax. The best time to visit this waterfall is between May to October (monsoon season).
Bagaya Monastery With the famous 267 teak pillars, Bagaya Monastery is one of the most aesthetic monasteries of Myanmar, located in Le Daw Gyee, the great royal rice fields, in Innwa. The best way to visit this monastery is to walk along the narrow path across the field. The carving creatures on the doors and walls are still well maintained. The main hall has a platform and monks’ quarters.
Jade Pagoda named ‘Werawsana’, is the world’s largest jade pagoda. The structure of pagoda is entirely built with jade pieces and slabs which cost US$15 million. It is 75 feet 6 inches in high and 175 feet in circumference and each terrace is 52 feet 6 inches in long and broad and 12 feet in high. 30,000 Jade Buddha statues decorate the outer structure of the pagoda.
Kaungmudaw Pagoda also called Yaza Mani Sula, is located 10 kilometres from Innwa. It is known for its egg-shaped design, something unusual for a Burmese pagoda. It has an enormous dome, which rises up to 46 meters. At the base of the pagoda, there are 812 stone pillars, each hollow and an image of a Nat in it. It was modelled after the Mahaceti Pagoda in Sri Lanka.
Me Nu Oak Kyaung The Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan, well known as Me Nu Oak-kyaung (Brick Monastery), was built in 1818 by Nanmadaw Me Nu, Chief Queen of King Bagyidaw for the Royal abbot (Nyaunggan Sayardaw). This monastery is well-known as Me Nu Oak Kyaung which translates to Me Nu’s brick monastery. The Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery is a fine example of Burmese monastery architecture during the Konbaung dynasty.
Mahar Gandarone Monastery This monastery is situated in Amarapura Township on the Western bank of Taungthaman Lake near the famous U Bein Bridge. The monastery was built around 1910 and is a well-known monastic college complex for monastic study in the world. The monastery is very strict and rigid in religious discipline and currently has more than 3,000 monks including very young novices in the monastery.
Maha Ant Htoo Kan Thar Pagoda is located in Pyin Oo Lwin near BE waterfall or Pwegauk. It has a sublime image of Buddha in the shrine. The pagoda is located on top of a hill providing a magnificent panoramic view of Pyin Oo Lwin. With a interesting history behind it, this pagoda is a must-visit place for tourists visiting Pyin Oo Lwin.
Shwe In Bin Monastery is one of the most attractive monasteries in Mandalay, located to the southwest corner of Mandalay city. It exhibits traditional Myanmar architecture and is one of the few buildings that have survived the test of time. Constructed in 1895 by Chinese merchants, the monastery consists of many impressive wood carvings and also contains a number of admirable works of art.
This Peik Chin Myaung limestone cave is located 19 km northeast of Pyin Oo Lwin. The entrance is adorned by beautiful springs. The cave is ages between 230 million ad 310 million years and has innumerable Buddha images and pagodas of varying sizes at every nook and corner. A beautiful waterfall named ‘Three Layers Waterfall’ lies just a short walk from this cave.
Maha Myat Muni Pagoda Festival: This festival is celebrated for 2 days in February at the Maha Muni Pagoda. Devotees light bonfires and cook huge pans of sticky rice with ginger, coconut and sesame to offer to monks during the festival.
Shwe Sar Yan Pagoda Festival: This festival is celebrated for 9 days at the ShweSar Yan Pagoda. It is an interesting festival attended by villagers and visitors. The main attractions of this festival are the folk toys woven out of dried palm fronds.
Taung Pyone Festival: This festival is held for 8 days, in the Taung Pyone Village. It is attended by thousands of mediums and worshippers. A ritual is celebrated each day. Toddy palm wine, whisky, rum, grilled rabbit and fried chicken are offered to the two-spirit Min Gyi and Min Galay, the serving kings of Bagan in the 11th century.