How I got to Mandalay is an interesting story which I’ll narrate later; in short, I hitchhiked in a car whose driver chugged two bottles of beer on the way and drove like my departure was on his day’s to-do list. To be fair, the kind soul dropped me right at the hostel’s doorstep and even waited till I checked in. Free rides come with their own T&Cs.
Anyway, you enter the city and idmmediately notice how well laid out it is. Intersecting wide streets make the downtown feel a lot spacious. Somehow I found the charm of Yangon lacking here, felt more business-like.
Rent a cycle for about 3k a day and hit the key spots. These would be the Pagoda, palace, Jade market, the temple with the largest book and some more ancillary stops. All of these can be covered in a day, not too rushed.
Reserve the second day for the trips outside the city. You can pool a car for about 10k per head and see inwa, sagaing, ubein and mingun. Takes an entire day. Starts with sagaing, quite average,you get to see Mandalay from a hill. Mingun is a great visit with it’s pristine White stupa, massive Bell and the unfinished temple which is now the world’s largest pile of bricks. Inwa with it’s horse cart ride makes for a great back breaking massage. Finally the world’s longest teak wood bridge, ubein to capture the sunset while thousands cross it.
How long: 3 days would be good
Stay: downtown at Mandalay. Dorms at 6usd. Dorms are spacious, breakfast is good, very hospitable staff, clean bathrooms, decent location.
Top things to see/do in Mandalay
- Buddha carving: Right behind the famous Mahamuni pagoda lie a string of dusty shops with a constant buzz of the stone grinding machine. Rows and rows of Buddha, some with faces and some without make this an interesting visit. You can choose to buy too…sizes vary from palm-sized to several foot tall
- Royal Palace: Surrounded by a massive moat, this palace sits in a dominating enclosure covering an area that would certainly need a vehicle to explore. However, for tourists, you need to leave your vehicle outside, deposit the passport and either walk it or hitch a scooter ride inside for 1500K. Also, tourists are only allowed to visit the palace and its buildings, so you’ll spot several boards saying ‘tourists not allowed beyond this point’.
- Outside the city: You can hire a cab and share the ride for about 10K covering all these spots, check with the hostel
- Mingun: The highlight of the trip. Has an unfinished pagoda which now the honour being the biggest pile of bricks. Nearby is a completed pristine white pagoda with a pyramid-like construction that you may not find elsewhere. Also nearby is the world’s 2nd largest bell which was to be installed within the pagoda, alas.
- Inwa: More like a backwater village off the coast which has to be accessed by boat then either by foot or horse cart. Negotiate rough, those horse fellows can come real cheap, we brought them down to 3K for a cart from 8K to cover all the highlights in the area. You’ll see pagoda after pagoda but rather aged ones which haven’t been restored. So the experience is more authentic.
- ubein bridge: Think of myanmar and you’ll find a typical photo of a wooden bridge under the setting sun with people crossing. This is the famous Ubein bridge, trust me, you’ll never get tired of clicking pictures here or just sitting under the bridge (during high season) and just bask under the setting sun.
- Sagaing: It’s a part of the taxi deal, honestly you can skip it. Nothing great here.
- Kuthodaw pagoda: Said to contain the largest book, I thought it would be housed in a big hall with several men required to turn pages. But no, it is a pagoda with several small stupas within which slabs of the dhamma are placed. Makes for a very relaxing visit, especially in the evenings with the cold stone courtyards and massive trees
- Shwesandaw monastery: a monastery made of teak-wood. Worth a visit.
- Pan cherry noodle house and cafe: amazing shan noodle, don’t miss.
- Jade market: a bustling market with all forms of jade laid out in various shapes and sizes. More than the shopping it is fascinating to watch merchants select and pick out huge slabs which are then cut into smaller pieces. I didn’t buy anything here, but if you wish to, do read up on jade, not an easy buy.
- Zegyo market: a massive building with all kinds of Chinese and local stuff. Mostly garments, good to pick up cheap items.
The good: cheaper than most other places
The bad: pretty big city, not really walkable and the sights are far off from each other
The ugly: red stains all over due to betel/ tobacco chewing
Tout level: 0. People don’t care, too nice to cheat
Language: English is well understood
Internal Transport: Rent a cycle, that’s the best way to cover all the highlights
Maps: Check out places here