Bustling alleyways, street markets galore, picturesque pagodas and monasteries: Mandalay seemingly has it all. This riverside city is worth foraging at least for a day or two by anyone making their way through Myanmar. Here are the best things to see and do in Mandalay, the second largest city in the country.
Coming in at a whopping 1.2 kilometers in length, the U Pein Bridge is estimated to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. This historic, architectural structure is best seen at sunrise or sunset, however, there are certainly less tourists in the morning which is why visitors should rise early to get the best views. It was built in 1850 and is utilized by both locals and tourists alike. Burmese people exercise on this wooden relic while fishermen spot the surface of the surrounding waterway, casting their nets into the still water throughout the day.
Visitors will kill a few birds with one stone on a half-day visit to Mingun. Many will opt to head for the Mingun pier and catch the hour-long ferry ride in order to arrive at this riverside village on the Ayeyarwady River. Unfortunately, the once ancient sight has become a tourist attraction of sorts, and visitors are bombarded with locals selling cheap souvenirs before they even make it off the boat. Make your way past the taxi drivers and merchants, however, and find a number of unique pagodas and historic relics.
The three main things visitors will want to see include the Mingun Pagoda, Mingun Bell, and the Hsinbyume Pagoda. The Mingun Pagoda is essentially a giant pile of bricks. Visitors make the short journey up the stairs to find it housing only one small Buddha relic, and the side stairs were closed as of June 2017. That being said, it is a nice relic to photograph as it stands some 492-feet tall. The Mingun Bell is one of the heaviest bells in the entire world, and it is believed to weigh some 200,000 pounds. Be sure to duck into the bell to get a feel for its size. The last sight is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a shimmering white structure that visitors can enter and explore. It was built in 1816 and is painted white. The pagoda went under restoration in 1874 after an earthquake shook this religious structure to its core, but King Mindon apparently did an amazing job restoring the pagoda, as it is one of the most notable attractions in all of Myanmar.
There are many ancient pagodas and temples made up of gold leaves in Myanmar. Some of these workshops can be found around the city of Mandalay, and making this material is no easy task. At many of the workshops, shirtless men wearing nothing but a traditional longyi take to their gold leaves with a large sledgehammer, beating away at the small sheet of paper. The hammers are used to increase the size of the gold leaf, and this constant smashing is done for about five hours before the process is complete.
After these “beatings”, the paper is then cut into six pieces. The pieces are packed on straw paper in the shape of a square before being packaged separately and sold. One small, square sheet costs about $10. One place where visitors can see these gold leaves being made is at the Gold Leaf Workshop Show Room and Sale Centre. The workshop does not offer any tours, but there is a guide there that explains the process a little and allows visitors to get up close and personal with the workers cutting and beating the gold leaf.
No. (143), 34th Street, Bet: 77th and 78th Street, Myet-Parr-Yart, Mandalay, Myanmar, +95 02 32135
As one of Myanmar’s largest exports, the buzzing Jade Market in Mandalay is a must-see attraction. Hardly a tourist is in sight as visitors meander the crowded stalls overflowing with jadeite, otherwise known as jade. It is estimated that some 70% of the world’s jade originated in Myanmar, and the Jade Market seems to house the majority of it. Large blocks of this stunning material are found on the outskirts of the main alleyways winding throughout the market.
The locals sit at small, wooden desks and, with a flashlight of sorts, examine this jade, most of which originates in northern Myanmar. In addition to people selling, trading, and examining jade, there are many of people there playing Burmese games and other Western favorites, like pool. The quality jade products found here are certainly expensive, with items like bracelets and stones used to make jewelry upwards of $100. Those visitors simply looking for a souvenir should first meander the market just to see all that is taking place before stepping just outside the gates surrounding the market in order to purchase a cheap piece from one of the sellers outside. It is here visitors will find affordable bracelets, stones, and more. There is an apparent entrance fee of 2,500 kyat into the Jade Market for foreigners, however, we are not sure if this is actually enforced by anyone.
Jade Market, 27th St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma), +95 9 40269 5651
Mandalay is teeming with cheap, street side restaurants. Often, these eateries lack any sort of signs that indicate the name of the restaurant or what it is they are serving, however, the food is likely to be delicious. Visitors can indulge in entire feasts for only 2,000 kyat and sometimes less. Some interesting dishes found in Myanmar that visitors should try include bean paste salad, Shan noodles, and tea leaf salad.
The Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery, also known as the Brick Monastery, was built during the Konbaung dynasty. Stuccoed sculptures enhance the monastery throughout, and it is equipped with an elaborate multi-tiered roof. Inside the monastery visitors will find several Buddha images that are guarded by two Burmese mythological lions, also known as Chinthes. The monastery was constructed by Queen Me Nu, the wife of King Bagyidaw. Located just adjacent to the Atumashi Monastery is the Shwenandaw Monastery. Also known as the Golden Palace Monastery, the structure was built in the 19th century and is a good example of traditional Myanmar teak architecture.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda, otherwise known as the Kuthodaw Paya, is home to the world’s largest book, however, the most noteworthy feature of this pagoda is the 100-foot-high golden Maha Lawkka Marazein Pagoda. The central shrine of the Kuthodaw Pagoda is surrounded by 729 smaller pagodas, and each one houses a marble tablet. The first one was completed in 1872 during the Fifth Buddhist Synod by 2,400 monks. They are inscribed with writing from the Buddhist holy book known as Tipitaka. There is no entrance fee into the Kuthodaw Pagoda.
There is no better way to end a day in Mandalay than by making the trek up to the Mandalay Hill at sunset. Visitors can either make the mile or so long journey or pay a taxi or truck at the bottom of the hill to make the journey for them. This should cost around 7,000 kyat or so. At the top of Mandalay Hill is a pagoda shimmering with glass-covered and vibrantly colored tiles. Mandalay Hill stands some 760-feet tall and overlooks the entire city. It is here visitors can see the ancient temples of Mingun, the many pagodas sprinkling the area, and more.