Looking for things to do in Mandalay area? No worries, you’re on the right place 😉
I confess that I didn’t know what to do in Mandalay apart from visiting U Bein Bridge. But after doing some research I got so excited and surprised when I found out that there are many interesting things to do in Mandalay and its surroundings, and that the U Bein Bridge isn’t even in Mandalay town…
So, after spending some days in Yangon and Bagan and visiting the tattooed-face women villages in the Chin State, I headed to Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city.
Mandalay is definitely one of the best places to visit in Myanmar and has excellent points of interest and attractions, so you should spend at least 2 or 3 days in the city.
Mandalay, located in northern Myanmar, was constructed in 1857 by King Mindon to be the capital of the Konbaung Dinasty. It was the last royal capital of Myanmar but only for 26 years, when the British Empire conquered the city during the Third Anglo-Burmese War.
After Burma, as it was known at the time, became independent from Britain in 1948, Mandalay continued to be the most important cultural, economic, health and educational hub of Upper Burma. The city is the center of Buddhism in Myanmar and has more than 700 pagodas and several monasteries.
Today, Mandalay has over 1 million inhabitants and is one of the top tourist attractions in Myanmar, along with Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake. I personally think that if you only have a few days to spend in Myanmar, Mandalay is the best option because there are many things to see and do not only in Mandalay, but also in the surrounding area.
There are many points of interest in Mandalay and on my list of attractions I tried to include everything that I consider worthwhile doing around the city.
Things to Do in Mandalay
Explore the city by Bicycle
One of the best things to do in Mandalay is to explore the city by bicycle. Mandalay is a flat city and the streets are based on a grid system, numbered from 1st to 49th from North to South and 50th to 90th from East to West; so it’s almost impossible to get lost. And the traffic isn’t nearly as crazy as in many other cities in Southeast Asia.
By bike, you have the opportunity to explore and visit some of the most interesting points of interest in Mandalay, such as the stone carver’s district; Ma Soe Yein monastery – the city’s largest monastery; the Jade market; Shwe In Bin Kyaung – one of the most beautiful monasteries in Mandalay; a gold pounder workshop, etc.
Despite the dusty streets, I had a great time biking around Mandalay, specially visiting the stone carving district along Sagaing–Mandalay Road. It’s very interesting to see skilled craftsmen and women working (carving, chipping, polishing and painting) on marble slabs to sculpt beautiful and delicate Buddha statues.
Quick Tip: Some hotels offer free bicycles to their guests. If you don’t want to explore the city by bike, you can hire a private car with driver here.
The most popular point of interest and a historically important site, Mandalay Palace is a walled citadel surrounded by a large moat in the middle of the city, north of downtown.
The palace was constructed by King Mindon between 1857 and 1859 but was heavily bombed and devastated during the Second World War. As a result, the huge and magnificent complex, which contains crowning wood pavilions and looks exceptionally imposing from outside, is basically empty inside, with only very few pieces of furniture, mausoleums, and towers. It can leave visitors a bit disappointed…
However, I enjoyed visiting Mandalay Palace and taking pictures of its symmetric and striking pavilions. If you love architecture, visiting this palace can be considered one of the best things to do in Mandalay.
Quick tip: Entrance to Mandalay Palace is included with the Mandalay Archeological Zone ticket. So, if you also want to visit Shwenandaw Kyuang Monastery, which I highly recommend, get that ticket so you can visit both places.
Located near Mandalay Hill, Shwenandaw Monastery was originally built in 1878 as part of the king’s royal apartments, and sited within Mandalay Palace’s walls.
But after the death of his father in 1880, king Mindon’s son, Thibaw, had it moved to its current location and converted into a monastery.
Shwenandaw is constructed in traditional Burmese teak and known for the intricate and elaborate carvings, representing Buddhist myths, that adorn its roofs, walls and doors.
I loved this monastery! The building is amazing and the woodworking is stunningly detailed. I was completely in awe during my whole visit!
Shwenandaw Monastery is one of the top things to do in Mandalay and my favorite point of interest in the city.
This is another monastery, very close to Shwenandaw, built in 1857 by King Mindon.
Atumashi, originally constructed in teak wood, was burned down in 1890 and only reconstructed more than a hundred years later in 1996, using prison labour.
I personally didn’t visit this monastery because it was closed when I left Shwenandaw, but the ticket is also included on the Mandalay Archeological Zone ticket, and you should put this monastery on your things to do in Mandalay list.
Located north of Mandalay Palace at 230 m above sea level, Mandalay Hill is visible from most of the city.
The hill, that the city takes its name from, is considered a holy place and, it is said, has been climbed by the Bhudda, who prophesized that a great city would be built at its foot.
To reach Mandalay Hill’s summit by its integrated stairways system takes around 45min on foot, and 15min by cab or motor taxi.
Mandalay Hill provides a magnificent 360 degree view of the city, especially during the sunset, and from the top you can see part of the city, stunning pagodas, the Irrawaddy River and other distant hills.
Seeing the sunset from Mandalay Hill is definitely worthwhile and it’s one of the best things to do in Mandalay.
Note: There is a 1000 Ks (US$ 1) camera fee to enter the Temple Sutaungpyei on the summit. I didn’t visit it, as I think the the sunset view would be basically the same.
Kuthodaw Pagoda and Sandamuni Paya
Those two pagodas are very similar, close to each other, and are located at the foot of Mandalay Hill.
In both, there is a center gilded pagoda surrounded by hundreds of white stupas housing inscribed marble slabs with Buddhist teachings (729 in Kuthodaw and 1774 in Sandamuni).
The very picturesque stupas are lined up in rows and each topped with an ornamental spire shaped like an umbrella, called a hti.
While Sandamuni houses the largest iron Buddha image in Myanmar, Kuthodaw is known as “the world’s largest book” with each of the 729 stone slabs representing one page.
Quick Tip: I liked both Pagodas, but if you have to choose one, Kuthodaw is more interesting, beautiful and better for pictures if you walk through the corridors formed by the stupas.
Mahamuni Buddha Temple
Constructed in 1785 by King Bodawpaya, Mahamani Buddha Temple also called Mahamuni Pagoda, is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Myanmar.
The Mahamuni Buddha image, the most revered one in the country, is 3.8m high and weights 6.5 tons. It’s enshrined in a small and very beautiful chamber topped with a seven tiered Pyatthat Burmese style roof, and seated on a very ornate 1.80m high pedestal. To pay respect to the Buddha image, male devotees (women are not allowed to get close to the image) apply gold leaf to the image and as a result, the image is covered with a thick layer of gold leaf of about 15 centimeters, which has distorted its shape.
It’s very interesting to see the Burmese people’s devotion and all this gold.
In the complex, there’s a museum displaying the history of Buddhism and in the temple courtyard, there are six large Khmer bronze statues that were taken from Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and which locals believe have healing qualities.
Maharani is undoubtedly one of the most significant points of interest in Mandalay, not only for Buddhists, but for everyone.
Moustache Brothers show
Mandalay remained the cultural center of Myanmar, even after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948 and Yangon become the capital.
So during my stay in the city I decided to watch a well-known and popular show in Mandalay: the Moustache Brothers.
This subversive comedy troupe family has been performing for almost 30 years and combines screwball comedy, classic Burmese dances, and strong satirical criticism about the Burmese military regime.
The show is performed every night in their garage (on 39th street between 80th and 81st), lasts around 1 hour, and costs 10,000 Ks (US$ 7.3).
I enjoyed the Moustache Brothers show, and found their personal stories of how they were arrested during the military junta, and how it was to live in Myanmar at that period, fascinating.
For its cultural and historical approach, watching the Moustache Brothers’ show is surely one of the fun things to do in Mandalay.
Days Trips from Mandalay
A trip to Mandalay cannot be complete without visiting its surrounding areas.
Those cities are so close to Mandalay and it’s so easy to get there, that even if you’re only staying in Mandalay for a few days, I highly recommend visiting at least one of them.
Situated only 11km (6.8 mi) from Mandalay, Amarapura was founded by King Bodawpaya in 1783, and was the capital of Myanmar twice, first from 1783 to 1821, and then from 1842 to 1859. Nowadays, Amarapura is a township of Mandalay and has become one of the most visited places in Myanmar.
Some of the points of interest in Amarapura are: Mahagandhayon Monastery, U Bein Bridge, Bagaya Monastery and Amarapura Palace ruins.
Most people visit Amarapura at the end of the afternoon to see the sunset from U Bein Bridge, the longest and oldest teak wood bridge in the world, measuring 1.2 Km. But if you are expecting to take a classic picture of the Buddhist monks crossing the bridge with the sun setting in the background, the reality is that U Bein Bridge is very touristy and crowded, so if the weather is not excellent, I don’t think is worth going there during sunset.
Another increasingly popular Amarapura attraction is Mahagandhayon Monastery, especially during the monks’ lunch time (around 10 – 10:30). Seeing thousands of monks wearing burgundy robes lining up in complete silence to collect their food donations was very picturesque and if you like photography this is a good opportunity to take extraordinary pictures.
Is a small town in Sagaing Region, located on the Irrawaddy River banks, and 11km (6.8 mi) northwest of Mandalay.
The principal tourist attraction in Mingun is Mingun Pahtodawgyi, an unfinished monument stupa, which would’ve been the largest stupa in the world at a height of 150 m (490 ft). Construction of the temple started in 1790 but only reached 1/3 of the intended height before it was abandoned by King Bodawpaya after an astrologer claimed that the king would die once the project was finished.
An earthquake on 23 March 1839 caused huge cracks to appear on the face of the remaining structure. Today, the temple is more of a tourist attraction but there’s only a small shrine with a Buddha image that serves as a place of worship and meditation.
Another thing to do in Mingun is to see the Mingun Bell, – weighing 90 tons and the second largest in the world. It was cast to be in the huge Mingun Pahtodawgyi stupa but is now located on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River. Located few meters from the bell is the Hsinbyume Pagoda (Myatheindan Pagoda), which is interesting because of its very distinctive and striking style that diverges from all the other pagodas in Mandalay.
I really liked the half-day trip from Mandalay to Mingun, taking pictures at the Hsinbyume Pagoda and learning more about Mingun Pahtodawgyi from a local guide.
The city can be easily reached by ferry from Mandalay for 5000 Ks (US$ 3.5) and by car, or even bicycle, from Sagaing.
- You can book you Irrawaddy Cruise Sunset or a Half-day Tour to Mingun with Viator, a Trip Advisor Company.
Note: There is a Mingun – Sagaing Archeological fee that costs 5000 Ks (US$ 3.5).
Another former capital of Myanmar, located on the western banks of Ayeyarwady River, 21 km (13 mi) southwest of Mandalay, Sagaing is famous for the hundreds of white pagodas, gold stupas and numerous monasteries that dot its hilly landscape. Sagaing Hill itself is very beautiful and picturesque and from the top, one has a clear view of the landscape and the river.
During my visit, I went to Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, a large pagoda on the northwestern outskirts of the city; wandered around Sagaing Hill and visited the Soon U Ponya Shin pagoda, one of the oldest ones in Sagaing. But the highlight for me was the amazing U Min Thonze pagoda, or 30 Caves Pagoda, named for the 30 cave entrances through which one can enter. Inside, there are 45 statues of Buddha in a crescent shaped colonnade with rich colours and stunning tile work. Truly breathtaking…
Inwa Ancient City
Inwa (also known as Ava) was the capital of Burma for nearly 360 years from the 14th to 19th century (yes, another one), and abandoned in 1839 after a major earthquake leveled the city.
Located around 28 km (17.4 mi) from Mandalay, the ancient imperial capital is a popular day-trip destination, with some great points of interest like Bagaya Monastery, Ava Palace site, Hsin Kyone Fort and Village, and Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery.
Inwa is easily accessible by ferry from Mandalay and upon arrival there will be horse carts to take you around.
You can take a Full day tour to Inwa, Sagain, Amarapura and Mingun with Viator, a Trip Advisor Company, or do it by yourself on public transport, though that would take longer.
There are several companies offering tours as it’s one of best things to do in Mandalay in one day. I recommend booking your tour online in advance with Viator, a TripAdvisor company.
Some interesting Mandalay tours are:
- Mandalay Cultural Heritage Day Tour.
- Ancient Cities, Pagodas, and Sunset Tour from Mandalay.
- Mandalay Private Day Tour.
- U Bein Bridge Sunset Sunset Cycling Day Tour from Mandalay.
Mandalay is a very interesting city, with many points of interest and things to do, and your visit can be even more enjoyable if you take at least one of these day-trips.
The Burmese people are super friendly and you can get around the city easily, whether by bicycle or motorbike. Just bear in mind that it’s very dusty and many locals don’t speak English.
As with many other cities in Myanmar, there aren’t many things to do in Mandalay at night, and most of the restaurants close around 10 – 11:00 PM.
I would say that my best experiences in the Mandalay area were: biking around the city, visiting Shwenandaw Monastery, seeing the monks in Amarapura and taking the ferry to Mingun. The places that I didn’t like that much were: U Bein Bridge and Mandalay Palace.
So, if you planning your trip, you now know which are the things to do in Mandalay area, and you can also check my suggested itineraries for 1, 2 and 3 days.
Safe travels and enjoy Mandalay.
- Where is Mandalay?
Mandalay is located 716 km (445 mi) north of Yangon on the East bank of the Irrawaddy River (check map here).
- How to get to Mandalay
You can get to Mandalay by flight, bus, car, train and even boat.
There is an international airport in Mandalay that was completely renovated in 2015. Some of the airline companies offering flights to Mandalay International Airport are: AirAsia, Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways, Myanmar Airway International, etc.
You can book your flights with Skyscanner or Momondo, which are the websites that I use and trust.
* By bus
Traveling by bus is the cheapest and easiest way to get around Myanmar. There are buses to Mandalay departing from Yangon, Bagan, and Inle Lake; and some of the companies in operation are: Famous Traveller Express and Khyne Mandalay Express.
* By train
There are also trains form Yangon and Bagan to Mandalay with Myanmar Railways (MR). There is no official website though.
* By boat
Boats arrive and depart from Gawain Jetty (at the western end of 35th Street); from downtown you can take a taxi or tuk-tuk, costing around 2000 Ks (US$ 1.5).
You can go from Mandalay to Bagan by boat and I recommend booking your boat online here.
You can book a private transfer from Mandalay to Bagan here.
- Best time to visit?
The best time to visit the Mandalay, Myanmar, is from November to February, when the days are warm and nights are cooler.
From June to September is the monsoon season and roads are in bed conditions, and from March to May the dry season.
I visited Mandalay in March 2017 and it was very hot and dry.
- Where to stay in Mandalay?
One of the best things to do in Mandalay is to stay in downtown, because it’s close to most of the attractions. Some of the Mandalay hotels that I recommend are:
* Budget: Hotel 8 , Hotel 82 and Hotel Victory Point.
* Great value/money: The Link 78 Mandalay Boutique Hotel, Bagan King and Hotel Yadanarbon Mandalay.
* Luxury: The Hotel by the Red Canal and Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel.
- Some of my Mandalay Travel Costs
* Five months travel insurance: US$ 256 with World Nomads
* Mandalay Historic Zone: 10,000 (US$ 7.3)
* Mustache Brothers show: 10,000 Ks (US$ 7.3)
* Ferry to Mingun: 5000 (US$ 3.5)
* Mingun – Sagging Archeological fee: 5000 (US$ 3.5)
* Taxi to Mandalay Hill: 2000 (US$ 1.5)
One of the smartest things to do in Mandalay is to buy the Mandalay Historic Zone combo ticket, because you can visit all these attractions: Atumashi Kyaung, Cultural Museum Mandalay, Kuthodaw Paya, Maharani Paya, Mandalay Palace, Paleik Paya, Shwenandaw Kyaung, the ancient cities Amarapura and Inwa.
Other things to do in Mandalay are: visit Zay Cho Market and Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda at night.
Have you ever been to Myanmar? What do you of my list of things to do in Mandalay? Lets us know on the comments below 😉