Myanmar

21 Awesome Things to See in Mandalay

Mandalay is Myanmar’s second-largest city, an urban centre laid out in a functional grid with plenty of concrete buildings, traffic and dust. It’s the rare traveller that immediately falls for Mandalay. However, look past the city’s surface and you’ll discover the cultural heart of the nation, a vibrant melting pot of countless monasteries, pagodas, workshops and teahouses. Best of all, Mandalay is surrounded by rural escapes and ancient cities; day trip options abound.

In this post, I’ll share with you 21 awesome things to see in Mandalay!

FOR MORE ON THE SURROUNDING REGION CHECK OUT: ROAD TRIPPING THE MANDALAY REGION: YOUR MUST-SEE GUIDE!

1. Mandalay Hill

Camera Fee: 1,000ks

Mandalay Hill offers the best viewpoint in the city, an amazing vantage point from which to view the urban sprawl and surrounding flat plains. From up here, you notice how green Mandalay’s environs are, a landscape that’s lush and green in the months following the monsoon.

Access the summit via a series of covered stairways on the hill’s southern slope; on route you’ll pass through numerous temples and pagodas (no footwear allowed). The most obvious access point for the climb starts between two giant chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon guardian deities) with 1729 steps. A shrine building containing a huge standing golden Buddha is a highlight along the way; notice how his outstretched arm points towards the royal palace, evoking a well-known legend.

It’s also possible to drive most of the way up Mandalay Hill; from the upper carpark you can take a lift or escalator (if they are working) or walk five minutes by stairway. Shared pick-ups (route 16 from 10th Street at 68th Street) run to the carpark for 1,000ks/person; motorcycle taxis typically charge 3,000ks up and 2,000ks down. We hired a scooter from our guesthouse (10,000ks/day), parked near the giant chinthe, and walked up and down. We highly recommend walking to get the full experience!

Top Tip: Be at the summit for sunset!

Below Left: View from Mandalay Hill
Below Right: Buddha Image pointing towards Mandalay Palace

2.Kyauktawgyi Paya

Opening Times: 6am-8pm

Located opposite the giant chinthe stairway leading up Mandalay Hill, this large 19th Century complex houses a 900-tonne, 26ft-tall Buddha that’s dressed in royal attire. Carved from a single block of marble, it reportedly took 10,000 men 13 days to transport it to its current site.

There’s also a small shrine in the southeast courtyard that exhibits a giant marble ‘alms bowl’. Access to the paya is via covered walkways at the cardinal points that are decorated in mirror tiles and full of vendors selling souvenirs and religious paraphernalia.

Kyauktawgyi Paya

3. Sandamuni Paya

Opening Times: 8:30am-5pm

Almost opposite the eastern approach to Kyauktawgyi Paya, Sandamuni Paya contains 1,774 text-inscribed marble slabs with Tripitaka commentaries. The Tripitaka is the entire canon of Theravada Buddhism, written in the Pali language.

4. Kuthodaw Paya

Opening Hours: 24 Hours

Opposite the above, Kuthodaw Paya is famous for its 729 marble slabs that present the entire 15 books of the Tripitaka. Each inscribed slab is housed within its own small stupa. The slabs at Sandamuni and Kuthodaw are collectively cited as the ‘World’s Biggest Book’. During the 5th Buddhist Synod, King Mindon used a team of 2,400 monks to read the book in a non-stop relay, which took almost six months.

The stupa itself, gilded above its terraces, is 57m high and modelled after the Shwezigon Paya in Nyaung U near Bagan.

Below Left: Stupas containing inscribed slabs with the Tripitaka written on them 
Below Right: Kuthodaw Paya

5. Atumashi Kyaung

Opening Hours: 9am-6pm
Entrance Fee: Included in the 10,000ks Archaeological Zone Combo Ticket

Head south from Kuthodaw Paya down 63rd Street, past two small ponds, to reach Atumashi Kyaung that lies just 400m away. The original temple was built in 1857 and housed a famous Buddha image with a huge diamond on its forehead.

The image was, however, stolen and the monastery was destroyed by fire five years later. What you see today is a 1996 reconstruction; the temple’s unusual shape consists of a series of diminishing stupa-dotted terraces over an arched base. Notice the peacock motifs.

Atumashi Kyaung

6. Shwenandaw Kyaung

Entrance Fee: Included in the 10,000ks Archaeological Zone Combo Ticket

In a plot adjoining Atumashi lies Shwenandaw Kyaung, otherwise known as Golden Palace Monastery. Built from fine teak, the monastery is notable for its carvings, especially the interior gilded Jataka scenes (past life stories of the Buddha).

The building once stood within the Mandalay Palace compound as the royal apartment of King Mindon, who died inside it in 1878. Haunted by his ghost, Mindon’s successor, King Thibaw, had the building dismantled and rebuilt outside the fortress walls, where it was converted into a monastery.

Shwenandaw Kyaung

7. Mandalay Palace

Opening Hours: 7:30am-4:30pm
Entrance Fee: Included in the 10,000ks Archaeological Zone Combo Ticket

After Shwenandaw Kyaung, your next stop should be Mandalay Palace; foreigners can only enter through the eastern gateway off 66th Street. It’s a good kilometre from the ticket booth to the palace itself, which is a 1990’s reconstruction of the original, built from 1857-1859.

There are more than 40 timber buildings within the complex; climb the spiral watchtower for a good overview. Unfortunately, much of the compound beyond the main chambers is in serious disrepair, littered with rubble and undergrowth. From the main approach road, you can see the tomb of King Mindon, a drum tower, sheds containing more than 600 stone inscription slabs and a small aeroplane on some rocks in the trees.

Mandalay Palace

The former royal palace complex is enclosed within 26ft-high walls that form a vast square of over 4 miles around the site. The walls, reconstructed in the original 1857 style, are punctuated at regular intervals with gate towers that are topped by pyramidal constructions of carved woodwork.

A moat encircles the whole compound; the scene is especially striking at night when it is lit up. It’s possible to walk all the way around the moat on a wide paved walking track; it’s a pleasant shady area during the day and makes a nice spot for an evening stroll.

Mandalay Fortress Walls and Moat

8. Skinny Buddha

Located on 30th Street, around 2.5km southeast of the palace’s eastern entrance, this 75ft-tall seated Buddha is a ‘mediation image’, uniquely representing the Buddha in his undernourished state. The golden statue lies within a well maintained enclosure that is home to many other Buddha images, some standing, some seated, others reclining.

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ALL OF THE ABOVE SIGHTS CAN BE SEEN IN ONE DAY!

9. Gold Pounders’ District

Located off 36th Street (77/79), this two-block district is where the 1-sq-in gold-leaf sheets, which worshippers adorn Buddha images with, are produced. Hand-pounded in dozens of tiny workshops, it’s possible to visit two of them, which also sell various gold-leaf items as souvenirs.

King Galon and Golden Rose have English-speaking staff, who are happy to talk you through the production process while gold-beaters demonstrate. For Pathein-style parasols, don’t miss Shwe Pathein (near King Galon).

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10. Sri Ganesh Temple

Mandalay has a tiny Indian district, where you’ll find a couple of Indian-style restaurants and the Sri Ganesh Temple, which has a colourful, sculpture-adorned gopuram reminiscent of South India. You’ll find it near the southwest corner of the moat off 27th Street. The Central Mosque and Sacred Heart Cathedral are also in the area, as well as a night market (84th at 29th Street).

11. Shwekyimyint Paya

Opening Hours: 8am-6:30pm

Just 700m northwest of the Sri Ganesh Temple (on the corner of 82nd and 24th Streets), Shwekyimyint Paya was founded in 1167 by Prince Minshinzaw and predates Mandalay itself. Within a hushed little prayer chamber, the central seated Buddha image is roughly life-sized and is encrusted with gold and other jewels. The pagoda also houses other images that were collected by later Myanmar kings and moved here for safe keeping.

Shwekyimyint Paya

12. Setkyathiha Paya

Opening Hours: 7am-6pm

Although somewhat hidden behind shopfronts, this large pagoda complex is worth a visit to see its ‘Golden Rock’ lookalike and an enormous sacred Bodhi tree planted by U Nu, Myanmar’s first post-independence prime minister. Also look out for an impressive 17ft-high seated bronze Buddha statue, cast in 1823 by King Bagyidaw. It’s off 30th Street (between 85th and 86th), not far from the Sri Ganesh Temple.

13. Eindawya Paya

Opening Hours: 6am-Late Evening

A must-visit once the sun has set, Eindawya is a fairly large pagoda that is covered in gold leaf and lit up magnificently at night. The complex was founded in 1847 by King Pagan Min, whose palace once stood on the site. Surrounded by a hubbub of nearby markets, Eindawya offers a refreshing bout of relative peace and quiet and makes the perfect spot to end a busy day of sightseeing.

Eindawya Paya

14. Flower Market

Opening Hours: 7am-Sunset

To experience local life at its most colourful, head to this small flower market just off 26th Street by the banks of the Ayeyarwady River. The vibrant blossoms and their friendly sellers make for some arty photographs, especially in the early morning or late afternoon light.

Top Tip: Wander the flower market just before sunset then watch as the sun’s last rays cast a spectacular golden glow over the waters of the Ayeyarwady. From the river walk 1.5km to Eindawya Paya to see it glimmering under a dark sky.

Flower Market

15. Chanthaya Paya

Just 1km southeast of the flower market, golden Chanthaya Paya looks especially photogenic in the afternoon light when its reflection is cast upon lake-like Thinga Yarsar Canal; the best viewpoint is from across a long teak footbridge that resembles U-Bein Bridge in Amarapura, though on a much smaller scale. Access to Chanthaya Paya is through a mirror-mosaic colonnade.

Chanthaya Paya from across Thinga Yarsar Canal

16. Thingaza Kyaung

Opening Hours: 6:30am-7pm

This atmospheric, lived-in monastery is well off the tourist trail; it has some photogenically dilapidated buildings and a shaded open-air trio of sinuous Buddha figures that have been weathered to appear as though made of wax.

Friendly young monks will happily show you around; just be mindful where you’re walking as not all structures are as solid as they appear! Follow the shaded lanes 1km south from Chanthaya Paya to reach Thingaza Kyaung.

Below Left: Thingaza Kyaung
Below Right: Weathered Buddha image at Thingaza Kyaung

17. Shwe In Bin Kyaung

Opening Hours: 7am-6:30pm

This beautiful carved teak monastery was commissioned in 1895 by a pair of wealthy Chinese jade merchants. The central building stands on tree-trunk poles and balustrades and roof cornices are covered in detailed engravings.

Technically, the 10,000ks combo ticket is required to enter the site but it wasn’t being checked at the time of our visit. Shwe In Bin lies off 89th Street between 37th and 38th Streets; it’s about 1.5km southeast of Thingaza Kyaung.

Shwe In Bin Kyaung

18. Ma Soe Yein Nu Kyaung

Opening Hours: 7am-Sunset

A 5 minute-walk south of Shwe In Bin, over a small road bridge, brings you to this large active monastery. Come here to climb to the top floor of the unique six-storey octagonal library tower, which offers great views over the surrounding area.

Also look out for the ‘Big Ben’ style clock. Ma Soe Yein Nu Kyaung is known for the politically upfront views of its monks, as well as being the base of controversial monk, Ashin Wirathu, figurehead of the 969 movement.

Below Left:  The ‘Big Ben’ style clock at Ma Soe Yein Nu Kyaung 
Below Right: Views from atop the library tower at Ma Soe Yein Nu Kyaung

19. Jade Market

Opening Hours: 8am-4pm

Head to the area around 87th Street (39/40), a short walk from Shwe in Bin Kyaung, to watch jade traders haggling, hawking and polishing their wares. To enter the market itself, a heaving grid of cramped walkways, foreigners must pay a 2,500ks admission fee; there’s enough going on outside, however, to make it an unworthy investment.

The nearby Unison Teahouse, a breezy octagonal structure, makes a great spot for lunch; it’s cleaner and more upmarket than your standard teahouse and there are a range of different teas on offer.

At the Jade Market

20. Mahamuni Paya

Opening Hours: 24 Hours (Complex)/8am-5pm (Museum Sections)

Best accessed from 45th or 82nd Street, the 13ft-tall seated Buddha at Mahamuni Paya is a nationally celebrated image that is believed to be around 2,000 years old. Gold leaf, applied by male devotees throughout the centuries, has left the statue knobbly with a 6in layer of pure gold. Only the Buddha’s face remains smooth and gleaming and is ceremoniously polished each morning at 4am.

The central shrine has a multi-tiered golden roof and the compound itself is large. Stop by the picture gallery to see how the sacred statue was dragged back to Mandalay in 1784 after it was seized from Mrauk U.

There’s also a collection of Hindu-Buddhist Khmer bronze figures, a giant gong, a colourful kitsch clock tower and the Maha Buddhavamsa Museum of World Buddhism that features a gallery of paintings about the life of the Buddha and photos of famous Buddhist archaeological sites.

21. Stone Carvers

Opening Hours: Most shops close around 6pm

There are four long concrete passageways in each cardinal direction that lead to Mahamuni Paya; exit through the western passage to emerge on 84th Street amid a string of fascinating marble workshops, where Buddha statues are carved.

Watch whole slabs of rock being blasted, chipped and polished into not only Buddha figures but also horses, fierce-looking kings and chinthe to name but a few of the intricate creations. Some statues are small, some life-sized, others huge; it’s an interesting area to wander.

Also look out for the workshops that produce the shining gold hti that top pagodas; up close they are impressive works of art in their own right.

ALL OF THE ABOVE SIGHTS CAN BE SEEN IN ONE DAY!

Where to Stay in Mandalay

Ollie and I always stay at Dreamland Guesthouse whenever we are in Mandalay (located on the corner of 37th and 69th Street). The girls who run this quirky guesthouse, which is also a music and arts school, are fantastic; they speak flawless English, are super knowledgeable about Mandalay and its surrounds, and can help travellers with whatever they need. Bus tickets can be booked, taxis or motorbike taxis arranged and motorbikes (manual/semi-automatic/automatic) hired out.

Dreamland offers double rooms with private bathrooms ($18/night), double rooms with shared bathrooms ($15/night) and both mixed and female-only dorms ($6/night). Double rooms are slightly cheaper if only one person is staying. All rates include a lovely breakfast, which features homemade jams and nut butters and a different traditional Myanmar dish each morning.

Terrace Area at Dreamland Guesthouse

You can book through their website or send them an email at dreamlandguesthouse.mdy@gmail.com.

Dreamland also has a guesthouse in Ayethayar Township in Taunggyi. You can book a room through the above website or email at dreamlandguesthouse.tgy@gmail.com

Top Tip: If you’re staying at Dreamland Guesthouse in Mandalay, wander 5 minutes down 69th Street to Bhodigon Pagoda, which resembles the famous Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India.

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Bhodigon Pagoda #mandalay #templesofmyanmar

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So there you have it, 21 awesome things to see in Mandalay! Now check out our must-see guide to the Mandalay region!

Whilst you’re in Myanmar be sure to check out some other must-visit gems! Check out our posts for more information!

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