9 Must See Destinations in Mandalay City (Myanmar)

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Mandalay’s former name “Yadanapon” simply translates to “City of Gems” portraying the glorious days of Burmese last capital before the gloomy colonial era.  Like Kumming of China or Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Mandalay is the Myanmar’s second city after Yangon but with a different kind of feeling; lazier and calmer. Showcasing its 19th century art, architecture and the remains of the old Royal City, it is the cultural capital and the most “Burmese-themed” city in Myanmar with many old monasteries and pagodas spreading around the region. Even though it’s in the top list of most travellers itineraries, along with Bagan and Inle Lake, you will never feel overrun with travellers while strolling around the city. How did Kipling feel when he wrote his famous poem “Mandalay”? Well, you will find out when you are in Mandalay.

There are many historic attractions nearby Mandalay for a day-trip. But Mandalay city itself has many wonders you can visit. Here are the top 9 destinations recommended by HappyFootprints that you absolutely must visit in Mandalay city before you go for other day-trips.

 

1)  Shwenandaw Kyaung (Teak Temple)

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It is one of the most unique eye-catching of all the monasteries/temples in South East Asia. This intricately teak-crafted world heritage site was first built to serve as the royal apartments for King Mindon, but later converted into a Buddhist Monastery. Why? The then-ruler, King Thibaw transformed this building into a monastery, believing it to be haunted by his father, King Mindon’s spirit. Due to its removal and rebuilding on a new site in late 18th century as a monastery, it was the only building to have remained intact during the raid of Mandalay in WWII. 100 years-old teak-carvings, depicting past life stories of the Buddha were chiseled in the panels which adorn the inside and outside of the main building.  No entrance fee is required.

 2)  Mahamuni Paya (Paya Gyi)

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“Maha” means large, “muni” sitting and “Paya” means pagoda. Mahamuni Paya is one of those incredible sites that you absolutely have to witness in your lifetime, and is very revered by pilgrims around all Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia. Everyday, this age old ritual occurs between 4.30 and 5.00 am, and is a spiritual and religious ceremony that partakes of washing of the Buddha’s face. The site is beyond magical and magnificient. Mahamuni pagoda is the most important of all the religious places in Mandalay. It is not a pagoda but an image of the Lord Buddha, believed to have been cast in the Buddha’s lifetime in the very presence of the Buddha according to the tradition.

The thickness of gold clad on the Buddha face from people applying golden leaf on it is just truly unbelievable if you think of how poor the country is. Unlike most pagodas in Myanmar, men (only) can get close and touch the Buddha. There is also a museum in the complex and a small building that contains five bronze Khmer statues taken from Angkor Wat.

3) Kuthodaw Paya

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It’s known for being home to the world’s largest book and the entire script of Tripitaka Theravada, the most sacrosanct script in Buddhism. Kuthodaw Paya was built during the late 1800’s by King Mingon and is a location situated at the bottom of the Mandalay Hill. The whole compound is covered with white pagodas, star-flower trees and their Jasmine-like fragrance.  In the cool shade under these trees, the sight of children picking the flowers to make star flower chains for the Buddha or to wear in their hair is a truly peaceful and beautiful.

4) Mandalay Hill

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Mandalay Hill is the famous hillside just outside of Mandalay itself. The hill itself isn’t very tall, but being the only peak in miles definitely commands a magnificent view of the city and surrounding countryside. And it’s also an escape route to beat the unbearable heat of Manadalay’s summer.  An early morning is the best time to visit so that you can avoid the heat and the influx of tourists. There are several ways to ascend the hill, depending on how fit you are. You can climb up from the South side or alternatively, you can get a taxi about halfway up on a road that leads from the West. In truth, it’s not too difficult a climb and there are plenty of places to stop and sit along the way. Take note that you will need to remove your shoes while climbing to the top of the hill from the check point where your transporting car stops. No entrance fee is required but a small amount of camera fee is expected.  Mandalay Hill was bombed extensively by Allied aircraft during WWII, as the Japanese were encamped there, and it’s still possible to see the shrapnel holes in the temple at the summit.

5) Mandalay Palace Complex / Fort Dufferin

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This symbolic royal palace is one of the main reasons why many tourists travel to Mandalay despite its scantling heat.  It’s a golden city within a city. The palace wall is hard to miss if you are in Mandalay, and surrounded by a huge moat.  “The Glass Palace” by Amitav Ghosh, truthfully describes what had happened here at this last royal palace of the Burmese monarchy; British soldiers storming in with their guns, looting and burning this palace, forcing the last King Thibaw and Queen into exile in India after winning the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War.

It’s hard to believe this magnificent palace lasted merely 30 years after being first built by King Mindon (Thibaw’s father). British then turned the palace compound into Fort Dufferin, named after the then- viceroy of India.  Much of the palace compound was tragically destroyed during WWII by allied bombing. A near-exact replica of the palace was rebuilt in the 1990s. It costs US$ 10 to get into this castle to have a look.

6)  Mandalay Marionettes Theater

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Former Burmese kings are known to be fans of puppets dance and artistry. And if you were in Mandalay, you must make time for a puppet show at Mandalay’s Marionnettes Therater. The show usually lasts about an hour, and it is a succession of small stories with different puppets and style of dances. Puppets are brilliantly made and puppeteers are very professional. You can also purchase puppets as a souvenir. The cost is about US$ 12 per person. Your kids will definitely love it.

7)  The Jade Market (Mahar Aung Myay)

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Burma under British colonial time was famous for three things; pagodas, teak and jade. Make no mistake Myanmar jade is the best in the world.  This huge Jade Market in central Mandalay showcases perfectly why it is so. Dozens of vendors are selling their jade in various stages and grades of presentation. Not frequently visited by tourists, it generally serves as a local source of the product. As always, there were “mobile” vendors, with little gem boxes of ruby and emerald speciments, in the rough, cab and facet cut. There is no issue at all with failure to purchase their goodies. Entrance fee is less tha US$ 1.

8) Stone carvers’ Road

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Mandalay is full of craft businesses and many of them are still operating very traditionally. This unique place is along the Sagaing-Mandalay road where skilled stone craftsmen chip and polish slabs of marble into the most delicate Buddha statues of different sizes. And templates or sketches of any kind are used very rarely there. The whole area is full of white dust from the marble slab so bring your face mask along with you.

9) Zeigyo Central Market

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It’s the trade hub of Upper Myanmar, where you can get everything that is Burmese and other exports. The variety is mind-blogging, ranging from sections of clothes, spcies to modern electronics. And they are cheap too. If you need a sweater for cooler northern Myanmar or a summer wear for southern part, this is the one for shopping.  Bring your camera. This place is full of photo taking opportunities.

 

See year-round tourist attractions in Mandalay at

http://www.happyfootprints.com/mandalay-attractions

 

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