Travel to Mandalay conjures up romantic images and thoughts of an Asia of a bygone era: an Asia that is unspoiled and untouched. The reality is that Mandalay is the second biggest city in Myanmar after Yangon and a sprawling, dusty city with not a lot of charm on the surface.
However, if you look beneath and explore Mandalay a bit, you’ll be pleasantly surprised about the number of things to do in Mandalay. Mandalay is not the best place you’ll ever go, and to be frank, I’ll probably never go again but there are plenty of very cool things to do in Mandalay to occupy your time for a day or two.
Mandalay is a city that people generally go to go somewhere else. Mandalay’s airport is not that well served although it is much better these days with flights from a handful of cities including Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The roads to Mandalay, not to be confused with Rudyard Kipling’s book ‘The Road to Mandalay’ (which he wrote having never actually visited Mandalay) are not very good and it’s a pretty far drive to Bagan, Yangon or anywhere else outside the former capitals around Mandalay itself. But as I mentioned there are plenty of things to do in Mandalay.
The best thing to do in Mandalay is watch the sunset atop Mandalay Hill.
The views are spectacular to say the least and it gives you a real visual feel for a city that’s confusing when you drive around it because it’s so spread out and flat.
You can hike, walk steps or drive up to the top and when the sun sets around 5:30 or so, it gets pretty crowded so claim a spot early. Also make sure to walk around a bit at the top and check out the pagodas. You can also use this time to chat with monks who come up to practice their English with tourists at sunset.
Visit Royal Mandalay and the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace was rebuilt in the 1990’s and is very cool to walk around. The well-preserved timber pagodas are fabulous and there will be very few tourists. Climb up watchtower to get the best views of the palace complex.
There are photo opportunities around every corner and don’t forget to actually go inside the pagodas and see the Buddhas and shrines. Mandalay Palace both inside and out for the great moat views with Mandalay Hill in the background is a must on any visit to Mandalay.
See the Golden Buddha at Mahamuni Paya.
The Golden Buddha at Mahamuni Paya is one of the most impressive things in Mandalay. It’s not that the Buddha itself is so much more amazing than other Buddha’s and you’ll see a ton of them. It’s the way people react to him.
Devotees smother him in gold leaf daily and he is considered very sacred. Women are only allowed to watch the festivities. There is also a face shining ceremony daily at 4am. It’s well worth a trip to see it.
Shwe In Bin Kyaung
I certainly cannot pronounce it but this beautiful monastery is worth a visit. The beautifully carved wood outside could leave you gaping for hours. The inside is OK and very dark but it will keep you cool for a bit in the heat!
U Bein’s Bridge
Amarapura is known as the ‘City of Immortality’ and was once the capital of Myanmar. Just south of Mandalay, this bridge is the worlds longest teak bridge and is also a great place to watch the sunset and locals fishing in the water. Walking the bridge is an experience you won’t forget. Just watch your step!
I stayed at the Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel; which is probably the best hotel in town or at least the newest and it was pretty good. It was only $70 and was very clean, had very hard pillows, decent wifi and typical breakfast.
My restaurant recommendation would be the Green Elephant; which was coincidentally located around the corner from my hotel to make life easy. It was highly recommended and it is a tourist group favorite. Like most restaurants in Myanmar they specialize in absolutely everything but I had good fried noodles, several good appetizers and a Myanmar beer for like $12. It’s super cheap like most things in Myanmar.
So as you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Mandalay. 1-2 days is really perfect in Mandalay. You really don’t need anymore. Just hire a driver and he’ll show you the way to Mandalay!