Mandalay – Myanmar Cultural Capital
Amidst the hot and bustling multicultural city of Mandalay, you will find beautiful churches, pagodas, Indian temples and stunning mosques. Discover quiet monasteries, fascinating arts performances, and a variety of different cuisines in the cultural wonder that is Mangalay!
When thinking of Mandalay, often we conjure images of old Burma, however visitors to this relatively new city can sometimes be surprised to learn that Mandalay isn’t old at all. Mandalay was constructed by King Mindon Min of Burma in the year 1857, to represent a new capital of the Kingdom of Ava. There have only been two Burmese kings who have ever ruled from there – King Mindon and King Thibaw, prior to the British conquest of Upper Burma which took place in 1885.
Mandalay was a luxurious city, a place of splendour between the years 1858 and 1885, however most of the luxury and splendour have been destroyed in the fire that consumed most wooden buildings and structures, as a result of the bombings that happened during the Second World War.
Mandalay, neatly organized with lettered roads and numbered streets, is a creation of British planning. The once
awe-inspiring Royal Palace and great Atumashi pagoda, (both King Mindon Min’s most admirable creations) have been replaced by modern reconstructions of the original structures. Modern Mandalay is situated at the end of the lashio Road, and is quite a relatively prosperous city in regards to trade with China and India. Mandalay has financially survived the relocation of the capital to Naypyidaw, remaining upper Myanmar’s primary commercial centre.
Arriving in Mandalay – what should you expect?
The Mandalay International Airport is a clean and modern establishment, serving the Mandalay area with flights to most cities in Myanmar and select international flights.
When you first set foot in modern Mandalay, you will discover yourself standing in a sprawling, dusty, hot and flat city. Mandalay’s streets are based on a logical grid system making navigation easier, with streets numbered north to south 1st to 49th, and east to west 50th to 90th. Getting around the downtown area of the city, which is roughly located at the southwest corner of Mandalay Palace moat, close to Mandalay railway station, as well as its assorted cafés, markets, restaurants and temples can be accomplished by foot. If you do wish to travel any further than the city’s downtown core (for example, to the Shwenandaw, Mandalay Hill, to the Shwe In Bin monasteries, or the Mahamuni Temple,) you will want to hire a taxi.
Spend an afternoon taking in the sights at the top of Mandalay Hill
The two hundred thirty meter hill from which the city of Mandalay gets its name, Mandalay Hill is a welcome respite from the bustle and heat of the dusty streets, and gives visitors amazing 360 degree views of the entire city of Mandalay, the Irrawaddy River, and views of the backdrop of distant hills. This location is particularly stunning at sunset, when the orange and pink rays shine off the gold and green of the Sutaungpyei Pagoda, situated at the summit of Mandalay Hill. This area of Mandalay is considered to be a holy site, and is said to have been scaled by the Buddha who told of a prophecy that an important city would be built in that location, and that his teachings would flourish there.
Ascending to the top of Mandalay Hill barefoot is the most righteous way to climb the hill when considering it a religious act, and along the hill’s main route from the south side you will encounter a number of points of interest on your barefoot 45-minute walk. Two large white lion-like creatures called chintes guard over the entrance to the hill. It is quite a gentle climb and easy for most levels of fitness, and all covered, nevertheless it can get very hot – especially when walking during the middle of the day. There exists an alternative, which is to take a pick-up to the summit, and the opportunity to take the pick-up to the bottom again is there, particularly if you’re tired from the climb.
The road that travels up Mandalay Hill is different from the main roads that exist in Mandalay, and motorbikes on the road are charged a K200 entry toll on top of a K200 parking toll upon reaching the top. Mandalay Hill is situated north of Mandalay Palace, and can be seen from most of the city – and most of the city can be seen from Mandalay Hill! There is a K1000 camera fee, and during the attraction’s peak season in the months of November through to February it can actually get pretty crowded at the hill’s summit, sometimes so crowded that it makes it difficult to find a good area to stop and take in the view. So plan accordingly and try to make your Mandalay Hill excursion during the day’s downtime!
Visit the Mandalay Royal Palace, and see representations of pre-World War II Mandalay
The Mandalay Royal Palace is an interesting place to visit, as it is essentially a tribute to the structure that stood there prior to World War II. It was originally built in 1861 by King Mindon who stated that he was building it in order to fulfill a prophecy. The palace itself was seized and destroyed in World War II, subsequently rebuilt and then renovated. Practically everything you walk through when you visit the Mandalay Royal Palace, from the entrance hall to the throne room, and all the way to the residences was reconstructed in the early 1990s. Strangely, the old designs were represented faithfully to the originals however modern techniques and materials such as corrugated iron and concrete were used during the Mandalay Royal Palace’s reconstruction. Metal was used where teak wood was originally placed. It all came together as a true to the eye tribute, which is still a stunning accomplishment and gives visitors a great idea of what it once actually looked like.
The Mandalay Royal Palace contains several different pavilions and chambers throughout the grounds. Visitors are allowed to enter only bt the East Gate, with no exceptions made. As of February 2015, foreigners are charged 10,000 kyat, which is about ten US dollars, payable in kyat only, for a pass that lasts five days. The pass is stamped every day that you visit the palace, and gives you access to all of the Royal Palace of Mandalay exhibits. Madame Tussaud-style replicas of the Kings Mindon and Thibaw with their cheif consorts are display in reconstructed throne rooms and chairs, giving tourists an interesting perspective into the lives of these Mandalay royals. The entry gate is almost an entire kilometers distance from the actual Royal Palace, so plan accordingly for the weather and comfortable footwear as you will be doing much walking on the grounds.
Come to Western Mandalay, visit the fascinating Eindawya Pagoda and see the busy Zegyo Market!
Situated in the western part of Mandalay’s city center, close to the end of 27th street, the Eindawya Pagoda and the Zegyo Market are must-sees for anyone traveling through Mandalay. These popular attractions are in many ways considered to be the heart of the city’s downtown. Much like many of Myanmar’s religious sites, Mandalay’s Eindawya Pagoda is practically a community in itself, bustling with people and brimming with shops all along the entrances, with monks and locals worshipping and relaxing.
Constructed in 1847, the Pagoda is a classic example of a Mandalay, Myanmar shrine, complete with the 28 metre-tall stupa standing in the middle and circled by a host of buildings of varying purpose and structure including the monastery, all which are turned facing the proud stupa. An 1839 Indian Black Buddha sits here, carved from quartz.
The busy Zegyo Market is the biggest market in all of Mandalay, and just as old as the Myanmar city itself. The main market building is seemingly modern, which some think unfortunate in terms of a tourism experience, but still offers a lively and interesting area to peruse. Take in an interesting art performance, and note the differences in culture featured in the art and food. The neighbouring busy, dusty, hot and bustling markets of 86th street are comparably more authentic in atmosphere and boast a huge variety of locally produced foods, arts, crafts and other interesting goods – perfect treasures to take back home from your Mandalay adventures.
Where are the best places to eat in Mandalay?
- Lashio Lay: Lashio Lay is a downtown Mandalay restaurant, which is very popular with locals and tourists alike. Serving up authentic Shan food at a great price, Lashio Lay has the added benefit of being open later than most other places in downtown Mandalay. Price range: K2000-K4000. Location: 23rd street, between 83rd and 84th.
- 27th Street Food Stalls: When visiting Zegyo Market, you can discover quite a lot of great street stalls selling cheap and delicious chapatis and a wide range of other authentic and fast-food style snacks and drinks.
- Karaweik Tea House: Karaweik Tea House creates tasty dumplings as well as a variety of other traditional dishes. Price range: K1000-K3000. Location: 22nd street, between 83rd and 84th.
- Green Elephant: Green Elephant features an extraordinary atmospheric garden setting, and serves traditional Myanmar dishes, as well as Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Western cuisine. Price range: K10000-K15000. Location: 27th street, between 64th and 65th.
Where to stay in Mandalay?
Mandalay has numerous wonderful hotels in the downtown region, all within walking distance of many of the city’s major attractions.
Hotel by the Red Canal
No. 417 Corner of 63 & 22 streets | Aung Myae Tha Zan Township, Mandalay 952, Myanmar
Hotel by the Red Canal, Mandalay, is conveniently located just minutes from the renowned Mandalay Royal Palace as well as many other downtown attractions, The Hotel by the Red Canal is described as being a sanctuary, featuring lush tropical greenery and soothing water features. It really is an oasis amidst the heat and the bustle of Myanmar’s cultural city of Mandalay. The boutique-style Hotel by the Red Canal strives to honour all things Myanmar, boasting teak furniture and fixtures as well as fittings constructed from rattan, mother-of-pearl and other local Myanmar materials such as Myanmar marble that lines the bathroom walls. The guestrooms are designed in four different styles of customized suites, differentiated by individual style and bearing the names of the major ethnic groups in multicultural Myanmar. Rooms decorated with traditional paraphernalia reflecting each of the respective cultural heritage and balconies overlooking the swimming pool and gardens are all waiting for you at the Hotel by the Red Canal. An outdoor shower featuring a slate wall with a cascading water feature is the highlight of the Hotel by the Red Canal honeymoon suites.
Mandalay Hill Resort
9, Kwin 416.B, 10th Street | Foot of Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Myanmar
Located at the foot of one of the popular tourist holiday destinations the Mandalay Hill, and within easy walking distance of the Mandalay Royal Palace, the Mandalay Hill Resort is a crescent shaped hotel featuring air conditioned rooms, free internet access to keep you connected for work and play, a swimming pool, restaurant, gym and spa. The Mandalay Hill Resort is family friendly and offers child minding services for an extra fee, dry cleaning and laundry service. The prices are more expensive than most Mandalay hotels but you can’t beat the location, and the service you receive at the hotel is exceptional.
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