Myanmar’s charm comes from the physical manifestation of their Burmese culture shown through gold-plated pagodas, rivers, markets, and street food. Aside from jaw-dropping sites, the locals make the tour more enjoyable for the tourists.
If other Asian countries have beaches and fascinating architecture, Myanmar has marvelous religious sites and monasteries that add an air of mystery in the country. Yangon is the usual destination of travelers in the country. However, Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, is as gorgeous as Yangon but often skipped by travelers. The temples are as historic and majestic with a rich history of royalty that adds depth and character to the city.
So, what’s not to like in Mandalay?
If you are planning to visit Mandalay, bear these things in mind.
Do I need a Visa to Visit Myanmar?
Tourists need to apply for an e-visa to be allowed to visit any part of Myanmar. Avail it online and pay $50 for a tourist e-visa. If you are visiting Myanmar for a business trip, you have to apply for a business e-visa for $70. The tourist e-visa allows you to stay for 28 days in the country. Note: Citizens of some countries, including the Philippines, are allowed to visit Myanmar for up to 14 days. ( Check the visa-free countries here)
Language in Myanmar
Only a few speak English, so it’s best to learn basic Burmese phrases like hello, thank you, and goodbye.
How to get Money in Myanmar
ATMs and Money exchange are everywhere, so it’s accessible for you to withdraw money whenever and wherever they need. Just make sure that you have a back-up plan because, in my case, my ATM didn’t work in Myanmar, especially in Bagan, so I relied on Money exchange.
When is the Best time to visit Mandalay?
The best time to visit Mandalay is around November to February because of milder temperatures. The temperature in Mandalay during the dry season can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. We wore shorts and shirts since it was too hot in the city when we visited.
How to Get To Mandalay
There are direct flights to Mandalay for some airlines. Mandalay Airport is the largest airport in the country, which caters to both international and domestic flights.
How to get to Mandalay from Bagan
If you are traveling from Bagan, you can take the first boat to Mandalay, or you can take the train for $15 that takes 7 hours. The train departs once a day only at 7 PM. You also have to book your ticket in advance either online or at the hotel you’re staying at. Don’t forget to claim your paper ticket that will be delivered to your hotel. You can also ride a night bus to Mandalay that costs $12 and takes 5-7 hours and arrive at the city at 4 AM. Taxis can also take you to Mandalay but can be quite costly at $69 and can take around 5-7 hours to reach Mandalay. The fastest and the most convenient would be taking a plane that costs $60 and arrives in 30 minutes.
How to get to Mandalay from Inle Lake
If you are traveling from Inle Lake, you can take a bus to get to Mandalay. There are day buses – which are minivan shuttles – that cost $10-16 and take 7-8 hours to arrive in Mandalay. If you are not comfortable with being squeezed with other people, skip this means of transport. For a more comfortable ride, you can take the full-size night buses that look like moving hostels. You’ll arrive at around 3:30 AM to 5:30 AM. If you have the budget, take a taxi to get to Mandalay for 130,000 kyats ($100). The taxi ride takes 6-7 hours. If you don’t have the time to travel by land for 5-8 hours, there’s a domestic flight available to reach Mandalay in 30 minutes. The plane ticket costs $65.
Getting Around Mandalay
There are motorbike taxis, or mototaxis, that could take you to different tourist attractions in Mandalay. A mototaxi costs 2,000 kyats ($1.50) while a car taxi costs 3,000-5,000 kyats ($2-$4). If you have an unlimited budget, it’s better to hire a private driver to avoid the hassle. It will cost 25,000-45,000 kyats. For nearby places, you can also ride a motorcycle for only 10,000-20,000 kyats for a day. You can also use Grab or Oway.
Things to Do in Mandalay
1.Climb Mandalay Hill
Mandalay Hill is the perfect spot to marvel at the city at the top. The city walls, pagodas, the moat, and the Irrawaddy River are visible from the hill. This 240-meter hill is 10 minutes away from the city.
You’ll have to climb the long, concrete staircase barefoot for 40 minutes until you reach the top where the Sutaungpyei Pagoda sits. If you are not fond of climbing a hill, much more barefoot, taxis can take you to the top and ride an elevator or an escalator. You’ll run into some students and monks and chat with you to practice their English.
You should also try eating the fried crickets when you visit Mandalay Hill. It sounds unappetizing but the locals surely love fried crickets. And crickets are rich in protein, too!
2. Visit the largest Iron Buddha in Sandamuni Pagoda
Myanmar is a Buddhist country wherein 88% of the population is Buddhists, which explains the abundance of pagodas in the country. Sandamuni Pagoda houses the largest iron Buddha made up of over 41,000 pounds of iron, which was built in 1802. Remember to dress modestly when visiting pagodas. For women, you have to cover your shoulders and knees while for men you have to cover your shoulders, too. Also, never point to the Buddha with your feet.
3. Check out the largest book in Kuthodaw Pagoda
At the base of Mandalay Hill near Sandamuni Pagoda lies Kuthodaw Pagoda where you’ll find the largest book.
Why is it the largest?
Stretching across the grounds in a row, the book is made of 729 standing slabs that are the pages of the book representing the 15 books of Buddha’s teaching. Each page is 1 meter wide and 2 meters tall. If you read it at the rate of 8 hours per day, you’ll likely finish the book in a year. Just imagine!
4.Take a short history trip around Mandalay Palace
Located in the middle of a 64-meter wide moat, Mya Nan San Kyaw Palace or Mandalay Palace was the royal residence of the last two kings of the Burmese monarchy.
Upon entering, it looks like a little walled city with a military area, an audience hall, and a palace quarters. It ceased to be the royal residence when the royal family was captured in 1885. It used to house troops until it got destroyed in the allied bombings during World War II.
It is now a huge fort with a watchtower overlooking the moat. There are informational signs that you’ll see that pertain to the history of the ruins. You can either walk or take a taxi to get there.
5. Walk along U-Bein Bridge
Built in 1949 spanning around 1200 meters across Taungthaman Lake, U-Bein bridge is the longest teak footbridge in the world.
Locals love to spend an afternoon or early morning at the bridge because of its relaxing atmosphere. Sunsets are breathtaking when seen from the bridge but lots of people stop by the bridge to watch the sunset so if you want to avoid the crowd, start your morning to watch the sunrise here. You can also join a sunset bike tour that includes the bridge in its itinerary.
It’s a 45 minutes-1 hour drive from Mandalay. The lake may smell funky, by the way. Also, check out the big sunflower field (which is perfect for snapping photos next to the bridge.
6.Admire the intricate wood carvings in Shwenandaw Kyaung (Teak Temple)
Shwenandaw Kyaung is famous for its intricate wood carvings and teak architecture that symbolizes Buddhist myths. It used to be part of the royal palace where King Mindon lived then turned into a monastery after the king died. Today, it is the only major building left from the ruins.
7. Visit the “Unfinished Pagoda”
11 kilometers up the Ayeryawady River, Mingun Pahtodawgyi is famous for its cracks running through it caused by an earthquake that struck in 1839.
It would have been the largest pagoda around 490 feet had it not been for the prophecy that the king will die if the construction is completed. Aside from that, the construction itself was difficult. The pagoda stands at 50-meters tall, only a third of its intended size.
The Mingun Bell is also an attraction when you visit the pagoda. You’ll notice that it seems out of place but it’s because it was never put into place as the construction of the pagoda ended. It weighs around 90 tons and stands at 13 feet tall. It was the largest ringing bell until 2000.
You have to ride a boat from Myan Gyan Jetty at 9 AM for an hour. Purchase your tickets for Mingun Pagoda at the boat dock that costs 5,000 kyats. Or you can hire a private driver and purchase tickets on the roadside booths.
8. Take a snap at Hsinbyume Pagoda
Just across Mingun Pagoda is a picture-perfect breathtaking white temple. The temple stands out in contrast with the clear blue sky on a sunny day. You might also run into some monks when you get there. The proper way to greet a monk is by placing your hands together in prayer form on a face level then bow.
9. Visit Sagain
After visiting Mingun, head to the beautiful place of Sagain. The most suggested activity is to climb Sagain Hill. Take a short drive to the west from the hill and visit the egg-shaped pagoda called Kaunghmudaw Pagoda. It was once painted white to symbolize purity, but it is now painted gold like most of the pagodas in Myanmar. You can also marvel at the 45 Buddha statues in U-Min Thonze Cave just 10 minutes up north.
10. Explore the city of Innwa
Also known as “Ava,” Innwa was the capital of Burma in the 14th-19th century. It was abandoned when an earthquake struck the city in 1839.
Today, horse carriage tours are popular when you visit Innwa. The tour takes 2 hours, taking you to 4 main sights in the city, including Bagaya Monastery, Yandana Sine Pagoda, Nan Myint Watch Tower, and Mai Nu Monastery. The tour costs 10,000 kyats to which the carriage only takes 2 people, excluding the driver.
Ride a ferry across Mytinge River to get to Innwa for 1,300 kyats and arrive in 30 minutes.
11. Take a food trip around the city
Myanmar has a variety of street food that is affordable and tasty. You should try the fried crickets or Mandalay Mee Shay noodles. It is a Burmese rice noodle with a myriad of toppings and topped with meat sauce. It’s just 2 minutes away from Hotel Yadanabon and perfect for breakfast. Stroll around the night market for a street food feast.
Where to Stay in Mandalay
Most hotels are just a walking distance from tourist attractions. You can choose from several types of hotels, ranging from budget hotels to luxury hotels, depending on your budget. The rooms are clean and spacious so you don’t have to worry about comfort. We stayed at Hotel Yadanabon, which is close to several attractions that offer quality service.
1.Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel ( check rates and availability)
Just outside the ancient Mandalay Palace is a traditional and lush property with a hotel building and many small villas. Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel was named after Mandalay City’s ancient name, Kingdom of Yadanabon, back when King Mindon established it in the 19th century. Yadanabon was the last royal capital of the Burmese Kingdom and it is where Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel currently stands.
My first impression of the Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel was that it was pretty grand for a 3-star hotel. The place felt like a palace with its traditional Burmese decorations and furniture. I also felt peaceful with all the palm trees and green garden all around. I almost forgot we were in the middle of bustling Mandalay City.
The Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel is situated at a prime location, near the busy main streets of Mandalay City. It’s within walking distance to numerous restaurants and cafes. But even if the hotel area is a bit commercial, the street where it stands is pretty quiet. As I previously mentioned, Mandalay Palace is a short distance away from the hotel. You can also reach Mandalay Hill in less than 15 minutes.
They offer guests three kinds of bedrooms to choose from. The Deluxe Room and Superior Room are in the main hotel, while the Villa Rooms are the tiny little cottages lining the garden. Both Villas and Deluxe Rooms have balconies.
Our bedroom was very spacious. All the sheets and each corner of the room were clean. There is a TV, fridge, safety box, and an electric kettle. We also received complimentary coffee and tea and bottled waters. They also provide a hair dryer, towel and other consumable toiletries. O
We checked in without hitch at the Yadanarpon Dynsaty Hotel. Their staff was very welcoming and polite to us. The receptionist was extra accommodating and the service in the room and the restaurant area was provided consistently and efficiently when we needed it.
The hotel provides good Internet service even in the bedroom area. You get free breakfast with your room accommodations. Their food selection ranged from Local to Western cuisine. A rooftop terrace and bar with an infinity pool is also available for every guest.
On top of the main building of Yadanarpon Dynasty, you’ll find a wooden deck area with an infinity pool. From there, you’ll catch an amazing view of the historic Mandalay Hill, from which Mandalay City was named after. If you can, also try to catch a glimpse of the sunset. You can dine just off the deck or sip a cocktail on the lounge by the pool.
Although centrally located, the Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel is a peaceful oasis in Mandalay City. It is easily accessible for tourists and locals alike. Local restaurants and cafes are all within walking distance, while tourist attractions are all within tuktuk riding distance. Once you’re done sightseeing around the city, you can expect to enjoy a cozy evening’s rest at the Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel.
Location: No. B 413, 65th Street, Between 27th & 28th Street Between 27th & 28th Street, Chan Aye Thar Zan, Mandalay 11121 Myanmar
2. Hotel Yadanarbon ( check rates and availability)
When visiting a new place, I always believe that being near the action is the best place to be. Which is why Hotel Yadanarbon was a great choice to stay in when my friends and I visited Mandalay City, Myanmar.
Hotel Yadanarbon is right in the heart of downtown Mandalay. I can’t count the number of times we walked outside to explore. We found so many good food and famous restaurants along the streets just a few ways outside the hotel. I was able to try Mandalay Mee Shay Noodles for the first time, and it was so good.
The local market is also near, which is convenient when you buy a lot of goodies because you don’t have to lug your shopping across long distances. You can easily hail a tuk tuk if you wish to tour the city. You’ll find the Mandalay Royal Palace and Mandalay Railway Station just a few blocks away too. It’s really a good base to stay at because of its convenient location.
From outside the hotel, you would think that Hotel Yadanarbon was just another simple hotel. But step inside its main entrance and you’ll immediately be transported to a warm and inviting lobby. The place feels like a friend’s home, especially with the wooden furniture, wicker chairs and local artwork. My favorite part was the roof deck, which was so chill and relaxing.
We stayed in the Premiere Deluxe with Balcony. I noticed that it was really clean and bright. All their guest rooms have air conditioning, TV, a seating area, a fridge, and a safety box. They also provide an electric kettle with complimentary instant coffee and tea for guests. Their bathrooms are all equipped with a bathtub, hairdryer and free toiletries.
Their front desk operates 24/7, so you can expect them to be there when you need them at anytime. Their staff was very friendly and helpful, especially with whatever we needed for the hotel room. They offered local and continental buffet breakfast for their guests on the 6th floor. You can also request for transportation services to and from the international airport, if you need it.
There is an onsite restaurant in the hotel, which is good for those who don’t want to go out anymore. Free parking is available for their hotel guests. WIFI is also very strong in all areas of the hotel, so that was a big plus. They also perform free cultural shows every night, like their puppet show and traditional dances. Massage services are also available to those who need a little rest and relaxation.
I mention the pool separately because I really think it deserves its own special mention. The rooftop pool and rooftop terrace were my favorite part of the hotel. This area offered panoramic views of Mandalay City. A stunning spectacle, especially considering the pool is just right at the edge of the building’s roof, reflecting the sky. They also placed a few lounge chairs beside the pool to laze around after a busy day exploring the city.
If you need a place to stay in Mandalay, I highly recommend booking a room in Hotel Yadanarbon. It’s conveniently located near a lot of restaurants and tourist attractions. You have plenty of transport options to choose from: walking, riding a tuk- tuk or grabbing a taxi. Plus their hotel rooms are super clean and comfortable, you’ll be sure to want to spend an extra night there.
No 125, 31st Street Between 76th & 77th Street, Mandalay 00952 Myanmar
So, there you have it. There’s a lot more you can do in Mandalay like visiting monasteries so if you have the time, squeeze a few hours to visit them.