With more and more people venturing towards the rugged and untamed shores of Myanmar, the busy town of Mandalay is slowly becoming a big tourist destination. On the outside, Mandalay looks like every busy city in Asia. With towering concrete buildings and busy streets congested with traffic, it’s enough to throw people off.
However, the more time you spend there, the more you will discover its rustic charm. From colorful walks around the moat, visits to various monasteries and pagodas, and of course, the endless string of teashops, there is so much more to this unassuming town. To help you discover and make the most out of your time in Myanmar, here’s our list of the best things to do in Mandalay that you shouldn’t miss.
Getting Around Mandalay
To get around Mandalay and most of its attractions, you will have to get a motorbike taxi/ taxi taking you from one place to the next. You also have an option to rent a motorcycle which you can use to drive around. Motorcycles range from10,000-12,000 kyat/day ($8) and is by far the best way to see this place.
However, if you’re not used to driving in Asia, we recommend you skip this as the traffic and horn honking in Mandalay can be likened to the busy streets in Vietnam. You can also opt for a private tour to take you around some of the main sites. To enter most of the tourist sites, you will need to avail of the tourist pass (payable only in local Kyat at 10,000) but gives you access to the following attractions:
- Atumashi Kyanugdawgi
- Schwenandaw Kyaung
- Mandalay Palace
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Top Things to See and Do in Mandalay
Climb Mandalay Hill
Naturally, I have to start with the main attraction. While most of Mandalay is flat, this hill offers a stunning elevated view of pretty much everything around you. For those that opt to scale up this hill, you will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the city walls, the surrounding moat, and various temples and pagodas with Irrawaddy River gleaming from afar.
If walking up the long staircase isn’t your thing, you can also opt to take a taxi and an elevator to enjoy these view. We personally recommend climbing the staircase which takes around 40 minutes. The entire thing has to be done barefoot up a covered concrete staircase and while the walk up is relatively easy, don’t forget to bring water and a torch if you plan on scaling up during sunset. Mandalay Hill is located outside the downtown area and is a 10-minute drive from the main city.
Fee: Free but there is a 1000 Kyat fee for cameras | Directions to Mandalay Hill
While you’re in Mandalay Hill, the Sandamuni Pagoda is located nearby. Here, you can see the largest iron Buddha, made up of over 41,000 pounds of iron. Best known for its large golden zedi along with hundreds of shrines containing inscribed marble slabs. The entire area has 1774 shrines, each housing a single marble slab which are inscribed with the teachings of the Buddha.
Located right across each other, these two pagodas are quite similar. However, Kuthodaw Pagoda is home to the world’s largest book. This “book” is actually made up of 729 standing stone “pages” with individual stupas known as a kyauksa gu.
They span across the vast pagoda grounds in long organized rows to spectacular effect and are well worth a visit. Filled with sacred teachings representing 15 books of Buddha’s teachings, every page of the book is about a meter wide and two meters tall. Overall, it’s a very interesting place to visit and is worth wandering around before you descend up Mandalay Hill.
Editor’s Note: Take a look at our ultimate Myanmar Travel tips page for a complete breakdown on how to travel Myanmar like a boss
Mandalay Palace used to be more than just the royal residence. It was like a little-walled city which had a Glass Palace quarters, an audience hall, and a military area. While most of it was destroyed during World War II, the restoration has been well on their way since the 1990’s.
While you’re there, there is a watch tower which you can climb combined with a few informational signs pertaining to its history. While you’re there, be sure to climb the tower to take in the view of the surrounding moat. If you’re interested in history, the palace is a great place to walk around during the day, however, I wasn’t fussed walking around.
Fee: Part of the $10 tourist ticket | Directions to Mandalay Palace
Being a lover of the outdoors, I really enjoyed the scenic views of the U-Bein Bridge. Earning its rights as a must visit while in Mandalay, the bridge is the longest teak footbridge in the world and spas around 1300 yards long across the Taungthaman Lake.
For those looking to capture the beauty of this place, I suggest you opt to come during sunset. The reflections in the lake is stunning and the locals usually are out and about making it an enjoyable experience where you can watch them go about their everyday lives. If you’re looking for a fun activity, you can also check out this sunset bike tour which goes to the U-Bein bridge.
Go on A Day Trip in Nearby Areas in Mandalay
After you’ve exhausted going around the city and downtown area of Mandalay, you can also consider going on a day trip around nearby areas. You can book tours with popular tour providers such as Flymya which offers day excursions to Mingun, Ava, and Sagaing.
Go on a Food Trip
Everywhere you go, you will see heaps of street food and local restaurants where you can drop by when you’re not busy sightseeing. While Burmese food doesn’t really stand out compared to its nearby Southeast Asian neighbors, the food is still worth trying out as there are just a wealth of undiscovered flavors.
Best way to enjoy the local life of Mandalay is to sit back in a local restaurant, drink some tea and watch the world go by. If you’re a bit weary of street food, try out Super 81 has more of a middle range restaurant feel. The food is good, serving the most flavorful chicken cooked in coconut gravy and tea leaf salad.
Related: What to Eat in Myanmar
Shwenandaw Kyaung (Teak Temple)
This teak temple used to be part of the royal palace and is now one of the only original building parks. While it is modest, if you’re interested in art and architecture, the intricate wood carvings are a sight to see showcasing the beautiful teak wood architecture. It is currently going through lots of renovation and restoration, but regardless, it is still considered a point of interest while in Mandalay.
Shwenandaw Kyaung was originally part of the royal palace where King Mindon lived and is the only major original building that remains. The elaborate details of the woodcarvings, symbolizing Buddhist myths, possess incredible depth and character. It’s a true masterpiece in Burmese teak wood architecture.
Fee: Part of the $10 tourist ticket | Directions to Shwenandaw Kyaung
Head to Dee Doke Waterfalls
While exploring the city of Mandalay is fun, we recommend that you get out of the city for a day and explore the nearby Dee Doke Waterfalls, home to the bluest and most beautiful natural pools in Myanmar. Located about 38 miles near Pyin Oo Lwin’s Village, you will find a five-step body of water which glimmers due to the limestone surrounding it.
You can opt to swim in the natural pool but be wary as some steps are slippery. There are a few rocks where you can climb and jump from but it is often frowned upon as accidents have happened before. A trip to the waterfalls is a great escape from the constant heat of Mandalay city and can be done within a day. A trip here takes about 1 hour away from the main city.
Other nearby attractions: Anisakan waterfalls which stand at an impressive 120m tall!
Hopefully, this article has given you an idea on what to do in the city of Mandalay. While Yangon, Bagan, and even Inle Lake are more popular amongst tourists, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a whole lot to see and enjoy in the area. What about you, what’s your favorite thing to do in Mandalay?