Mandalay—the name reverberates the aura of old majestic kingdoms, despite the fact that the city was established by King Mingdon Min of Burma only in 1857. Legend has it that the city was built to fulfil Lord Buddha’s prophecy for it to be a metropolis of Buddhism. As a modern city grows around Mandalay, Buddhist heritage is surprisingly well-preserved in the surrounding towns, which making Mandalay a time traveller’s dream come true.
Best of Mandalay
1. Mandalay Hill
Iconic Mandalay Hill stands tall at 230 metres, offering spectacular views of the nearby stupas, Ayeyarwady River, and a stunning panorama of the city. You can choose whether to climb 1729 steps of the covered stairway, take the escalator or a ride a motor vehicle to the top, where there are temples, a monastery, as well as a hall where the Peshawar Relic (the three fragments of bone of Buddha) is put on display.
2. Mahamuni Buddha Pagoda
Constructed after Buddha’s visit to Dhanyawadi City of Arakan in 554 BC, it is one of the most cherished Buddhist temples in the world, as it is home to the Mahamuni image. According to local folklore, once the image was cast, Buddha himself breathed upon it. Today, the Mahamuni Buddha is solemnly revered by devotees who gild the image with startling amounts of gold leaf.
3. Mandalay Palace
Reconstructed following its destruction in World War II, the last royal palace stands as a witness to the glory of the Mandalay kingdom. It occupies the centre of a vast complex enclosed by a moat and is surrounded by parks and towers.
4. Kuthodaw Pagoda
More than your usual pagoda, this creation of King Mingdon has 729 marble slabs inscribed with the complete text of the Tripitaka, scriptures in the Theravada Buddhism tradition. It is considered the world’s largest book, with each tablet housed in small Sinhalese relic shrines around the central golden pagoda.
5. Shwenandaw Monastery
The only palace structure saved from the Allied bombings in World War II, this 19th century teak monastery is admired for its intricate carvings. Although the glass mosaics and much of the gilding are gone, the building remains a fine example of Burmese woodwork.
The domed Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, niched Caves Pagoda, and fantastic hilltop vista stretching across temples and Inwa Bridge all make this ancient kingdom a favourite amongst day-trippers.
Just south from the city centre is the township of Amarapura which has a colourful history of its own. Here you can visit Kyawtawgi Paya, a stupa built by King Pagan in 1847, and Amarapura Palace ruins, which contain the tombs of King Bodawpaya and King Bagyidaw. But the highlight is definitely U Bein Bridge, a 1.2-km wooden foot bridge which is the world’s longest teak bridge—excellent for sunset photography.
8. Mandalay Marionettes Theatre
A colourful and entertaining cultural show consisting of Myanmar traditional dance, music, and puppetry with stories of Buddha and the Ramayana, the theatre offers an interesting insight into local arts and culture.
9. Shan Khao Swe
Green papaya salad is known the world over for the sweet/sour/salty/spicy punch it delivers. The Isan version includes picked mud fish, adding an unusual flavour that may take some getting used to.
10. Laphet Thoke
A crunchy and tasty side dish of pickled tea leaves, bean sprouts, nuts, seeds and greens, tossed with garlic oil and fish sauce. You’ll never look at tea the same way again.