Mandalay is the second largest city (after Yangon), and a former capital of Myanmar. The city is the economic and religious hub of upper Myanmar. The city is centred around the Royal Palace, and has wide lanes filled with bicycles and motorcycles. Mandalay is known for its millionaires, its monks (half of the country's monks reside in Mandalay and surrounding areas), and its cultural diversity.
Mandalay, the very name evokes the splendors of the Burma of old. But, most people will be surprised to learn that Mandalay is not an old city, not even a medieval one, but rather a new city that was created by King Mingdon Min of Burma in 1857 as the new capital of the kingdom of Ava. Only two Burmese kings ruled from there, King Mingdon and King Thibaw, before the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885. It was a city of splendor between 1858 and 1885 but most of the magnificence is gone, destroyed by the fire that consumes wooden structures and by intensive bombing by the Allies during the Second World War. The city, neatly planned with its lettered roads and numbered streets, is a British creation. The once magnificent Royal Palace and the great Atumashi (incomparable) pagoda, King Mingdon Min's finest creations, are modern reconstructions supervised by the ruling Military junta with the help of forced labour. Today, Mandalay lies at the end of the Lashio Road and it is, by Burmese standards, relatively prosperous as a centre for trade with China and as a centre for the growing trade with India. Despite the capital having been moved to Naypyidaw, Mandalay remains by far the main commerical centre of Upper Myanmar.
Mandalay is ethnically diverse, with the Bamar (Burmans) forming a slight majority. In recent years, there has been a major influx of Chinese from Mainland China, and the local Chinese (both recent migrants and descendants of colonial-era immigrants) form 30 to 40% of the population. Their influence is seen in the China-style glass buildings throughout the city, while the Yunnan dialect of Mandarin is often spoken among the ethnic Chinese community. Other prevalent ethnic groups include the Shan, who are ethnically and linguistically related to the Thais and Laotians, and the Karen (Kayin). There is a sizable ethnic Indian population, including Nepalis and Sikhs.
Mandalay has a semi-tropical climate. Winter (which is dry and cold) lasts from November to February, and summer lasts from March to May. Because Mandalay is in the central dry zone, it receives far less rain than the more tropical south.
Mandalay International Airport, a gleaming modern facility, serves the area with flights to most places in Myanmar and some international flights. Air Mandalay used to provide a service, twice a week, flying from Chiang Mai, Thailand, however, it was suspended in 2008 and, whilst rumours persist, the service has not yet restarted. There are also 3 flights weekly to and from Kunming on MU2029 for about RMB2000 one way.
Air Asia is starting a direct flight from Bangkok, from 04th October 2012 onward with 4 flights per week.
The airport is far from the city, 45km on a modern highway (with a few hiccups). Expect to pay US$8 to central Mandalay, US$6 from central Mandalay, and US$30 to/from Pyin U Lwin.
From Yangon There are several trains daily from Yangon. While the tracks are old and, in some cases, the carriages may be old, the fifteen hour journey is quite pleasant. Note that in Fall of 2006 all trains were rescheduled to travel during the day (so that trains do not cross Pyinmana in the dark) but at least one train (the privately managed Dagon Mann Express) now runs overnight. Fares range from about US$15 (ordinary class/hard seat) to US$50 (Air Conditioned Sleeper on the Dagon Mann Express).
From Lashio, Hsipaw, and Pwin U Lwin There are two trains daily from Pyin U Lwin (US$4/$2) and one from Lashio via Hsipaw and Pwin U Lwin (US$9/3 from Hsipaw). These trains are slow, crowded, but fascinating. The Pyin U Lwin - Hsipaw section includes the famous Gokteik Viaduct, a feat of Raj ingenuity (and American construction!).
From Myitkyina This twenty-four hour journey is on old rolling stock and even older tracks so expect it to be bumpy!
From Yangon There is a night bus with air-con (there are 5 options, 5PM, 6PM, 7PM, 9PM and 930PM departure, 10400k, 8.5-9 hours) running into Mandalay. Almost certainly the cheapest option for getting between the two main cities in Myanmar.
From Inle Lake, Kalaw or Mid-Eastern Towns There are buses available along this route, either a day minibus (5AM departure, 9000k, 9 hours) or a night bus with air-con (6PM departure). The minibus in the day takes a slightly shorter route than the larger (and some say more comfortable) full-sized night bus. Expect windy and bumpy roads, stops for picking up and putting down passengers, and, if you are lucky, a search of the bus by un-uniformed and just-bribed police officers.
From the Highway Bus Station you can either take a taxi or pick-up into town. Taxis are overly expensive (quoting prices as high as 2000k per person or 6000k for the car), and often bargain in a mob fashion (except they all offer the same price and try and gang-up on you). A far cheaper option is to simply walk out of the bus station yards to the West, and find one of the pick-ups which just ran a load of people to the station from town (500k per person) - they are normally more than happy to help and there is no commission issues to worry about.
Taxis are relatively inexpensive and are excellent for travelling around Mandalay, though they do not have Aircon.
Many sights are centered around Mandalay Hill, which makes foot-walking feasible in that area.
The best and cheapest way to see the city is by bicycle, as traffic isn't as heavy as in other Asian cities.
Renting a motorcycle can be a dangerous exercise in Mandalay since the driving can be hectic but it is a great way to see the city if you are an experienced rider. Some hotels on 25th street(near zeycho)rent bikes and there is an American expat in downtown who rents dirtbikes and motorbikes that can be dropped of at your hotel email@example.com
Trishaws(cycle rickshaws)are a convenient way of getting around in Mandalay, and if you find a driver who speaks good English you can have a tour guide and transport together for a reasonable price with a little bargaining. They only hold one or two(back to back) people though.
Maha Myat Muni Paya (Burmese: ma-ha myah mu-ni pei-ya)  is Myanmar's second holiest pilgrimage site. It is a 4-metre high Buddha statue, made of gold and decorated with precious jewels. The image was brought from Rakhine State, southeast of Mandalay.
Shwe Kyi Myin Paya (Burmese: shui ji myin pei-ya) was built in the 1st century, by Prince Min Shin Saw.
Sandamuni Paya (Burmese: san-da-mu-ni pei-ya), located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, is similar to Kuthodaw Paya, an adjacent site. Sandamuni contains the world's largest iron Buddha image.
Kuthodaw Paya (Burmese: ku-tho-dau pei-ya) is site of the world's largest book, located at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Built by King Mingdon in the 1800s, 729 white stupas within the complex contain the complete text of the Tripitaka, Theravada Buddhism's most sacred text.
Shwenandaw Monastery is a monastery made entire out of teak wood with beautiful intricate carvings. It was originally part of the royal palace built by King Mindon and moved to its current location by his son, King Thibaw in the late 19th century. It is the only major building from the original wooden royal palace to have survived the bombing during World War II, and thus is the only authentic part of the royal palace which can still be seen today.
Mandalay Hill (Burmese: man-da-lei thaonh) is a 230-metre hill located near Mandalay. Along its path are several monasteries and temples. At its top are famous pagodas and temples. Beautiful at sunset and many monks also make the trip up for sunset to practice their English with foreigners.
Royal Palace (Burmese: man-da-lei nan-dau) is a walled city within Mandalay. It was built in 1861 by King Mindon, to fulfill a prophecy. The palace, although destroyed in World War II, was rebuilt, and was renovated recently. It was renovated using forced labour, and locals may advise you not to visit the place. In addition, while the design of the reconstruction was fairly faithful to the original, the materials used were not (metal was use instead of the original teak wood). The palace contains several pavilions and chambers. Tourists are required to enter from the East Gate. An almost kilometre walk connects the entry gate to the palace proper. Replicas of throne rooms and chairs and Madame Tussaud style images of Kings Mindon and Thibaw with their chief consorts are on display.
At the west end is the Palace Museum where all palace memorabilia is on display including religious paraphernalia, court ritual implements, court dresses and uniforms, furnitures, palanquins and litters, as well as armoury - all in their typical intricate Myanmar design and execution. There are also photo exhibits.
Mandalay Hill In the old days you had to climb Mandalay Hill on foot, a long and gruelling journey. Nowadays visitors can take a shared pick-up for a handfull of kyats and hang on to their dear lives (downhill is even scarier). The pick-ups leave every twenty minutes and bring you to the foot of the hill pagoda, where an entry fee of US$3 is collected and footwear is prohibited. However if you do take the many stairs up, you bypass the entry fee. A camera fee of 500 kyat is collected at the very top. The pagoda offers nice views of Mandalay and the surrounding plains. One can also rent a private pick-up for 5000 Kyat or so, a more comfortable option since the shared pick-ups can be very crowded.
Moustache Brothers, (any bicycle rickshaw), . A comedy trio who have served a total of 12 years in prison for their political (anti-government) performances and jokes. They are only allowed to perform from their home, for tourists. They perform every night, cost 8000 kyat, which goes towards helping political prisoners. Bicycle rickshaw drivers will undoubtedly approach you to strike a return pedal deal. The show lasts for about 1,5 hours and mostly features Burmese dance and some political jokes. K8000.
Waterfall Hill (Yaedagon Taung) is located on the east side of Mandaly, where you can have outdoor sports. Especially caving and rock climbing is the most favourite one since it is not spoiled, nor crowded and not far from the city.
Mahamuni Paya. Visit at around 4.30-5.00a.m for the amazing ceremony of washing the buddha's face, which occurs every day and is attended by hundreds of people.
Motorcycle Tour of Mandalay Outskirts. Many (if not all) motorcycle drivers can take you on the tour of the three main tourist draw villages surrounding Mandalay. Amarapura boasts the U Bien Bridge, the famous 1.2 km. teak bridge which is a popular sunset stop. Sagaing offers the chance to climb to Sagaing hilltop, dotted with gleaming golden and enormous payas, one of which can be reached by 300+ steps and offering a 360-degree view of and overlooking the Irrawady River. The town of Old Ava (also called Innwa) is usually reached by boat (2000 kyat round trip). Horse carts greet you on the other side and charge 6000 kyat to take you around to the main sites. Or alternatively, you can pay your motorcycle driver an extra 4000 kyat to tour you around (skipping the boat crossing and horse cart). The horse cart tour usually consists of three main attractions - the antiquated looking teak monastery Bagaya Kyuang (you cannot escape the $10 Mandalay ticket here), Nanmyin Palace Watchtower (the leaning tower of Ava), 27m high, and Mahar Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery. There are two other extra attractions - the ruined former palace gate and another unknown small scaled brick temple complex - a group of stupas and temples that serves as teaser for what's to come in Bagan. This temple is not signed, but there are two or three souvenir stalls set up at the entrance path, an indication that this is popular with tourists. The whole motorcycle tour costs 12,000 kyats (16,000 if you pay your driver to skip the boat and horse cart, saving you some kyats).(Mar.'12)
Watch Puppet Show @ Mandalay Marionettes Theatre, 66th St., Bet. 26th & 27th St., ☎ +95 (0) 234446, . . This is a hard to find show, not even in Yangon. Here, they are featured as a regular show.
Watch Classical Dance @ Mintha Theatre, 27th St., Bet. 65th & 66th St., ☎ 09-6803607, . 8:30 pm, daily. Classical court and folkloric dances that include a full 8-piece traditional orchestra8000 kyats.
Mingun. The boat to the village of Mingun departs at 9am and returns at 1pm (5000 kyat round trip). It takes about one hour there and 45 minutes back, giving you three hours to explore. You can climb the Mingun Paya for views of the village and across the river - its best to do this before it gets too hot. You are technically supposed to purchase the $3 Mingun/Amarapura ticket (going to the government) but tickets are only checked (sometimes) on the stairs to the top - make it look like you have bought a ticket by loitering in front of the ticket office to the right of the stairs. Or just start climbing and see if they check you (though if you come straight to the stairs from the boat they probably will). Other sites include the world's largest uncracked bell and Hsinbyume Paya, the white pagoda you can see from the top of Mingun Paya.
Zegyo Market (Burmese: zei-gyo) is a collection of bazaar street markets located near the city centre.
Mandalay, both due to its history as a former capital of Myanmar, and its position as a major trading centre between Myanmar and it's neighbours in China, India and Bangladesh has a notable array of specialties both from various regions within Myanmar as well as from other countries. Cuisine from the Shan State (usually including fermented pastes, vegetables, and meats) is popular in Mandalay which has a notable Shan minority. Muslim Chinese noodles, pronounced pan-THEI-kao-sweh (flat thin noodles mixed with an array of spices, chili, and chicken), are also famous in Mandalay and the surrounding hills. Regardless of where you eat, try and leave space for Htou moun(to-moh), a traditional Burmese dessert sold only in Mandalay. Beware, it contains a lot of oil and is extremely sweet.
Mann Restaurant, 83rd Street (Between 25th & 26th Streets). A Chinese restaurant, frequented by locals, but not so much by foreigners. Has a number of basic Chinese meals, at around 2000k a plate. Easily recognised from the street by the abundant yellow and black advertising for a local whisky brand. (They do sell beer and alcohol here too, Myanmar Beer at 1500k a bottle compared to 2000k in Yangon.)
Too Too Myanmar Cuisine, 28th Street (Between 74th & 75th Streets). Supposedly has the best Burmese food in whole Mandalay.
Street Pancakes (Indian roti), 81st & 26th (enter unmarked alley going west, next to Myawaddy Bank). In the southwest block of 81st & 26th streets, enter the unmarked alley besides the Myawaddy Bank during the afternoon to find a pleasant indian lady making savoury and sweet street pancakes in a cast iron frying pan in front of her house. Cheap, delicious, and pleasant company.
Nepali Food, 81st St, between 26 and 27. Simple and delicious chapatis served with three curries (1500-2000 kyat)
Nylon Ice Cream Bar, The corner of 83 and 25. Serves a variety of ice creams from chocolate to durian - delicious and surprisingly cheap (300 kyat and up)
V Cafe, No. 408, Corner of 80th & 25th street (Very near Royal guest house), ☎ 09-6804928.. Definitely belonging to the cool cafe at Mandalay with good food, very friendly and attentive service at fair price. A nice escape out of furious street and dreary from a tiring day. 5/10 USD.5-10 USD.
Shwe Gokai, 35th street (between 68th and 67th streets) (North side of 35th street a few shops west of 68th street). This is a Chinese BBQ restaurant famous for it's BBQ beef tongue and rice noodle soup (ba ba si). There is no english sign but it is easy enough to find as it is the only BBQ restaurant on the Noth side of 35th street. It is next to a pottery store with many clay pots in front.
Golden Coffee Shop, No. 80/4, 35th street Between 88th and 89th streets. Free Wi-Fi. Decently priced fruit shakes and coffees and a good array of snacks on display. Friendly staff try their best with English but best take a phrasebook if you want to do more than point at pictures on menus.500-2000 kyat for drinks Similar for food/snacks.
Mandalay has several tourist-friendly accommodations. Many hotels face the Royal Palace.
Most budget guesthouses are located around 25th Street, between 81st and 84th Streets. There are many more than those listed here.
AD1 Hotel, Eindawya Sintada Steet, Chan Aye Thar San Township (East of the Eindawya Pagoda), ☎ 02-34505/09-6502430. Great place to stay! Central location in the heart of Zeygo market. Rooftop is something special. Rooms are tacky and bathrooms dated but the price is right. $15USD Double rate as of March 4 201210/15US$.
Peacock Lodge, 5 61st St., Mandalay, ☎ +95-2-33411. Terrific homestay B&B, with very friendly family staff. A little bit out of the centre, also has a bike rental.US$20.
Rich Queen, 87th Street, Bet: 26th&27th Streets, ☎ 02-260172, 0991028348. Place is very new and has a flash backpacker feel to it. Has modern facilities including the bathrooms. All rooms have air con.15 USD Single, 25 USD Double.
Royal Guesthouse, No. 41 25th Street (Between 82nd & 83rd Streets, Southern side.), ☎ 0265697. checkout: 12 Midday. Popular, Lonely Planet "Our Pick". This place does fill up pretty quickly, so if you want to be sure - place a reservation before arriving in Mandalay. Cheaper rooms have fan and shared bathroom (Double rate as of August 15th 2012 US$14) - more expensive have aircon and attached bathroom (Double rate as of August 15th 2012 US$19). The aircon is on the government grid and so will go down during (common) blackouts. Friendly staff, and close to the Royal Palace. Bike rental (1500k per day, negotiable) available across the road.
ET Hotel, 83rd and 23rd/24th Street, ☎ 65996, 66547(?). Nice and clean, free wi-fi, tours and transport booking, friendly staff US$20.
Sabai Phyu Hotel, 81st and 25/26th Street, ☎ 39997. Despite the semi-squalid, cell-like rooms, due to the overpricing in Mandalay, this is probably the best bet in the area. Free drinking water. Breakfast for $1. Some of the best water pressure in Burma. US$10/20.
Mandalay Hill Resort, No.9, Kwin (416.B), 10th Street, . An 8-storey hotel located at the foot of Mandalay Hill.
Sedona Mandalay, No. 1, Junction of 26th & 66th Streets, . A Singaporean-owned hotel built blending traditional Burmese and modern architecture that faces the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill
Zegyo Hotel, 84th Street (Between 27th and 28th Streets, next to Zegyo market). Great location, clean rooms.
Mandalay is a haven for drug kingpins and is a main trading centre of illicit drugs. In 2005, an explosion occurred at Zegyo Market. That being said, Mandalay is generally a very safe city.
Amarapura (Pyi) - famous for its ancient sights, and for U Bein bridge, the world's longest teak bridge.
Maymyo (Pyin U Lwin) - former British hill station in a lush alpine forest. The small town contains a variety of colonial relics, and is most famous for its botanical gardens (modelled on England's Kew Gardens). Also known for the Defence Services Academy, the top-ranked military academy in Myanmar.
Mingun - best known for the Mingun Bell (one of the largest bells in the world), is a boat ride away.
Sagaing (to the east) - has many Buddhist temples and monasteries, especially on Sagaing Hill.
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