Just a short flight from Yangon is the inland city of Mandalay. The airport is located about 1 hour drive from the city’s downtown – a slow, bumpy journey in the airport shuttle bus along wide roads lined by mango farms.
I stayed at the Rupar Mandalar, a beautiful resort on the outskirts of town. The lush grounds are filled with tropical plants including fragrant frangipani and bright red hibiscus. The swimming pool is the perfect place to escape the heat and take advantage of the swim up bar. The only downside is that the resort is a little out of town and there are no nearby restaurants, a taxi costs approximately $15USD which can get costly to go in and out of town for meals and sightseeing.
For the first day I joined a fantastic tour ‘A Glimpse of Mandalay‘ which included a market visit learning about local produce and buying ingredients for lunch, morning tea at a local tea shop, cooking class at a local home where you are the chef and make your own delicious lunch, a bike ride through the rice fields and local villages and finally sunset from Yan Kin Hill. This full day tour was brilliant with some down time between activities to chat with other travellers and to the local guide Aung.
On day two I hired a private driver to get around. The beauty of having my own driver was being able to plan my own itinerary and see as much or as little as I wanted.
First stop – Mandalay port to catch the local ferry to Mingun 30 minutes up river to the ancient incomplete pagoda of Mingun Pahtodawgyi. This was intended to be the biggest pagoda in the world until a prophesy put an end to construction. Years later an earthquake created impressive crevices in the monument. This imposing structure stands at a towering 50m high and 72 wide and can be climbed barefoot almost to the top up many bricked steps (do this early in the day as the bricks get hot underfoot!). Try walking around the base of the entire monument to escape the crowds, at the back it is peaceful and great for photographs.
Returning to town on the ferry the afternoon was spent exploring the many temples of Mandalay, my favourites were:
- Mandalay Hill – a mirrored hill top shrine painted in vibrant colours with views across Mandalay and the Irrawaddy River
- Sandamuni Pagoda – hundreds of shrines topped with shining gold umbrellas and tinkling bells
- Kuthodaw Pagoda – home of the ‘worlds largest book’ 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings housed in ornate white shrines
- Shwenandaw Monastery – an intricately carved teak monastery once situated in the Royal Palace and and gilded with gold
A popular sight for sunset is U-bein bridge the worlds longest teak wood bridge. This is a crowded spot and visitors and locals alike visit to see the sunset here. The bridge is a good half hour drive from downtown Mandalay so make sure you allow plenty of time to get there so you don’t miss the magical sundown.
Mandalay is worth visiting to see some impressive ancient treasures. If you have limited time two days will be enough time to explore the highlights alternatively if you want to pace yourself and enjoy the sights more casually and have time to relax 3-4 days would be good. Many visitors don’t stay too long in Mandalay using it as a brief stopover on their way to Bagan, the country’s jewel in the crown home to over 2000 ancient temples and shrines.
Read the third and final part of ‘On The Road to Myanmar’ to see the sights of Bagan. Also if you missed it read part one of the adventure featuring Yangon formerly known as Rangoon and the countries capital city.