The last royal capital of Burma, Mandalay and the surrounding area are home to some of Myanmar’s most impressive landmarks. It is known in popular culture as a romantic and exotic city, inspiring poems, songs, and even a casino resort in Las Vegas.
Discover the culture and history of Mandalay with this quick guide to what to see and do in Myanmar’s second-largest city.
What Is There to Do in Mandalay?
Mandalay is a thriving city. It is the main commercial center of Upper Burma and second only to Yangon in the whole country. It is also the country’s center of Buddhism. It is also known for housing many of the temples considered as UNESCO sites.
Visitors can explore the city at their leisure or take a guided tour. Mandalay’s markets provide an echo of a bygone age, with traders haggling over jade, while its many teahouses offer an authentic Burmese experience with the friendly locals.
Perhaps most importantly for many travelers, Mandalay is home to a number of impressive landmarks, which are historically, culturally, or aesthetically significant. Here are some of the unique things to do in Mandalay.
Climb the Steps of Mandalay Hill
The city is actually named after this holy hill. According to tradition, the Buddha himself climbed Mandalay Hill and prophesied that a great city would be built there. The green and gold Sutaungpyei Pagoda can be found at the summit, where visitors can see panoramic views of Mandalay.
The top of the hill can be reached via 4 different stairways. The southern approach is guarded by 2 giant stone chinthes—stylized guardian lion figures.
Those who are unable or unwilling to climb the hill can catch a pick-up to the base of the pagoda, which runs approximately every 20 minutes.
It is advisable to visit in the evening to watch the sunset and avoid walking up in the heat of the day.
The night market at the foot of the Mandalay Hill is also worth a visit, with food and drink stalls, a swimming pool, and a rooftop bar.
Mandalay is a relatively young city. Founded in 1857 by the penultimate Burmese monarch King Mindon, it was built as a new capital for the kingdom. Mindon had a huge, extravagant palace constructed in the city, guarded by high walls and a moat.
Much of the original palace was destroyed during the Second World War, when Mandalay was bombed extensively by both sides. However, it has been reconstructed, giving visitors a glimpse into Burmese history.
Temples, Pagodas, and Monasteries of Mandalay
Mandalay is the center of Buddhism in Myanmar. There are many impressive buildings, such as temples and monasteries both within the city limits and in the surrounding area.
Multi-tiered pagodas or stupas typical of Eastern Asian countries have a distinctly Burmese design in Mandalay. They are generally used to house Buddhist relics and for meditation.
Visitors can admire the intricate architecture and cultural importance of the following landmarks:
- Shwenandaw Kyaung
- Kuthodaw Paya (home of the world’s largest book)
- Shwe In Bin Monastery
- Mahamuni Paya Buddha Temple
- Eindawya (Ein Daw Yar) Pagoda
- Sutaungpyei Pagoda
In the wider Mandalay region, travelers can visit the following attractions:
- Inwa, an ancient city 20 km south of Mandalay. It was abandoned in 1839, leaving behind old watchtowers, monasteries, and temples.
- Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo), the town provided a summer retreat for British colonial rulers. It is much cooler than Mandalay due to its high altitude. Pyin Oo Lwin has magnificent waterfalls, botanical gardens, and colonial architecture.
- Mingun, an immense unfinished stupa, the white Hsinbyume (Myatheindan) Pagoda, and the largest bell in the world (90 tonnes, 5m diameter) are the sights to see at this site.
Learn more about the popular sights and attractions of Myanmar.
Is Mandalay Safe for Tourists?
Mandalay, much like most tourist hot-spots in Myanmar, is perfectly safe. Crimes against tourists are very rare, petty theft is virtually non-existent, and there have been very few reports of visitors receiving any hassle at all in Mandalay.
While Myanmar has certain no-go areas, they are all far from tourist destinations such as Mandalay. In general, the worst thing that tourists have to watch out for is being overcharged for goods in the marketplace or for taxi rides.
Some general safety tips include:
- Take care on the road, as traffic can be chaotic
- Do not take photos of government buildings or military personnel
- Be respectful of Buddhism
- Watch out for snakes in less-visited areas and temples
- Avoid getting involved in political discussions or demonstrations
Learn more about safety in Myanmar for tourists.
The Road to Mandalay
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Mandalay”, later set to music and performed by Frank Sinatra, coined the famous phrase “on the road to Mandalay”. Nowadays the first step on the road to visiting this city involves applying for a Burmese eVisa. Check the visa requirements for Myanmar before applying.
International travelers can fly to Mandalay International Airport. There are also various roads and public transport connections with locations like Yangon or Bagan. Learn more about traveling to Mandalay with the Myanmar eVisa.