If you like golden temples, royal palaces, friendly monks and travelling by riverboat then you will love Mandalay. I was captivated by the stunning temples, the ancient traditions, the unique dress and the relaxed way of life.
I began my Myanmar trip in Mandalay with three days of exploring this fascinating city and there were so many highlights.
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My first impression of Mandalay came from the taxi driver who took me from the airport to my hotel. He was an older man and he wore a traditional wrap skirt known as a longyi. He was a gentle, peaceful soul who drove at about forty kilometres an hour. The relaxed pace was a stark contrast to the manic taxi ride to the airport in Bangkok I had experienced earlier in the day. I greeted the driver with “mingalabar” (hello in Myanmar) and he seemed genuinely pleased with my effort and taught me how to say thank you (Jaysu-ding- ba-de or Jaysu-bah).
After settling to my hotel I hired a tuk-tuk and went straight to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset. Soon after I started the steep climb up the hill to the pagoda, I was approached by a young monk about sixteen years of age. His name was Tup Tup and he asked me if he could walk with me and practise his English. We chatted easily as we climbed the steep staircase. He told me about his life at the monastery and how he taught the younger monks English. He explained that it was the custom in Myanmar for families to send their sons to the local monastery to become novice monks so they would learn to read, write and meditate.
- Tup Tup walked with me all the way to the Pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill and we watched the sunset together.
- The Ponnya Shin Temple, at the top of Sagaing Hill was another highlight.
- At the end of a wonderful day, my tuk-tuk driver took me back to Amarapura to the famous U Bein Bridge.
- The ferry trip to Mingun is relaxing and takes about an hour each way.
- The tourist ferry is a very relaxed & comfortable way to travel to Bagan.
- Where to stay in Mandalay
Tup Tup walked with me all the way to the Pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill and we watched the sunset together.
He posed happily for photos and seemed a bit disappointed when another young monk who also wanted to practise his English, started a conversation. The view over the countryside from the Pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill was lovely and the viewing platform was full of tourists and monks all enjoying the sunset. I appreciated the hospitality and the friendliness of the young monk and I felt very welcome in this beautiful country. I love travelling solo because I’m more open to experiences like this where I’m able to make connections with other people and learn about the culture of the country I’m visiting.
My second day in Mandalay was amazing! I hired a tuk-tuk, for the day to visit Sagaing and the famous U bein Bridge at Amarapura.
The friendly driver stopped many times along the way at monasteries, pagodas and viewpoints. One of the highlights of my private tour was watching a procession of around 1,000 monks as they entered the dining hall at the Mahagandayon Monastery. The monks gathered in the tree-lined streets and pathways of the monastery. They queued according to seniority holding their alms bowls with heads bowed as they waited for the orderly procession to start. It was a wonderful glimpse into a very different culture. The monks were surprisingly tolerant of the tourists looking on taking photos.
The Ponnya Shin Temple, at the top of Sagaing Hill was another highlight.
This temple had a stunning view over the Irrawaddy River and the hillside below, dotted with golden stupas. The viewing platform was paved with brightly coloured tiles and was full of local Myanmar people visiting the temple to pray and to socialise. Also enjoying the view, were a large number of monks, some visiting and taking photos like other tourists.
Nearby was another Buddhist Temple with a beautiful view. The U Min Thonze Temple is an artificial cave built into the side of the hill. It has 45 golden Buddha images in a semi-circular row and there are 30 entrances to the narrow temple. At the base of Sagaing Hill is the Sitagu Buddhist Academy with a stunning carved stupa gilded and embossed with dharma wheel patterns. It’s a university for talented young monks. I was amazed to find a carved statue of the Buddha from the 12th century amongst other carved statues at the front of the stupa.
At the end of a wonderful day, my tuk-tuk driver took me back to Amarapura to the famous U Bein Bridge.
Once the oldest & longest teak bridge in the world, U Bein Bridge was built around 1850 and crosses Taungthaman Lake. U Bein Bridge is a favourite spot to visit and was jam-packed with locals and tourists at sunset when the light is best for photographs.
The next day I took a taxi to the Mandalay dock area and caught a morning ferry to Mingun to see the ruined Mingun Pahtodawgyi, the beautiful and distinctive white Hsinbyume Pagoda and the giant Mingun bell. Mingun is approximately 11 kilometres northwest of Mandalay on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.
The ferry trip to Mingun is relaxing and takes about an hour each way.
There are lovely river views to enjoy and a rural landscape dotted with golden stupas and local people going about their lives near the riverbank. After lunch, I took another short ferry trip across the river to visit the ancient ruins of Ava. This felt like stepping back in time. I shared a horse and cart with another traveller and we went for a bumpy ride along dirt roads, stopping at a series of beautiful ruined temples and monasteries set in a timeless rural landscape.
Other places to see in the city of Mandalay are the impressive Mandalay Royal Palace, The beautiful Mahamuni Pagoda, the Shwenandaw Monastery made from teak wood and known for its beautiful carvings, and the Kuthodaw Pagoda at the base of Mandalay Hill. Here you can see the world’s largest book consisting of 1,460 stone tablets inscribed with Buddhist text held in 729 white stupas set around a central golden pagoda. The city of Mandalay is arranged in a grid-like pattern and is relatively easy to navigate. Taxis are cheap and I got around by walking or taking a motorbike taxi or a tuk-tuk if I wanted a bit more comfort.
I spent four nights in Mandalay and when it was time to leave I booked my ticket for the ferry boat to Bagan from the hotel reception desk. They also called a tuk-tuk driver to take me to the boat for the early morning departure. The driver very kindly carried my backpack & made sure I found my way onto the right boat as they were moored several boats deep at the dock. We climbed across three boats before finding the ferry heading to Bagan.
The tourist ferry is a very relaxed & comfortable way to travel to Bagan.
It was quite cold in the early morning and once we got underway there was a strong breeze. I enjoyed the beautiful river scenery, especially when we passed by Sagaing Hill, dotted with temples glowing golden in the early morning light.
After a very relaxing trip with food and refreshments provided, we arrived mid-afternoon in Bagan. Getting off the ferry was an unexpected adventure. There was no wharf and passengers had to walk along several narrow planks of wood over the water from the boat to the river bank. Balancing on the narrow plank while carrying my backpack was challenging but I reached the bank safely and was met by a throng of taxi drivers.
Where to stay in Mandalay
I stayed at the lovely Hotel Yadanarbon in Mandalay. I loved the beautiful rooftop pool with a view over the city.
But If you’re after a luxury five-star hotel try the Mercure Mandalay Hill Resort. I didn’t stay here but it’s in a great location near the Royal Palace and gets excellent reviews.