Mandalay in Myanmar is an ancient royal city with a colourful history full of amazing sights. The best things to do in Mandalay involve visiting beautiful Temples, and a Royal Palace, meeting friendly monks and travelling by riverboat so there’s plenty to keep you interested when you visit this fascinating city.
The first thing I noticed was the relaxed way of life and I was captivated by the stunning temples, the ancient traditions, and the unique dress that I encountered when I first arrived in Mandalay Myanmar. I began my Myanmar trip with three days of exploring this captivating city and there were so many highlights.
If you’re wondering what to do in Mandalay, I’ve compiled a list of the best things on offer in Mandalay Myanmar.
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What to do in Mandalay Myanmar
TIP: If you’re short of time you can book ahead and see many of the highlights of Mandalay in a day. Visit the ancient cities of Amarapura, Sagaing, Mingun, and Innwa/Ava on a day trip. Each of these places is an exciting destination for visitors, allowing you to explore ancient cultures, ancient building techniques, and beautiful scenery.
Visit Mandalay Hill
Mandalay Hill is a lovely place to watch the sunset over the city. A covered walkway takes you from the street up a long set of stairs to the top of the hill where there’s a Pagoda and a large viewing platform. You can enjoy the expansive views over the city and the surrounding countryside from the top of Mandalay Hill.
Chat to a monk
At Mandalay Hill, it’s common for monks to strike up a conversation with visitors at the pagoda to practise their English. Many monks in Myanmar are well-educated and have very good English. Talking to tourists is a great way for them to improve their English skills.
Soon after I started the steep climb up Mandalay 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. 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.
The viewing platform on Mandalay Hill was full of tourists and monks all enjoying the sunset. I enjoyed the hospitality and the friendliness of the young monk and I felt very welcome in this beautiful country.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda
The incredible Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay Myanmar holds the world’s largest book and can be found at the base of Mandalay Hill. The treasure held in this Pagoda is made up of 1,460 stone tablets inscribed with sacred Buddhist scriptures. The tablets are held in 729 white stupas set around a central golden pagoda and it’s an impressive sight.
Mahagandayon Monastery Mandalay
Visiting the Mahagandayon Monastery is one of the best things to do in Mandalay. The monastery is located outside the city of Mandalay in Myanmar and you can visit on a tuk-tuk tour of Amarapura and Sagaing.
At the Mahagandayon Monastery, visitors watch more than a thousand monks queue while they wait for their midday meal. When the monks have assembled the procession begins and they enter the dining hall at the Monastery. It’s an extraordinary sight!
The monks gather in the tree-lined streets and pathways of the monastery. They queue according to seniority holding their alms bowls with heads bowed as they wait for the orderly procession to start. It is a wonderful glimpse into a very different culture and the monks are surprisingly tolerant of the tourists looking on taking photos.
Visiting the Ponnya Shin Temple, at the top of Sagaing Hill, is another highlight and one of many fabulous things to do in Mandalay Myanmar.
The Ponnya Shin Temple
The Ponnya Shin Temple has a stunning view over the Irrawaddy River and the hillside below the temple is dotted with golden stupas. The viewing platform is paved with brightly coloured tiles and was full of local people from Myanmar.
Visiting temples is a popular outing in Myanmar and there were many people visiting the Ponnya Shin Temple to pray and socialise. Also enjoying the view, were a large number of monks, some visiting and taking photos like other tourists.<
U Min Thonze Temple
The U Min Thonze Temple is another lovely Buddhist Temple with a beautiful view nearby on Sagaing Hill. 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.
Sitagu Buddhist Academy
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.
Amarapura & the famous U Bein Bridge
Visiting the famous U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, the former royal capital of Myanmar, is one of the best things to do in Mandalay at sunset. You can walk across the wooden bridge footbridge and it’s a favourite place with locals in Mandalay for taking wedding photos.
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 popular spot to visit and is often jam-packed with locals and tourists at sunset when the light is best for photographs.
Visiting Mingun is a wonderful day out packed with great things to do near Mandalay in Myanmar. To get there you can travel by ferry on the Irrawaddy River. Head to the dock area of the city and catch a morning ferry to Mingun to see the ruined Mingun Pahtodawgyi, the beautiful and distinctively white Hsinbyume Pagoda often seen on Instagram 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 on the riverbank.
The ancient ruins of Ava
Take a step back in time when you visit the ancient ruins of Ava. A short ferry trip across the Irrawaddy River takes you to Ava and a horse and cart will pick you up and take you through the countryside to the main historic sites of Ava.
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.
Mandalay Royal Palace
If you’re wondering what to do in Mandalay, the impressive Royal Palace should be high on your list. The former residence of the royal family of Burma, the Palace is made of teak wood and was built in 1857. The Palace was destroyed by the British in 1885 when the last Burmese King was deposed and exiled.
The Mandalay Royal Palace has since been restored to its former glory and includes audience halls, throne halls, a library, a monastery, and a tower with a view over the palace buildings. It’s a highlight of visiting Mandalay in Myanmar.
The Royal Palace lies to the north of the city and is surrounded by a moat. High walls enclose the Palace grounds and compound.
The Mahamuni Pagoda
The Mahamuni Pagoda is one of the most important of Myanmar’s many Buddhist shrines and visiting is one of the best things to do in Mandalay. People come from all over the country to pray at the Mahamuni Paya and you can find the Pagoda in the southwest of the city of Mandalay in Myanmar.
It’s an important community centre and the Mahamuni Paya is Mandalay’s most famous Pagoda. Outside the temple, a large lake reflects the beautiful golden spires of the temple and inside you can find the holy Mahamuni Buddha, one of the most highly revered Buddha images in Myanmar.
Mandalay’s Mahamuni Pagoda is a place of pilgrimage that compares to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda and Golden Rock in religious importance.
The Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay Myanmar was formerly known as the Golden Palace Monastery. It’s located near the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill. Built by the Burmese King in the mid-19th century, the historic buildings of the Buddhist Monastery are made from teak wood and decorated with beautiful carvings.
Visiting the Shwenandaw Monastery is an enjoyable thing to do in Mandalay Myanmar.
How to get around in Mandalay
The city of Mandalay is arranged in a grid-like pattern and is relatively easy to navigate. Taxis are cheap and I got around the city by walking, taking a motorbike taxi or a tuk-tuk if I wanted a bit more comfort.
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.
Impressions of Myanmar
In Myanmar life moves at a slower pace and I discovered this as soon as I set foot in the country. 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 that 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).
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.
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The Ferry from Mandalay to Bagan
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 and it is one of the best things to do in Mandalay. The scenery from the boat is lovely and it’s an enjoyable way to travel.
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.
For peace of mind make sure you buy travel insurance before you go, especially if you are travelling solo. I use Travel Insurance that covers me for overseas medical, lost baggage, and other expenses and I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.