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Mandalay

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Travel Guide Asia Myanmar Mandalay Division Mandalay

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Introduction

Water festival in Mandalay

Water festival in Mandalay

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Mandalay was founded in 1857 as Myanmar's last royal capital. There was a prophecy for many years that a great Buddhist city would be built at the foot of Mandalay Hill on the occasion of the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism. King Mindon of Myanmar decided to jump the gun and started creating the city in 1857. After completing the city in 1858, by dismantling the former capital of Amarapura and relocating it by elephant, he started to build several major religious sights. The city was captured by the British in the Third Anglo-Burmese War and was created into a colonial city. The city suffered greatly during World War II and was captured by the Japanese on May 2 1942. Mandalay was heavily bombed and was not liberated, by the British, until March of 1945. The palace was almost completely destroyed and not rebuilt till the 1990s.

Today Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar with a population just under 1 million people. It is also the religious and cultural center of Myanmar with over 700 pagodas and the home to many religious texts. The city is also starting to become a center of trade for most of northern Myanmar. Mandalay is starting to become a major gateway for trade with China. This is a great city to spend a couple of days touring the sights and watching people. Just watch out for the open air sewers!

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Sights and Activities

Mandalay has a "Mandalay Zone Fee" of K10000 that covers most of the central attractions and lasts for about a week. Buy it from the first attraction you visit. The tickets are not always checked at all attractions and you might be able to get individual cheaper tickets for some attractions. If you want to take a chance on avoiding the fee, don't go to the palace, where the ticket is always checked. Access to the Mandalay hill requires an additional entry fee of K1000, and Mingung and Sagaing are K5000 extra both (not always enforced).

  • Maha Myat Muni Paya - Unlike the other main attractions which are mostly located around Mandalay hill, Myanmar's second holiest pilgrimage site is located to the South-west end of the city. It contains a 4-metre high Buddha statue, made of gold and decorated with precious jewels. A few inches worth of gold has been pressed onto the statue in the form of gold-leaves, leaving only the face open. Women are not allowed to approach the statue, but men can go up and touch the Muni. The statue was brought from Rakhine State, southeast of Mandalay. Nearby the central hall, there is a hall displaying statues stolen from Rakhine state, which were in turn stolen through a string of robberies from Ang Kor Wat via Thailand. The figures may have belonged to Hindu mythological figures Shiva and Airavat, the elephant of Indra. You will see people rubbing the statues as they believes this cures of them of ailments, especially by touching the corresponding body part on the statue. Visit the site around 04:30-05:00 for the amazing ceremony of washing the Buddha's face, which occurs every day and is attended by hundreds of people. 1,000 kyat should be paid for the photo camara.
  • Kuthodaw Paya - This is famously known as the site of the world's largest book. 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, which are considered to constitute the largest book. The nearby Sandamuni paya contains a similar set of structures
  • Sandamuni Paya - Similar to Kuthodaw Paya, and located just adjacent to it, it also contains a large number of white stupas containing the Tripitika. Sandamuni also contains the world's largest iron Buddha image. It exudes a peaceful ambience similar to Kuthodaw.
  • Shwe Kyi Myin Paya - Built in the 1st century, by Prince Min Shin Saw.
  • Shwenandaw Monastery - A monastery made entirely of teak, with beautiful intricate carvings. It was originally part of the royal palace built by King Mingdon and moved to its current site 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 of World War II, and thus is the only authentic part of the royal palace which can still be seen today. It was the bedroom in which King Mingdon spent the last of his days. After that, the structure was gifted to the monks, and became a monastery. The intricate craftwork on the teak pillars, ceilings, roofs and walls, is breathtaking. One can get lost in observing the various animals and mythical creatures, or the thousands of athletic, gracefully twisted and seductive poses and expressions of the dancers seen on the pillars. edit
  • Atumashi Kyaung - Located in front of Shwenandaw, it contains a very large hall, with a cool silent ambience suitable for a meditation. It was built in 1857 by King Mingdon using teak, but after being destroyed in fire, it was reconstructed to form the structure that you see today. The structure consists of five rectangular terraces in a graduated form.
  • Royal Palace - A walled city within Mandalay. It was built in 1861 by King Mingdon, to fulfill a prophecy. The palace, although destroyed in WWII, was rebuilt, and was renovated recently. It was renovated using forced labour, and locals may advise you not to visit the place. They are probably right, considering the palace visit requires an additional K10000 fee. 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). 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 Mingdon 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, furniture, palanquins, and litters, as well as weaponry, all in typically intricate Myanmar design and execution. There are also photo exhibits. The surrounding area of the island is a military base, which creates a strange atmosphere. If you want to avoid the visit, you can see the palace from the summit of the Mandalay hill during your climb from the South entrances.
  • U Bein Bridge - A historic wooden bridge in the south of Mandalay. Due to the level of cleanliness, it may not look particularly attractive, especially if you are there in the dry season when the water is scarce. But this place allows a great slice view of local life, with locals walking back and forth, stopping for food and shopping, or standing in the water fishing. The stilted thatched huts constitute the homes of many poor in the area, some of whom sell snacks along the bridge.

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Weather

Mandalay has a hot and humid tropical climate. Temperatures are well above 30 degrees Celcius during the day and mostly around 20 °C at night. Temperatures from mid March to May can reach over 40 °C making this time rather unpleasant for visiting the city. This time is often called the hot dry season. From June to October is rainy season. There is massive amounts of rainfall this time of year. The best time to visit is during the cool dry season which is December to February. During this period there is still warm and pleasant weather with pleasant nights between 13 °C and 16 °C. It usually is dry and rather sunny during these months.

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Getting There

By Plane

Mandalay International Airport (MDL), a gleaming modern facility, serves the area with flights to places in Myanmar and some international flights. There are also 3 flights weekly to and from Kunming on flight MU2029 for about CNY2,000 one way.

The airport is 35 km south of the city centre in Tada-U. Expect to pay USD8 to central Mandalay, USD6 from central Mandalay, and USD30 to/from Pyin U Lwin.

By Train

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. In 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 USD15 (ordinary class/hard seat) to USD50 (air conditioned sleeper on the Dagon Mann Express).
From Lashio, Hsipaw, and Pyin U Lwin - There are two trains daily from Pyin U Lwin (USD 4/2) and one from Lashio via Hsipaw and Pwin U Lwin (USD 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!

By Bus

From Yangon - There is a night bus with air-con (there are 5 options, 17:00, 18:00, 19:00, 21:00, and 21:30 departures, standard MYK10,500, VIP MYK15,000, 8.5-9 hr) running into Mandalay. Almost certainly the cheapest option for getting between the two main cities in Myanmar. From Inle Lake, MYK10,000.

From Inle Lake, Kalaw or Mid-Eastern Towns - There are buses available along this route, either a day minibus (05:00 departure, 9,000 kyat, 9 hr) or a night bus with air-con (18:00 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 just-bribed police officers in plainclothes.

From Monywa - There are buses apparently every hour. 2,000 kyat. 3.5 hours.

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 2,000 kyat per person; don't pay more than 5,000 kyat 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 that just ran a load of people to the station from town (500 kyat per person). They are normally more than happy to help and there are no commission issues to worry about.

Some bus companies, e.g. OK Bus (btw. Mandalay and Bagan, MMK 9000), offer free pick-up from your hostel and will drop you at your next hostel at your destination.

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Getting Around

By Car

Taxis are relatively inexpensive and are excellent for travelling around Mandalay. Many sights are centred around Mandalay Hill, which makes walking feasible in that area. However, beware - it is not always easy to get hold of a taxi depending on which part of the city you are. Often, try to make arrangements beforehand.

Motorbike taxis try to charge you overly expensive prices, but they would eventually turn out to be cheaper than car taxis if there are only one or two travellers. Don't pay more than 1,000 kyat for a ride in the centre (including to Mandalay Hill). You can get full-day (09:00-sunset) tours for 10,000 kyat. The driver will take you to the ancient cities, Sagaing, and to Amarapura for sunset.

Trishaws (cycle rickshaws) are a convenient way of getting around in Mandalay if you're able to find one. 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 persons (back to back) however.

By Bike

The best and cheapest way to see the city is by bicycle, as traffic isn't as heavy as in other Asian cities.

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Eat

Mandalay, both due to its history as a former capital of Myanmar, and its position as a major trading centre between Myanmar and its neighbours in China, India and Bangladesh has a notable array of specialities 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 sizable 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 to 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.

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Sleep

Budget

Most budget guesthouses are around 25th St, between 81st and 84th Streets.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet is now widely and cheaply available in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan, but more limited elsewhere. However access can be slow although now unrestricted. Rates are around 300 kyat/hour in Yangon and 1,000-3,000 kyat/hour elsewhere. Some hotels, although rare, allow free access to the internet.
The government records screenshots every five minutes from PCs in Internet cafés to monitor Internet usage. If you don't want your privacy violated in this way, save your surfing for Thailand or wherever you head next.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Myanmar's country code is 95.

International phone calls can be arranged at the Central Telephone & Telegraph Office at the corner of Ponsodan and Mahabandoola Streets in Yangon. International Direct Dial calls are also possible from most hotels and at many public call offices (often a phone in a shop), but they are expensive, e.g., a call to the US costs USD6–7 per min.

The MPTGSM mobile phone network is provided by the Myanmar Government's Post and Telecommunication agency. This works on the GSM900 band, so is visible to multi-band GSM phones. Roaming is available onto MPT's GSM 900 network, subject to agreements between operators; check with your operator before you leave to be sure. Unfortunately, MPT only has international roaming agreements with operators from a limited number countries and territories. Nevertheless, if your own mobile telephone can detect the MPT GSM network, then you may be able to buy a USD20 SIM card which will work for 28 days.

As of October 2014, Telenor and Ooredoo, two international companies, have entered the market. Sim cards are cheap and widely available (1500 kyats for a Telenor sim). Nevertheless, connectivity can still be limited to urban centres, Yangon and Mandalay in particular. Telenor seems to have a better connection and plans to improve nets massively in the next years. Although MPT has the widest coverage, it is also the most expensive.

Post

International mail out of Myanmar is reportedly quite efficient, despite what some hotels might tell you.

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Accommodation in Mandalay

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This is version 15. Last edited at 12:50 on Jun 28, 17 by Utrecht. 6 articles link to this page.

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