Mandalay must have one of the most evocative names in the world. Just seeing it written on my boarding pass conjured up images of grandly dressed Burmese kings, opulent temples and exotic pagodas. I could hardly wait. I was on the Road to Mandalay (or the flightpath at least)…
I had been warned that Mandalay does not live up to its name, that it’s not a city paved in gold and that there’s not much to do. So, as I began to explore my first destination of Myanmar, I put images of majestic palaces and turban-dressed kings out of my mind,
But it did not disappoint. In my very first afternoon I had seen a python (gulp!), admired a Buddha covered in six-inches of gold and watched the sun set over one of the country’s most iconic landmarks.
This low-rise, sprawling dusty city may not be the most obvious in terms of what to see and do, especially when you compare it to some of the countries more iconic cities like Bagan, but scratch beneath the surface and this is a city that really packs a punch. So, without further ado, here’s my top 5 things to do in Mandalay (tried and tested of course!)
1) Visit U-Bein Bridge
Just outside of Mandalay, the U-Bein bridge is the world’s longest teak bridge and one of the most photographed sights of Myanmar. Supported by over 1,000 wooden poles, the bridge spans an impressive 1.2km over Taungthaman Lake – and is crossed by hundreds of monks and locals every day as they commute back and forth. It is said that if two lovers walk over the bridge and back, holding hands the whole time, they will remain together forever… ahhhhhh! We opted to take a local paddle boat out and walk back. We were there a little early but this is the ultimate sunset spot.
2) Check out some of Myanmar’s more unusual temples
You can barely walk 10 metres in this country without seeing magnificent golden stupas, red-robed monks and vast temples, but Mandalay offers a couple of rather unique temple experiences. First up is ‘Snake Temple’ (Yadana Labamuni Hsu-taung-pye) of Paleik where three huge Pythons sit around Buddha at the altar (one was curled around his head when we were there). The temple is covered in pictures of people holding the pythons – with the snakes draped around their shoulders and a popular time to visit is 11am, when the snakes are fed. If snakes aren’t your thing, I can definitely recommend heading to Maharani Paya, where the 13 foot Buddha has been covered in tiny gold leaves by male pilgrims over many years – so much so that now the gold is six-inches thick and apart from Buddha’s face (which is not allowed to be covered), he’s barely recognisable – nevertheless a wonderful, lumpy golden sight!
3) Visit Mandalay Hill at Sunset
Another great sunset spot – Mandalay Hill is a 760ft hill that offers the most splendid views over the city. If you’re feeling the heat you can take a taxi up to the top, we chose to walk (and sweat a lot!) and it took us about half an hour to reach the top. Be sure to wear respectable clothing as you need to clamber through a temple at the top to reach the viewpoint at the end of the temple. We watched the sunset with a couple of young monks, who shared a cigarette on the temple walls!
4) Take a Bike Ride
We signed up to a half-day bike ride that was simply magic. In what seemed like no time we were out of the city and cycling past rolling paddy fields, with grazing water buffalo and small rustic villages. It truly is a wonder to be able to cycle 10 minutes out of a city and experience such authentic, untouched rural charm.
5) Try some Shan Food
Mandalay borders the north-eastern state of Shan, home to the Shan people – who have some wonderful local dishes, making Mandalay is a great place to sample this cuisine. The best place to head is what the people of Myanmar refer to as ‘tea shops’, which are low-key, hole in the wall style eateries. We took a recommendation from our guide and found ourselves feasting on the most delicious thick, sticky, spicy noodles (Shan noodles), a spicy Shan noodle soup and a crunchy fresh green-tea salad that everything from nuts, beans and carrots in it to – you guessed it, green tea! Yum!
All in, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Mandalay and cannot imagine beginning this epic six week journey through Myanmar any other way. Stay tuned guys, this is just the beginning…. next time, I will tell you more on where’s best to stay and splurge on your sleep in Mandalay.
PS For more details about booking a holiday in Myanmar please contact me via my contact page (in the ‘about’ menu) or take a look at my travel agency site Fleewinter – which will soon be selling luxury holidays to Myanmar.