Mandalay

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Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar (Burma). Located 716 km (445 mi) north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, the city has a population of more than 1,225,553. Mandalay is the economic centre of Upper Burma and considered the centre of Burmese culture. A continuing influx of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Yunnan, in the past twenty years, has reshaped the city's ethnic makeup and increased commerce with China. Despite Naypyidaw's recent rise, Mandalay remains Upper Burma's main commercial, educational and health center.

 

RELIGIOUS SITES

Maha Myat Muni Paya (Burmese: ma-ha myah mu-ni pei-ya) (Mahamuni Paya, Paya is the term for pagoda) is Myanmar's second holiest pilgrimage site. It is a 4-metre high Buddha statue, made of gold and decorated with precious jewels. The image was brought from Rakhine State, southeast of Mandalay. Only men are allowed to approach the Mahamuni. For 1600kyat, you can get a small pack of gold leaves to partake in the ceremonial tradition of decorating the buddha statue. Over the past century a layer of gold over 6" deep has been pressed into the body of Mahamuni.

Shwe Kyi Myin Paya (Burmese: shui ji myin pei-ya) was built in the 1st century, by Prince Min Shin Saw.

 

Mandalay Hill (Burmese: man-da-lei thaonh) is a 230m hill located near Mandalay. Along its path are several monasteries and temples. At its top are famous pagodas and temples. Beautiful at sunset and many monks also make the trip up for sunset to practice their English with foreigners. *Alert: There are fake monks who will talk to and show tourists around, and then proceed to ask for money. The Vinaya prohibits monks from asking for money, do not give money to any monks.

Shwenandaw Monastery is a monastery made entire out of teak wood with beautiful intricate carvings. It was originally part of the royal palace built by King Mindon and moved to its current location 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 during World War II, and thus is the only authentic part of the royal palace which can still be seen today. Also located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, all of these sites can be visited together.

Sandamuni Paya (Burmese: san-da-mu-ni pei-ya), located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, is similar to Kuthodaw Paya, an adjacent site. Sandamuni contains the world's largest iron Buddha image.

Kuthodaw Paya (Burmese: ku-tho-dau pei-ya) is site of the world's largest book, located at the foot of Mandalay Hill. 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.

 

Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda, contains an image of the Buddha carved out of a single block of marble from the Sagyin Hill. The figures of 80 arahats or the disciples of the Buddha, are arranged around the central shrine, 20 on each side. The carving of the image was completed in 1865.

Myanan San Kyaw Golden Palace, inside the Mandalay Palace City. USD10 to get in, and not well maintained, nor exciting.

Royal Palace (Burmese: man-da-lei nan-dau) is a walled city within Mandalay. It was built in 1861 by King Mindon, to fulfil a prophecy. The palace, although destroyed in World War II, was rebuilt, and was renovated recently. 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 wood). The palace contains several pavilions and chambers. Tourists are permitted to enter only from the East Gate; no exceptions are made - don't be confused by locals entering the site from other sides - they're allowed, you're not. And mind that it is a long walk around the site - might look confusingly close, while it is not. As of February 2015, foreigners are charged 10,000 kyat (equivalent of USD10), payable in kyat only, for a 5-day ticket; the ticket is stamped on each day you visit the palace and gives access to all of its exhibits. 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 Mindon 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 armoury - all in their typical intricate Myanmar design and execution. There are also photo exhibits. The palace is good to visit in the late afternoons, during the setting phase of the sun, as the gold roofs will reflect the warm sunlight and produce a nice and warm glowing effect.

 

MUST DO IN MANDALAY

Mandalay Hill. In the old days you had to climb Mandalay Hill on foot, a 30 minutes journey to the top. Nowadays visitors can take a shared pick-up for a handful of kyats. The pick-ups leave every twenty minutes and bring you to the foot of the hill pagoda, footwear is prohibited. You can also take the motorbike taxi. As of May 2016 the former camera fee is included in the entry fee. The pagoda offers nice views of Mandalay and the surrounding plains. One can also rent a private pick-up for MMK5,000 or so, a more comfortable option since the shared pick-ups can be very crowded.

Moustache Brothers. A comedy trio. They perform from their home, for tourists. They perform every night at 20:30, cost MMK10,000. Bicycle rickshaw drivers will undoubtedly approach you to strike a return pedal deal. The show lasts for about 1.5 hours and mostly features Burmese dance and some jokes. Famed in the past. Par Par Lay, one of the brothers passed away in late 2013, but his brother Lu Maw and the cousin continue to perform the show every night. No tickets needed; just show up.

Waterfall Hill (Yaedagon Taung) is located on the east side of Mandaly, where you can have outdoor sports. Especially caving and rock climbing is the most favourite one since it is not spoiled, nor crowded and not far from the city.

Mahamuni Paya. For the amazing ceremony of washing the Buddha's face, which occurs every day and is attended by hundreds of people.

The Three Cities Tour. This can be arranged from your hotel for a private driver that will take you to visit Maha Muni on the way Southwards towards Sagaing Hill which has beautiful views of the numerous golden temples around. Typical stops include a visit to Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura where 1,000 monks currently live and study; the Kaung Hmu Taw golden domed monastery which is modelled after the Mahacedi Pagoda in Sri Lanka; river boat to Ava where you can take a horse cart around to different temples; and the teak U Bein's bridge where locals congregate to watch the sunset.

Motorcycle/Taxi Tour of Mandalay Outskirts. Many (if not all) motorcycle drivers are hooked up to hotels and can take you on the tour of the three main tourist draw villages surrounding Mandalay. Amarapura boasts the U Bien Bridge, the famous 1.2 km teak bridge which is a popular sunset stop. Sagaing offers the chance to climb to Sagaing hilltop, dotted with gleaming golden and enormous payas, such as Soon Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda, can be reached by 300+ steps and offering a 360-degree view of and overlooking the Irrawady River. And the town of Old Ava, also called Innwa, is usually reached by boat. Horse carts greet you on the other side and take you around to the main sites. Or alternatively, you can pay your motorcycle driver to tour you around and skipping the boat crossing and horse cart. The horse cart tour usually consists of four attractions - the antiquated looking teak monastery Bagaya Kyuang; Nanmyin Palace Watchtower, the leaning tower of Ava; the 27m-high Mahar Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery; and Yadan Sinme brick temple complex - a group of stupas and temples that serves as teaser for what's to come in Bagan. There is one other extra attraction, not necessary to get out of the horse carriage - the ruined former palace gate. The Yadan temple is not signed, but there are two or three souvenir stalls set up at the entrance path, an indication that this is popular with tourists.

Watch Puppet Show @ Mandalay Marionettes Theater. This is a hard to find show, not even in Yangon. Here, they are featured as a regular show. Impressive considering that the marionette master is 80 years old, but the show itself is a bit odd and takes a certain type of appreciation to be able to enjoy. If you have difficulty understanding interpretive dance performed by humans, the puppet version may not fare much better with you.

Mingun. The boat to the village of Mingun. It takes about one hour there and 45 minutes back, giving you three hours to explore. You can climb the Mingun Paya, but no shoes or socks are allowed and the stairs and the stones on top can be incredibly hot with no shaded parts to cool your feet, so be careful and sit down with your feet off the stones to avoid burning them. Other sites include the world's largest uncracked bell and Hsinbyume Paya, a white pagoda.

Watch movies at Diamond Palace. Three movie theaters are at the top of this mostly empty complex.

Dee Doke Waterfall. Small layered waterfalls, about 40 miles / 60 km outside Mandalay. Not touristy at all (though crowded with locals bathing there most of the time), good for a full day trip, if you are tired of Pagodas and looking for some not-so-quiet nature.

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