What to do in Mandalay, Myanmar
Mandalay is the second largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar. It is a bustling city but very different from Yangon. It lacks the unique colonial architecture, clean roads and semi-organized traffic intersections, but has a unique history and will provide a memorable experience. Explore traditional craftsmanship, holy Buddhist sites and take a day trip across the river to see the full spectrum of Mandalay’s attractions. Get to know the city’s unique character with this list of what to do in Mandalay.
Silk Weaving Workshops
We visited the Shwe Sin Tai Silkwear workshop to observe the women making the extremely detailed silkware that was once only used for royal garments. The process was explained to us and we were able to watch the women weave and operate the looms. Afterwards we checked out their shop across the street where Eric bought a lightweight desert scarf. The workshop was very interesting and there was no pressure from any of the shop staff for you to make a purchase.
U Bein Bridge
This 1.2 kilometer bridge was built in 1850 and is the longest solid teak bridge in the world. We arrived expecting a carved towering bridge but instead we found a swaying narrow pathway that seemed to vanish off in the distance. The bridge was quite interesting and provided some amazing views across the calm waters of the lake as we walked the length.
Thousands of monks live in this expansive monastery and in the mornings the old and young monks alike line up to accept their last meal of the day. Tourists will flock to this event so arrive early (before 10:30 a.m.) to get a good spot for photos. Be sure to not enter any of the private areas and be respectful and quiet during the event. After the monks start eating, slip away and head to the kitchen in the back of the monastery where you can view the cooks preparing huge vats of traditional foods.
Wood Carving Workshops
Visit the traditional wood carving workshops and galleries in downtown Mandalay. You can view the artisans chipping, sawing and carving extremely detailed wooden sculptures of all sizes. We wandered through the shop and gallery afterwards mouths agape in awe at the variety and quality of the craftsmanship.
Check out the bronze workshops to learn how the giant buddha images are cast. We watched the skilled artisans building molds and prepping small bronze images for final polishing. This is the best place to pick up any bronze souvenirs as the prices are lowest at the workshop.
Stone Carving and Marble Workshops
Most of the marble carving workshops are on one long narrow street. We walked through the busy area ducking in and out of each shop to see the different designs and techniques that they use to build the massive marble Buddha images. We watched the artisans work with nimble hands and no protective equipment.
We wandered through the Mahamuni Pagoda to watch the men apply gold leaf to the large buddha image within. There is so much gold on the statue that the shape is completely distorted. Women are forbidden inside the central area so we watched them pray and make their offerings from the front halls. Processions of monks and traditional music created a lively cheerful atmosphere during our visit. Be sure to view the relics captured from thailand and rub them for good luck.
King Galan Gold Leaf Workshop
We made a short visit to one of the gold leaf workshops where the small squares of gold leaf temple visitors apply to Buddha images are prepared and packaged. We watched and learned how a single ounce of 14kt gold is pounded over and over and over into 3000 extremely thin sheets with hammers.
Shwenandaw Monastery (Golden Palace Monastery)
This detailed monastery is famous for the intricate teak carvings adorning its walls and rooftops. This traditional monastery is the single remaining original structure from the original Mandalay Royal Palace. The detailed spa building of the Dhara Dhevi luxury resort in Chiang Mai is styled after this unique monastery.
World’s Biggest Book
The world’s biggest book is not a book in the traditional sense but a series of 730 vertical stone leaves and 1460 pages built into 729 bright white stupas on the grounds of the Kuthodaw Pagoda. You could spend a lot of time exploring the grounds and taking amazing photos of the rows upon rows of relic cave stupas.
Mandalay Hill is a large hill northeast of the city with a beautiful temple on top. The summit offers beautiful panoramic views of the city and is a favorite spot for watching sunsets. You can make the climb up the hill from four different staircases on each side of or you can hire a taxi to drive you to the base of the summit structure.
Day Trip to Mingun
We hired a large boat for about $25 USD to take us out to Mingun for the day. The boat ride was relaxing with great views and fresh air. We had snacks and drinks provided by the boat captain on the way back. We visited Mingun Pahtodawgyi, and climbed to the top to get some great panoramic river views. We also visited the breathtaking Hsinphyumae Pagoda and the Mingun bell, which is the world’s largest functioning bell. There are plenty of places to explore and escape the main slightly touristy market area.
The Mandalay Palace is the last Royal Palace of the Burmese monarchy. The grounds are expansive and well manicured. You can climb the guard tower for great views or head to the museum in the rear of the palace for a history lesson. Walk around the outer roads in the palace to see gardens, sculptures and soldiers going about their daily duties.
Walk Around at Night
You cannot truly experience Mandalay as a whole until you walk around the downtown areas at night. Visit the local night market before the sun sets and then venture around the downtown area for a while. The roads become busy and hectic with cars and motorbikes making crossing very difficult. Don’t let this deter you. Shops and restaurants are lit up with neon signs and the city comes to life with lights, noises, smells. This is not an experience for everyone but I will never forget the sights and sounds of Mandalay at night.
Do you have any other tips for visiting Mandalay? Let us know in the comments!