Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar and a former capital of Myanmar. The city is busy, crowded, noisy and not really that special. Like most former (and present) capitals of Myanmar, Mandalay was founded on the wishes of the ruler of the day in 1857 and doesn’t have any special old buildings because of that. It is however home to more than half of the Burmees monks so you will see them everywhere! Next to that, you can find plenty of places of interest outside of Mandalay such as the world famous U Bein Bridge which is a 1.2 kilometer long and is the oldest teak bridge in the world and is made of the remains of a royal palace.
The first time we visited Mandalay we were coming by bus from Bagan. We got picked up at 8 am at our hotel and they dropped us of at our hotel in Mandalay around 2 pm. Costs for this bus ride is 9.000 Kyat p.p.
Because we really enjoyed the train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw, we decided to take the same train ride back and even go further to Mandalay. They start selling train tickets at 9 am and we bought a ticket to Mandalay for 3.950 Kyat p.p. (including 130 Kyat life insurance). The train departed around 9.30 am and it was going to be a long train ride of 13 hours.
We met up with another traveler who told us that it would be quicker to get out at Pyin Oo Lwin and from there take a taxi. Because the remaining 65 kilometers would take 6 hours, when going with a taxi would be only take 2 hours. Although it was a good idea to take the taxi we decided we wanted to know what this extra 6 hours from Pyin Oo Lwin to Mandalay would bring us, and we already payed for it so we stayed in the train.
There are some pitstops during the trip and in Pyin Oo Lwin, there was a 1 hour stop which gave us plenty of time to take a coffee and some rice with chicken or pork at the train station. Around 5.40 pm the train started moving the last kilometers to Mandalay. This last part was not that spectacular, because after sun has set you won’t see that much anymore and it is even a bit annoying because of the little flies which find their way into the train. Besides this, we think it is still a comfortable way to travel and it gives you a different point of view of the country. And it is definitely the cheapest way to travel! We arrived at Mandalay Central Railway Station around 10 pm. From where it was an easy 5 minute walk to our hotel.
FLYING OUT FROM MANDALAY
We arranged a taxi to bring us from the hotel to the airport for 13.000 Kyat. Leaving at 9.45 am we arrived at Mandalay International Airport at 10.30 am. It is not a big airport and they have an easy check. If you are planning to overstay your visa, this will cost you 3 USD a day.
There are plenty of restaurants, scattered around town, but we thought they weren’t really cheap. We had 2 places we liked going to, that were affordable. Right next to our hotel, was a beer restaurant. They have Burmees food and the taste is good, portions are quite big and the price is reasonable.
We really like local food, but do need a hamburger of something like that every now and then. We found a little place that sells great milkshakes, burgers and french fries.
We stayed at The Home Hotel and it is a great hotel. The staff is really friendly, willing to help you with everything, you can use the bikes for free and their location was pretty convenient for us to. The rooms are spacious, good working aircon, great shower and comfortable beds. When we booked online, the prices were quite low, probably because they are renovating the hotel, which didn’t cause any inconvenience for us. They have breakfast buffet, included in the price, which is ok. Nothing fancy but good. The only thing we did not like, was having our room on the top floor, because there is no elevator.
** You can find them on booking.com
We rented a motorbike for 24 hours at Mandalay Motorbike Rental & Tours for 15.000 Kyat at 32nd street between 79th and 80th street.
MAHAMUNI PAGODA & U BEIN BRIDGE
The washing of the big Buddha at the Mahamuni Pagoda is probably the weirdest ceremony we’ve ever witnessed. We got up really early, at 3.15 am am to make sure we would not miss any of this. It started by monks coming up to us begging for money, so not a a really good start. Luckily things got better. The temple openend at 4 am and we were one of the firsts to enter. It is hard to imagine that this 2,5 meter high Buddha statue, besides the Golden Rock and the 82 Meter high Shwedagon Pagoda, is one of the 3 most sacred places in Myanmar. After we sat down in front of the Buddha the show begins with lots of offering and after 30 minutes they started carefully washing the face and brushing the teeth of the Buddha image. This will take at least one hour, but we saw enough after 30 minutes of watching this ritual and left. We headed to the U Bein Bridge for Sunrise. The Sunrise was not that spectacular but it was nice to see people doing their exercises and/or just crossing the bridge in the early morning.
We went back for sunset and that was really beautiful. We got in one of the boats (12.000 Kyat) and enjoyed the view and the sunset from the water.
MINGUN ANCIENT CITY
Another great place to visit is the Mingun Ancient City. Entrance fee for this city is 5.000 Kyat, and this is a separate ticket than the combo ticket you buy for the places inside Mandalay which cost 10.000 Kyat. Some places of interest there are the Mingun Temple, the Mingun Bell, which is the largest ringing bell in the world, the White Hsinbyume Pagoda and 2 Boulders with an elephant shape. If we would have known beforehand that we had to pay for this, we would probably have skipped this. But we were glad we did come here.
During our last day in Mandalay we used the free bikes from The Home hotel to watch Sunset at the palace, which is nice if you have some extra time on your hand.
Other places that can be visited are the Palace and Mandaly Hill. We skipped these however.