Located on the wide bend of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, Mandalay is Burma’s second biggest city and the last royal capital before the British took over and the royal family was forced to flee to India. The city’s name is named after nearby Mandalay Hill, one of its main tourist attractions. Throughout the colonial years, Mandalay was the centre of Burmese culture and Buddhist learning and there are still many temples and monastic schools in and around the city which draw pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. The ancient capitals of Inwa (Ava) and Amarapura a short drive from the city provide a glimpse into Burma’s majestic past.
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Top things to do in Mandalay
Explore the last royal capital of Mandalay
Mandalay Palace was home to the last two royal kings of Burma, including Burma's last king, King Thibaw, who lived here until 1885, when the British completed their take over of the country and he was sent to India and placed under house arrest. Sprawling south of Mandalay Hill, Mandalay Palace is a complex with rebuilt palaces in the centre of immense fort walls, measuring 3km long, 8 metres high and surrounded by a 70-metre-wide moat. Discover the Hall of Victory, or 'Glass Palace', Mye Nan Pyathat temple and the Nan Myint Saung watchtower, which can be climbed via a steep, spiral staircase for panoramic views of the city.
Observe monastic life in Amarapura
The Mahagandayon monastery in Amarapura, Burma's penultimate royal capital near the city of Mandalay, is home to several thousand young monks who live and study here. It is a renowned centre for monastic study and strict religious discipline. Most visitors come at around 11am to see the monks receiving alms from pilgrims. It is a sight to behold as they queue up in their saffron robes to receive food. The streets and alleys near the monastery also merit exploration, with old houses and cottage industries such as silk weaving. If you wish you can also visit a monastic school nearby to donate pens and exercise books, which can be bought locally, to the local school children.
Sunset at U Bein Bridge
U Bein Bridge is one of the most recognisable sites in Burma, and has become an iconic image for the country. Built over 200 years ago, U Bein Bridge is a footbridge made of 1,060 teak posts and spans over 1km across the shallow Taungthaman lake. The bridge is used by locals and monks crossing between Amarapura and Taungthaman village, and the lake attracts fishermen who cast lines or, more uniquely, use their longyi (sarongs) as nets to catch fish. For a memorable experience, boats can be hired to row out into the river and see the bridge closer from the water, with the magical scenery of the sun setting in the background.
Visit Maymyo, a former British hill station
Journey north from the hot, dry plains around Mandalay to the green hills of the Shan plateau, passing through quiet towns and rural villages, to the former British hill station of Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin). The town was founded in 1896 as a place where the British colonial administrators could come to escape the heat of the plains. They named it Maymyo (May Town), after Colonel May of the 5th Bengal Infantry. Many colonial houses and structures from this era can still be seen today on a walking tour of the town in the company of a local guide. Highlights include the Purcell Tower, which was a present from Queen Victoria, and the National Kandawgyi Gardens, founded in 1915 by the English botanist Alex Rodgers. This 176-hectare botanic garden is home to more than 480 species of flowers, trees and shrubs, and is also a great location to enjoy high tea or locally grown strawberries with cream.
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