By now you've probably read up on if Myanmar is safe to travel and decided for yourself that you want to visit this beautiful country. And while it is not among the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia, it is still extremely affordable so you won't be breaking the bank heading here. If you've been looking into where to go in Myanmar, I'm sure you've come across Yangon and Bagan, but there's a chance that you haven't seen much on Mandalay or maybe even read several posts telling you to skip it altogether.
The lack of enthusiasm for Myanmar's second largest city may lead you to believe that there isn't much to do there. You might start to wonder is Mandalay worth visiting? Before you choose to skip it, read this post and let's see if I can't convince you that Mandalay is worth visiting after all. As a matter of fact after reading about these 20 things to do in Mandalay, Myanmar, you might just come to the conclusion that it's a must-visit on your travel list!
1. Mandalay Hill
The top of Mandalay Hill offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Irrawaddy River. Truly, I have no words to describe the feeling of being up here. At the peak lies a shimmering gold temple which glitters spectacularly during golden hour. The best time to visit is during sunset, so if you get the chance to sit at the top of the hill for sunset, take it!
It's important to note that the top of Mandalay Hill is actually a temple, so make sure to dress accordingly (shoulders covered and nothing above the knees showing). You will also need to be barefoot as you're walking around, just a heads up.
2. Mahamuni Pagoda
Your Mandalay exploration wouldn't be complete without a visit to the iconic Mahamuni Golden Buddha Pagoda, one of Myanmar's many buddhist temples. At this temple, you'll find a giant Buddha adorned in layers of gold leaf. Over the years, devoted followers each add one small gold leaf to the statue, gradually making it larger every year. There are photos from decades prior where you can see the growth of the Buddha statue over time.
Unfortunately, women are not allowed to enter the room where the Buddha sits, however you can see it from outside the room and there are television screens monitoring it in real time so you can watch as the devotees add leaves to the statue.
3. U Bein Bridge
U Bein bridge is known in Myanmar for being the both world's oldest teak bridge and longest teak bridge, however don't fact check me on this as I'm only going by the word of my tour guide and other locals familiar with the bridge!
This is another killer location to watch the sunset. Before the sun sets, you can take a walk along the entirety of the bridge into the neighboring village. As you walk, you'll see locals selling snacks and trinkets - I bought some tasty samosas and enjoyed them as I walked with my guide across the bridge. During the rainy season, the water can reach up to the planks of the bridge so you might not be able to cross it. At other parts of the year, you can rent a boat and row around and under the bridge.
Pro tip: If you go during the dry season and are afraid of heights, be warned that the bridge is a bit high above the ground and there aren't any barriers preventing you from falling over.
4. Kuthodaw Pagoda
The Kuthodaw Pagoda is home to what is often referred to as the "World's Largest Book." Book is a bit of a loose interpretation since it is really referring to the stone tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures which surround the central stupa. Each marble slab is housed in its own small stupa and walled off, protecting it from the outside world.
I cannot emphasize enough just how MASSIVE the pagoda is with several hundred of these miniature white stupas making up the popular tourist attraction. It's something that has to be seen in person for you to be able to make sense of the sheer size.
5. Shwenandaw Monastery
Another thing to do in Mandalay is take a visit to Shwenandaw Monastery, an intricately carved teak structure that survived the test of time. The monastery's walls and roof are covered with teak wood carvings of Buddhist myths. The Shwenandaw Monastery monastery, also known as the Golden Palace Monastery, was coated with a thick gold layer. However, harsh weather eroded the exterior gold over time. Now the only the gold lies in the monastery’s interior. The monastery is built in the traditional Burmese architectural style and is actually the only remaining major original structure of the original Mandalay Royal Palace today. This monastery is good for a quick visit and is best combined with Mandalay Hill and the next entry:
6. Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda
Sure, there's no shortage of Buddha statues in Myanmar, but your Mandalay trip wouldn't be complete without admiring the massive marble Buddha statue within Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda (not to be confused with the temple of the same name in Yangon). The sheer size and craftsmanship of this statue make it a testament to the devotion and artistic prowess of the local people. It's a tranquil space, inviting you to reflect and appreciate the spiritual beauty crafted in stone.
The construction of this pagoda began under leadership of King Mindon in 1853, but it didn't get to be completed until 1878 because of some internal conflict in the 1860s. To give you an idea of just how large the Buddha in this temple is - the atone block that the Buddha is carved out of took 13 days and between 10-12,000 men to transport to the temple site. Every year, there is a pagoda festival here in October.
Pro tip: Buying a Mandalay Archaeological Zone Ticket only costs $10usd and can be used to cover the entrance fee for the Shwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda, and the Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda. It also used to be able to access Mandalay Palace, but the military has since taken over it and civilians cannot currently enter.
Mingun is technically in the Sagaing region rather than Mandalay, but it's not too far out. A half day trip to Mingun is def worthwhile, but don't make my mistake and travel on the back of your guide's motorbike. Hire a private driver instead (usually about $30/40usd per day) - your lower back will thank you!
The first thing to see here is the Mingun bell. At several different points in history it was the heaviest functioning bell in the world - weird fact, but a fact nonetheless. Instead of having clapper inside the bell, there's a wooden stick used for ringing it. You can give it a ring yourself before heading over to the next stop!
Not far from the bell is the famous unfinished pagoda. Thousands of prisoners of war were used to build this pagoda, king at the time, King Bodawpaya, abruptly requested construction to come to a halt. According to the locals, the king was extremely superstitious and the prisoners of war who were overworked used this to their advantage. They came up with a prophecy and floated it to the king - the prophecy stated that as soon as the pagoda was completed, the king would die. Once he heard this prophecy, the king immediately canceled plans to continue with the pagoda. Despite the fact that the Mingun Pagoda is not finished, it is still an absolutely massive structure.
8. Hsinbyume Pagoda
Just a short distance away from the unfinished pagoda is the Hsinbyume Pagoda aka the White Temple. I have NO WORDS for how incredible of a place this is. The White Temple is one of the most unique and beautiful temples I have ever laid my eyes on (and I've lived in Asia for five years, so I've seen a lot of temples). Of all the religious sites I saw during my visit to Mandalay, this one was my favorite by far.
If you do take a half day trip from Mandalay to Mingun, the Hsinbyume Pagoda is 10000000% worth the visit. There are also small restaurants directly in front of the temple and you can rest here and enjoy some local food before going into the pagoda. Once you get into the pagoda, a local might hand you a prop and offer to take photos - both things are free and they won't ask you for any money, but you'll find that the pictures are so good you'd be a crappy person not to give them a small donation. I was blown away by the photos I got!
9. Sagaing Hill
I didn't get to make it here myself, but I did get to have a beautiful view of it in the distance on my way to other sites in the surrounding area. Sagaing Hill is the highest "mountain" in Mandalay and is home to countless temples and monasteries. Over 6,000 monks and nuns live here which makes it one of Myanmar's top religious sites if not the top religious site. If you have enough time, I highly recommend stopping here as I wish I made it there during my Mandalay visit.
10. Shwe In Bin Monastery
Another great place to visit is the Shwe In Bin Monastery, located in southwest Mandalay. Interestingly enough, it was funded by a Chinese merchant, U Set Shwin, who was orphaned at the age of 14. He eventually married the niece of one of Myanmar's kings and was able to donate this monastery. It was constructed in the 1890s and is celebrated for its beautiful teak architecture and exquisite carvings. The monastery complex can house 35 monks and the teak foundation is still in excellent condition to this day.
So, is Mandalay worth the visit? The answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I can't comment on the other major cities in Myanmar because I haven't visited, and I'm sure they're absolutely incredible and very well may be better than Mandalay. That being said though, if you just want to know is Mandalay worth visiting, my conclusion is absolutely.
I couldn't believe how beautiful of a place it was and how friendly the local were. I was there for four days and felt that there was no shortage of things to do. As a matter of fact, I ended each day exhausted because I had done and seen so much!
Whether you're drawn to the panoramic views from Mandalay Hill or captivated by the quirky stories behind each site, this city offers a unique and enriching travel experience. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head on over to Mandalay!*
*Please make sure to do your research on the updated situation regarding civil unrest as it changes daily.