Population: 1.225 million
Vibe: First impressions are of a hot, dusty, traffic-clogged city, but give Mandalay a chance! Once the dust settles, Myanmar's former capital reveals an ancient heritage of royal palaces, thriving temples and an old-world charm that has survived into modern times.
Must Do: Climb scenic Mandalay Hill, where a 30 minute hike to the top will reward you with the best panoramic views of the city.
Known for: Mandalay is Myanmar’s second-largest city, the main economic hub of Upper Myanmar and the last royal capital of Burma before the British colonised. It is still viewed by many as the centre of Burmese culture.
Top Things to See and Do in Mandalay
Unmissable on any Mandalay city map is the massive walled and moated Royal Palace complex. Once the seat of Burma's last kings, then later bombed during WWII, the palace buildings now are largely reconstructions.
Shwenandaw Kyaung (Teak Temple)
Once part of the Royal Palace, but later moved outside the fortress and converted into a monetary, this is a stunning example of traditional Burmese teak temple building, with ornate carvings of Buddhist myths covering it from walls to roof. When the palace was bombed during WWII, the temple was not hit and remains faithful to its original design.
At the bottom of Mandalay Hill you’ll find a collection of white marble stupas housing the “world's largest book,” in the form of more than 700 stone slabs containing the entire Tripitaka (Buddhist canon).
U Bein Bridge
Stretching over Taungthaman Lake to the south near Amarapura, U Bein holds the title of the world's longest teak bridge, and the sight of monks and cyclists making their evening commute along it is an image that guidebooks can't get enough of.
Gold pounders' district & jade and gem market
All the gold leaf and jewels that adorn Burmese temples and icons had to come from somewhere, and you can find the source in the Mandalay city centre. Travellers can pay a visit to the gold pounders' district and jade and gem market to learn about Myanmar's luxury trades, and even see gold-leaf sheets being made as temple offerings.
Entertainment & Day Trips
If you're interested in seeing something a little different and discovering more than just the city highlights, take in a show of traditional dance at Mintha Theatre or a marionette opera at Mandalay Marionettes. Both are reviving ancient forms of entertainment, though the contemporary-culture lovers can also check out a show of political satire at the controversial Moustache Brothers.
Yes, these former provocateurs only seem to hold shows for a tourist audience now, but the jabs and jokes they make at the government's expense are still a bold move for free speech. With a bit of extra time, you can also venture out for day trips to Mingun for the stunning cracked Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Amarapura for its traditional artisans and old-town feel, and Sagaing Hill to see lively Buddhist monasteries – just ask your Stray tour guide!