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A blissful break in Mandalay

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Getaway Category: Culture & HeritageGetaway Tags: Asia, Mandalay, and myanmar

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  • As the second largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar, Mandalay is the centre of Burmese culture, dotted with over 700 pagodas and the not-any-less-impressive population of 1.23 million. Dominated by the vibrant Bamar and Shan ethnic groups, Chinese immigrants and the largest community of monks in the country, the cultural diversity here makes for very interesting observations.




    Day 1 in Mandalay, Myanmar 

    3pm: Sacred pilgrimage site of Mahamuni Pagoda

    Upon arrival at Mandalay International Airport, make a stop at Mahamuni Pagoda on your way to Mandalay city centre.

    Mahamuni Pagoda is the country’s most sacred pilgrimage site, located in the southwest area of the city. Built in 1785 by King Bodawpaya of the Konbaung Dynasty, the 3.8-meter tall Buddha image is enshrined in a chamber inside the pagoda. Thousands of pilgrims come to visit the shrine everyday!

    The unique characteristic of this pagoda is that male pilgrims pay their respect by applying gold leafs to the Buddha image inside the chamber (ladies can watch, but are not allowed to touch the Buddha). Legends have it that if you rub a body part of the statue, it will cure the corresponding part of your body.

    7, Sagang, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 6am-8pm daily

    6pm: Dinner at Lashio Lay

    After finishing your hotel check-in, head to Lashio Lay for dinner!

    Burmese food borrows elements from various regions, but cuisine from Shan state is especially characteristic of Mandalay, as this city has a notable population of the Shan minority. It is thus essential to introduce yourself to common Shan delicacies at Lashio Lay! Key dishes include shan tofu (chickpea-flour tofu fritters), wet tha chin (minced pork in rice) and papaya salad!

    23rd St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 9am-9.30pm daily

    Day 2 in Mandalay, Myanmar

    9am: Marvel at the pagodas of Sagaing Hill

    After your breakfast, make your way to Sagaing, the former capital of Sagaing Kingdom (which ruled the Myanmar region around 1315-1365). Today, it’s an important monastic centre dotted with plenty of pagodas and monasteries along the Ayeyarwady River.

    At the centre piece is Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, located at the very top of the hill and doubles up as a meditation centre for those who seek peace. You can spend some time here finding your inner soul or simply marvel at the seas of pagodas under the hill.

    10.30am: U Min Thonze

    Another must-visit site while you are in Sagaing is U Min Thonze which comprises of 45 gilded Buddha statues, each with its own facial expression! The architecture is quite detailed and worth some time appreciating. From here, you will also be blessed with a view of the stupa-filled valley down below.

    12nn: Horse cart ride through Inwa

    Head to Myitnge River Crossing and take a small boat to cross into Inwa. In just a few minutes, you’ll reach Inwa, a former royal capital of Burma. On the other side of the river is a horse cart waiting area, where you can choose to take a one-hour tour for just USD 8 per ride.

    The ride will pass through the countryside with lush rice fields, ruins and pagodas. Some of the notable stops you’ll likely have are Daw Gyan (a pagoda ruin complex with surprisingly detailed architecture), Bagaya Kyaung (a 1934 teak monastery), Nanmyin (a 90-feet watchtower which is also a remain of Baggidaw’s Palace), Maha Aungmye Bonzan (an 1818-period brick monastery from Konbaung Dynasty).

    1.30pm: Lunch by the riverside at Ave Maria Restaurant

    Take a break at Ave Maria Restaurant while watching the boats sail through Myitnge River. Dishes offered are quite varied, from fried rice to steamed meat to curry-based dishes. A typical meal costs around MMK 6,000-6,500.

    Inn Wa, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 8.30am-6pm daily

    3pm: Relaxing at Amarapura with Maha Gandhayon Monastery

    Amarapura, which translates to “city of immortality”, is Myanmar’s former capital during the Konbaung period. There are a few monasteries which you can visit here, but the largest one which you must not miss is Maha Gandhayon Monastery, where you can find hundreds of monks and novices inside!

    4.30pm: Local life and sunset at U Bein Bridge

    Head to U Bein Bridge, the world’s longest teak plank bridge. Its appeal lies not only in its length, but mostly because it has integrated into the heart and soul of Amarapura. Hundreds of fishermen, saffron-robed monks and residents pass through this bridge every day. A visit to the bridge is a peek into the vibrant life of the local community.

    Top it off with a spectacular sunset around 5.30pm.

    7pm: Authentic Burmese dinner at Aye Myittar

    End the day with a dinner at Aye Myittar, which offers traditional Burmese food catering mostly to locals, which makes it an excellent introduction to the authentic cuisine in Myanmar! All you need to do is go to the food counter and point at whatever attracts your eyes. Dishes are affordable, ranging from MMK 1,000-3,7000.

    81st St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 9am-9.30pm daily


    Day 3 in Mandalay, Myanmar

    9am: People-watching at Zay Cho Market

    Spend at least 30-60 minutes here just to witness the chaotic, but charmingly colourful scene of the Burmese going about their daily lives in the street market. You will also see baskets and stacks of fruits, vegetables, fish and meats as you wander through the market.

    27th St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open Mon-Fri 6am-5pm, closed on Sat-Sun

    10.30am: Mya Nyan San Kyaw Palace

    While it is not as well-maintained as the other Mandalay attractions, no visit to Mandalay is complete without at least a glimpse of the city’s most symbolic icon: Mya Nyan San Kyaw Palace, the last royal palace of the last Burmese monarchy. Entrance is at the East gate of the citadel and it costs USD 10 per person.

    Open 7.30am-5pm daily

    12nn: Lunch at Green Elephant Restaurant

    Nice place for an al fresco lunch while surrounded by a tranquil garden setting, a good break from the chaotic streets of Mandalay. They serve a great range of Burmese as well as some Thai food.

    3 Block 801, 27th Street between 64th and 65th Street
    Open 11am-11pm daily

    2pm: Pagodas and monasteries of Mandalay

    The streets around the Royal Palace is littered with plenty of pagodas. You may want to pick at least one or two of them to visit while you’re here, and simply pass through the others. Here are a few recommended ones:

    Shwenandaw Monastery

    One of the finest traditional wooden monasteries in Myanmar, with very intricate teak carvings. Entrance fee costs USD 10 per pax and also allows you to visit Atumashi Kyaung directly opposite it.

    63rd St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 8am-8pm daily

    Atumashi Kyaung

    A Buddhist monastery with a striking white-and-gold color. Instead of the usual monastic design, this monastery has a grandiose feel with five rectangular terraces. Entrance fee costs USD 10 per pax and also allows you to visit Shwenandaw Monastery directly opposite it.

    63rd St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 8am-8pm daily

    Kuthodaw Pagoda

    Dubbed as “the world’s largest book” due to the fact that it is surrounded by 729 marble slabs inscribed in both sides with texts from Buddhist teachings. Entrance fee is USD 5 per person.

    5, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 8am-5pm daily

    Sandamuni Pagoda

    A very impressive large golden pagoda surrounded by hundreds of white marble shrines. Inside, you will find the largest iron Buddha statue in the entire country. It offers a good view of the Mandalay Hill above it. Entrance fee is USD 5 per pax.

    5, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 8am-8pm daily

    4.30pm: Sunset at Mandalay Hill

    End the day by climbing up the 760-foot hill at the top of Mandalay, which takes around 30 minutes (or longer if you’re the type who stops many times to take photos). The summit viewpoint is incredibly gorgeous during sunset and you may even find young monks converging here! Sunset is expected slightly after 5.30pm, and please note that there is a camera fee charge of MKK 1,000.

    6.30pm: Dinner at Man Myo Taw

    Min Min Restaurant serves a variety of traditional Burmese as well as Chinese and Thai food. The must-try delicacy here is the roasted honey duck with mushrooms.

    No.194 83rd St, Between 26th & 27th St, Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma)
    Open 10am-9pm daily

    Day 4 in Mandalay, Myanmar

    10am: Paleik Snake Temple

    On your way to Mandalay International Airport, en route to Paleik Snake Temple.

    Often overlooked, Paleik offers an impressive set of 300 stupas from the Konbaung period (the last dynasty which ruled Myanmar circa 1752-1885), which gives it a mini-Bagan feel.

    While there are many pagodas around Myanmar, this one is undoubtedly unique. Paleik is named a Snake Pagoda because back in the 1970s, three pythons visited the pagoda and curled up next to the Buddha image. They have since never left and became a vital part of the pagoda!

    Once you’re done exploring, head to the airport to check-in, grab a quick lunch and board your flight home to Singapore!




    Places to stay in Mandalay, Myanmar

    Prices listed are based on average daily rates for a Standard Room.

    Affordable

    Hotel 8‘s rooms come equipped with flat-screen cable TV, air conditioning, mini bar, free WiFi, etc. Airport transfers, ticketing and concierge services can also be organized. Hotel 8 is certainly an option if you’re looking for a simple room for the night.

    Price range: SGD$33-50

    Mid-range

    Bagan King Hotel is a boutique 3-star hotel with furnishings made from authentic, hand-crafted local products. Its strategic location, which is within walking distance to the Royal Palace and several pagodas make this charming and cozy heritage-themed hotel a value-for-money choice.

    Price range: SGD$99-150

    High-end

    Sedona Hotel Mandalay offers beautiful views of the majestic Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill, while being surrounded by gorgeous landscaped gardens. Rooms and suites are spacious, making it the current lead for the best 5-star hotel in Mandalay.

    Price range: SGD$217-310

    Getting to Mandalay, Myanmar

    SilkAir runs flights from Singapore to Mandalay at 11am-12.50pm every Thursday and Saturday; and returns from Mandalay to Singapore at 3.20-8.15pm every Tuesday.

    Getting around Mandalay, Myanmar

    The best way to get around Mandalay and other nearby villages is by renting a motorcycle (MMK 12,000-15,000 daily) or bike (MMK 1,350-2,700 daily), which you can rent from most hotels around the 25th street area.

    An alternative is to hop on a motorcycle taxi, which you can easily find around major hotels. A short ride costs around MMK 1,000-1,500. For all day-hire within Mandalay, it typically costs MMK 10,000. If you would like to include Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing on the same day, the cost may go up to around MMK 15,000.

    Other important notes

    Time difference

    Mandalay is 1 hour and 30 minutes behind Singapore.

    Best months to visit

    Mandalay is best enjoyed during the cooler and drier months of November-February. Another interesting time to visit Mandalay is the month of April due to the Thingyan Water Festival, which makes the city especially vibrant and festive.

    Avoid the June-October period, as Mandalay will experience heavy rainfall.

    Things to pack

    • Hat, sunscreen and sunglasses always come in handy when the weather gets a little too hot.
    • Ditto for umbrella in case of rainy days.
    • Respectful clothes and long trousers as you will be visiting some religious sites along the way.
    • Sandals are the most convenient as you may be required to leave your footwear outside when visiting temples and pagodas.
    • Tissue packs as some toilets may not have toilet paper.
    • First-aid kit.

    Safety

    While Mandalay is generally a safe city, exercise common precautions as you would elsewhere in Southeast Asia and avoid going out alone after dark.

    Helplines

    • Police: 199
    • Ambulance: 192
    • Fire: 191

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