Mandalay, the last royal capital of Myanmar, is a center for arts and crafts and ancient techniques dating from the last century. It remains unchanged and the artists of Mandalay are proud to be able to maintain their fore parents’ arts.
Let Grand Lotus Tours show you the culturally rich city of Mandalay. Located along the Ayeyarwady River, about 716 km north of Yangon, Mandalay is a must-see city in Myanmar. Currently the population is roughly one million and continues to grow as the recent influx of Yunnan people has helped the economic vitality of the city. Mandalay is Myanmar’s northern economic hub and a vital trade center between China and India. Even though commercialism has penetrated this city, it still holds on to its traditional roots and way of life.
There are plenty of sites within Mandalay to inspire your inner soul. First and foremost, there is Mandalay Palace, once an amazing set of intricately carved wooden buildings; most regrettably the bombings of WWII have destroyed a great part of it. Although most of the buildings have been rebuilt, a great deal of history was lost. The Golden Palace Monastery is the only building that survived the attacks of WWII. The next site to see is Mahamuni Temple, one of the three holiest places in Myanmar. This temple holds a gigantic bronze Buddha image covered in thick layers of gold leaf. Mahamuni is usually crowded with devotees from around the country and the numerous vendors bring life to this peaceful temple. Another site not to be missed is Kuthodaw Pagoda, located at the base of Mandalay Hill. This site is known as the biggest book in the world. Each page of the Buddhist scriptures have been engraved onto slabs of marble and enshrined in a dedicated stupa.
Mandalay is also a center for traditional arts and crafts. Hundreds of workshops transform raw material into stunning pieces of art. Witness the process of gold leaf making as well as marble and wood carving. It is unbelievable how much work goes into their patient art work. Visit a tapestry weaving workshops; here traditional cotton and silk weavers make customary longyis so intricate and colorful that only an inch a day can be achieved.
Around the city there are a number of places of interest such as the unspoiled countryside little town of Paleik, with hundreds of temples and pagodas. At Amarapura, the famous U Bein Bridge, a half mile long bridge made entirely of teak logs and planks is always crowded with local visitors. Near the bridge, visit the Mahagandayon Monastery, probably the largest Buddhist University in the country. It is a real treat to witness the thousands of monks all studying together.
U Bein Bridge
This nearly 200 years old teak bridge is known as the longest teak wood bridge in the world. It stretches nearly 1.2km across Taungthaman Lake and it is one of the most photographed spots in Myanmar. The best time to visit is around sunset when you can stroll across the bridge and watch the locals commute from side to side. The sunset reflects the rich color of the sky off the smooth glassy water. As you walk across the bridge don’t be surprised if a monk strikes up a conversation with you to practice their English skills. It really is a beautiful place to spend the evening and mingle with the locals. Alternatively, you can see the bridge by sampan while cruising the lake, a delightfully exclusive experience.
Don’t be fooled by Mandalay Hill; it is a lot bigger than it looks. At about 760 feet high, the hill towers over the flat city of Mandalay. First, you will wind up the small road to the entrance of the hill. Here you can take a set of escalators to the top. From the peak, you get a panoramic view of the city as well as the river and, in the distance, the Shan hills. The views from up top cannot be had anywhere else in the city and you can easily spend an hour just gazing out into the open land. The Ayerwaddy river runs alongside the city and you can see how important the river is to this wonderful city.
Dubbed as the largest book in the world, this astonishing complex is filled with nearly 800 individual pagodas, each enshrining a page of the Buddhist canon. As you wander through this vast complex of white stupas lined as though they never end, you get a feel of how important the Buddhist religion is for the Burmese people. Also in the complex are a few Buddha images, but the most impressive are the hundreds of pagodas shaded by lush green trees. It is said that it would take over 450 days to read each page at the rate of 8 hours a day. This just puts this incredible complex into perspective for you.
Mandalay Palace and Fort
While visiting the city of Mandalay you may have noticed the nearly 2 miles long 26 feet high wall. Complete with a moat and 4 entrances, this is the Palace compound. The original palace was destroyed in WWII, but the site has been rebuilt very well. Once inside, you will see multiple buildings and see how the complex was laid out. There is also a 7 tiered central palace where the kings used to live. For an excellent view, you can climb the 110 feet spiral watchtower and gaze over this sprawling palace. There is also a scale model and a cultural museum within the compound that provides all the information necessary to understand this magnificent palace and some insight into the life of previous Myanmar kings and their cabinet members.