Welcome to our guide to Mandalay, Myanmar!
Lesser travelled than its popular SEA neighbours, Myanmar is filled with beautiful sights, magical temples and the friendliest local people you’ll ever meet. Travellers often start their trip in Mandalay because of its airport. The bustling city can be overwhelming at first, but with a little patience and with the kindness of the people, you’ll learn to love this city. Highlights include many pagodas rich in history and character, the world’s largest “book” and day trips outside of the city to ancient towns and temples. Myanmar in general is a great spot for sunrises and sunsets, and Mandalay follows this trend. You can head to Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset over the temple there, and then head to U-Bein Bridge to see the sun rise over the lake. It is also a great base for shorter day trips in the area to countless unique temples in Mingun, Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura.
Check out our guide to Mandalay, Myanmar below in this post, outlining best places to stay, best sights to see and best places to grab a bite to eat! Don’t overlook Mandalay when planning a trip to SEA!
How To Get There
To fly into Mandalay airport, you must get a flight from a neighbouring country such as Thailand, China, India or Singapore. You can also catch a domestic flight from Yangon. Mandalay was the first destination of our trip. We flew with KLM and Air France from Canada. We transferred in Amsterdam and landed in Bangkok, Thailand before boarding a final flight to Mandalay! A taxi ride into town from the airport will cost you 15,000 kyat, and we were also made to tip 2000 kyat on top of that. The ride takes 45 minutes to an hour.
Note: You need a pre-approved visa before entering the country as a tourist. Check out more info on how to do this in our Myanmar post!
We also travelled to Kalaw from Myanmar on an overnight bus. We took JJ (Joyous Journey) Express, which is a bright purple bus with a yellow sign. It was very comfy and a smooth ride. The busses do blast the AC so make sure to bring layers! The trip took about 5 hours; it departs from the main bus station in Mandalay and drops you in Kalaw on the way to Taunggyi (Inle Lake). Kalaw is where we started our 2 day hike to Inle Lake!
Getting around the city is very easy with many options to suit your needs. There are 3 main options!
- You can easily rent a scooter/motorbike from your hotel or hostel, or use this website (recommended to us by friends living in Mandalay) to organize a rental in advance.
- You can use Grab, an app which is essentially the Uber of Asia, to order a motorbike, tuk tuk or taxi to take you to any destination. Just make sure you have wifi or data turned on in order to call a Grab.
- Hire a driver for the day. Unfortunately, Alex hurt his back one day and we weren’t able to ride our motorbike. We spoke with our hotel and they got us in contact with drivers in the city. We had to haggle a bit, but we got the price down 45 000 Kyat for the day (then we tipped 2500 kyat on top of that because he was so great!). The price may vary depending on season and destinations for the day.
Where to Stay
- Silver Cloud – We stayed at Silver Cloud for three nights for 20,735 kyat/night. This got us a double bed in a room with a private bathroom (although the bathroom was pretty dirty…). We also got a free buffet breakfast each morning on the roof! Wifi only worked well in the lobby. You can book a room online, or browse other options here.
What To Do
Check out our top sights for Mandalay!
- Mandalay Hill – Located in the north of the city, this hill top temple is the perfect spot for a city view and sunset. Get ready to climb many, many steps in your bare feet! It took us about 30 minutes to reach the top, and the view is definitely worth it! You can also drive or get a ride up if you’re not up for the climb, but passing the shrines and statues on the way up was very cool. You do have to pay 400 kyat if you bike up, otherwise entry is free. Ladies make sure to cover your shoulders and knees!
- U-Bein Bridge – Built in the 1850s, this is the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world, spanning 1.2 kilometres across the Taung Tha Man Lake. Stroll across the teak planks and take in the calm waters, the locals fishing and the fresh air. It is a very popular choice to watch the sunrise. It is a truly beautiful event, but as its popularity grows, the bridge has gotten busier and busier for sunrise. We opted to go for sunset, and the bridge was almost completely empty! It was really peaceful, but either way, it is worth checking out. It’s also free!
- Shwenandaw Monastery – The city is speckled with temples, pagodas, stupas and monasteries. It is impossible to see all of them, but we wanted to include this one on the list. Built in 1878, this Buddhist monastery is the last remaining original structure of the Royal Palace. What makes it worth the visit is the teak buddhist carvings that cover the entire structure. It’s darker than most temples we’ve visited in the past, and we loved exploring it. Ladies make sure to cover your shoulders and knees! Entry is included with a Mandalay Palace entry ticket, which is 10,000 kyat.
- Kuthodaw Pagoda – This is known as the world’s largest book, but not in the sense of a traditional paper book. Rows and rows of large stone tablets covered in writing are individually housed in white stupas, and they surround a pagoda in the middle. Strolling through what feels like endless white temples is an awesome experience. Ladies make sure to cover your shoulders and knees! Entry is free, but there are ladies who “watch” your shoes while you walk around barefoot who sometimes ask for tips.
- Mandalay Palace – Originally built in the 1850s, the palace was the last remaining of the Burmese monarchy. However, most of the original building was destroyed in World War II. The beautiful and realistic replica was built in the 1990s. It is a peaceful walk, but not an absolute must see if you don’t have time. Explore the palace, learn about the history of Mandalay and Myanmar, and climb one of the towers for a view of the palace grounds, the huge moat, and the city beyond! It does take a little while to get there, as you cannot ride a car or motorbike within a certain distance of the palace. Enter from the east side of the massive outer wall, and make sure to have your ID on you if you plan to park a motorbike. Walking in to the inner gate and the palace itself takes about 10 minutes. Ladies make sure to cover your shoulders and knees! Entry is 10,000 kyat, and includes entry to the Shwenandaw Monastery.
- Day Trip to Mingun – Sitting on the Irrawaddy river, and just over an hour car ride from the city lies the small town of Mingun. There you’ll find two beautiful pagodas as well as the second largest bell in the world! Everything you need to know about a day trip to Mingun is coming in another post soon.
- Day Trip to Sagaing – We combined this trip with our day trip to Mingun. Sagaing is a city full of temples perched on top of different hills. Check out which ones we saw in our day trip post coming soon!
- Day Trip to Inwa – Unfortunately we did not have time to visit all the towns around Mandalay, but if you have time, Inwa would be a great choice to look into.
Where to Eat
- Marie Min – A cute little vegetarian restaurant sitting in the heart of the city, this shop is a perfect place to stop for lunch. Featuring curry, spring rolls, fried rice; it’s delicious, cheap and the staff are so friendly! Prices: 3000-5000 kyat per entree. We spent 10 000 total on a plate of spring rolls and two entrees!
- Rainforest – This Thai food restaurant is across the little alley way from Marie Min. It’s great if you’re on a budget with a wide array of options on the menu. We loved the fresh fruit smoothies and sweet iced coffees! Prices: 3000 – 5000 kyat per entree! Iced coffees and smoothies were around 2500.
- Hometown – This lovely little place was a great spot to go in a group. We went with friends who were living in Mandalay. The idea is a little different; we simply went in to the kitchen and pointed out a few of the vegetables we wanted. They prepared these dishes for us and we ate them family style with rice outside in little bamboo huts with delicious fresh juice! Prices: Vary depending on what you get, but expect to pay around 10 000 kyat for a range of food and drinks.
- Best of the Best Karaoke – This is HUGE in Mandalay! Our friends living in the city absolutely loved going out for karaoke on their nights off. You can rent out a private room with your friends, order drinks and choose your favourite songs to belt out! We went to Best of the Best (BOTB), which was in a room absolutely covered in gold. Cost was 20,000 kyat for a room for a group of 10 or less.