As I was planning on our trip to Myanmar, I had three places where I definitely wanted to visit – Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon. Besides these, there seemed to be several other interesting places – Inle Lake, Kalaw, Hsipaw, Ngapali… With nine days to use, I soon realized that there was no chance we would have time to visit even half of these places. Knowing that traveling inside Myanmar would be slow, we would basically need one day every time we were changing the city. I really wanted to visit at least four places, but with so little time, I soon started to wonder if it really would be wise to rush it AND spend four out of nine days on just traveling between places. I wanted to spend two full days in Bagan and in Yangon and one in Mandalay. Three days would be reserved for travels. This left us with one spare day. After weighing our options, I decided that it would be wise not to include any additional places, but to take it easy and spend one more day in Mandalay, the first city we were to visit in Myanmar.
At a first glance, Mandalay is not a city where you’d think anyone would love to spend much time. It is a dusty, noisy and dirty city with a really dull grid layout. And here we were, spending two and a half days instead of one and a half, in a city where I was sure I’d get bored real fast. After we were dropped off by the bus on a dirty, smelly street right in the heart of the city, I started regretting the decision of spending the extra day we had, here out of all the places. But turned out I was wrong, badly wrong.
After only a few hours in the city I soon discovered that there would be plenty to see in and around the city. Well, mainly around the city, as there are only a handful of attractions close to the city center. Mandalay Hill, Golden Palace, Grand Palace and the mind blowing Kuthadow pagoda with the world’s largest book. These all were places you could easily see in one day. However, it turned out that Mandalay is actually a way bigger city than what it initially seems like when you have a look at the map. Somehow the layout of the city makes you think that this is a city where most attractions can be seen going around by foot, but no. We usually try to avoid public transport and taxis as much as possible, and just walk around. I actually do consider it to be a lazy day if we end up walking less than 10kms in one day. But not in Mandalay, as here even the shortest distances were often measured by kilometers instead of hundreds of meters. So, a driver would come in handy if we did not want to spend all three days just walking on the streets, where there actually was not that much to see. Plus, as the traffic is pretty much horrendous and there are no walkways, those long kilometers would need to be walked zigzagging among all the cars and scooters. So yes, getting a driver/taxi really is advisable here and reserving some extra time to get from one attraction to another is also strongly recommended!
The time we had in the city went by in a blink of an eye. Turned out that there are several interesting places to visit around the city. Even if the main attractions of the city can easily be seen in one day, the best ones are those outside the city center. South of the city center you can find several gold pounding factories and wood carving centers. The large golden Buddha in Mahamuni pagoda is worth seeing. Well, actually it is the Mahamuni pagoda that is worth seeing, since, as a tourist you will not see much of the actual buddha, especially if you happen to be a female. If you go even further south, you’ll find Amarapura with the famous U Bein teak bridge, Inn Wa with the ancient city ruins and Sagaing hill with marvelous views over the Irrawaddy river and Mandalay. All these places can easily be visited in a day as well if you have a driver. East of the city lies Pyin Oo Lwin, the city which I thought we’d visit when we would get bored in Mandalay. After all, we did not even make it up there as time ran out. So yes, after all, a third day would have been nice to have here.
I expected nothing of Mandalay and was surprised big time. Mandalay was the first city we visited in Myanmar and by the third day, I already knew I loved this country. During the tree days we saw countless of beautiful places, met some incredibly friendly people, as well as encountered several positive surprises in the most unexpected situations. I was prepared to get bored and frustrated here, instead, I ended up having three wonderful days in a city that took me by a surprise. After the third day, I still would have liked to stay here fro one or two more days. I can tell you, this is a big thing to say as usually I’m more or less done with any city and ready move on. Sure, Mandalay was our first stop in Myanmar and many of the positive things we encountered were partially because we loved the country, the people and the general atmosphere so much. If Mandalay had been our final stop in the country, I assume three days would have been enough.
Tips for Mandalay:
- Air Asia offers a free shuttle between the city center and the airport. The bus stop in the city is just two blocks away from the railway station on 79th
- Most attractions require a Mandalay pass to be purchased. This pass covers most of the important sights in and around the city (excluding Mingun, where you need to buy a separate ticket). The pass costs 10.000 kyats and is sold everywhere you are required to have it, so no need to purchase it in advance. The pass is valid for one week and grants you access to each attraction once.
- Taxis are widely available and prices negotiable, here are some examples of rides we took with a taxi:
- A short trip (3-5km) between attractions: 3500-5000 kyat (~2,5-3,5€)
- 2hour tour around Kuthadow pagoda and Mandalay hill and back: 10 000 kyat. (~7€)
- A full day trip to Amarapura, Inn Wa, Sagaing and southern parts of Mandalay 40 000 kyat (~28€).