While most visitors to Myanmar think of Yangon as the most important city historically-speaking, Mandalay is certainly a contender as well. As the country’s former capital and a central tourist attraction in Upper Myanmar, it is definitely worth a visit. You can find all sorts of interesting historical sites, as well as a delicious and varied cuisine and a thriving contemporary arts scene. Here are some of the most important places to have on your must-see list when you visit Mandalay.
Because there is a strong religious presence in Mandalay (indeed, in all of Myanmar), there is a wide variety of religious sites to visit. Maha Miat Muni Paya, located on 82nd Street, is the second holiest site in the country, and features a famous Buddha statue decorated with gold. Tourists are invited to help decorating the statue with small packs of gold leaf, available for a small fee.
Additionally, you can visit Kuthodaw Paya (62nd street), near Mandalay Hill, which houses the largest book in the world, the complete text of the Tripitaka. This is the holy text for Theravada Buddhists. Inside the site, there are also 729 white stupas, which are dome-shaped structures that contain artifacts of importance according to the Buddhist faith. They can also be used as places for meditation.
The Royal Palace is also worth a visit in that it represents a bit of the colonial history that the country endured. The original structure was built by the Burmese kingdom in 1885, but was taken over by the British colonizers and then later destroyed in 1945 during World War II. The palace was rebuilt during the 1990s, supposedly with forced labor. Much of the area around the Palace is taken over by a military base, but foreigners are allowed to visit the rebuilt palace. It is located near Mandalay Hill and is open from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm.
The Hill overlooking the city is definitely worth the arduous 230 meter climb to the top. Not only is it surrounded by many of the previous sites but it also offers a complete panoramic view of the city and a few interesting pagodas at the top. You can also take some time to practice English with the monks and novices, who are usually around at sunset.
More of a contemporary phenomenon than an ancient one, the Moustache Brothers are a comedy trio known for their criticism of the current regime and even served a spell in prison for their performances. Nowadays, they are only allowed to perform from their home and the performance is only open to tourists. There is an event every night, located on 39th street, between 80th and 81st.
These are just a few of the historical and cultural attractions you can visit in Mandalay and Upper Myanmar. There are countless other sites, as well as events and activities that you can explore on your trip to this interesting and rarely-visited destination. So get ready to visit Mandalay and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Sophia Guida has been living in Lima, Peru off and on since the beginning of 2012, where she works as a freelance writer/photojournalist and takes every opportunity to explore the areas left out of the guidebooks. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.