That word has always sounded so exotic and mysterious to me. Even before I knew anything about it, I knew I wanted to go.
At initial glance, this city does not live up to the mysteriousness that its name implies. It’s hot, dusty and busy. However, it’s charms soon grew on me. From it’s lovely walkway along the moat to the countless pagodas and monasteries, to the beautiful surrounding areas and horse and carts. I felt like I had gone back in time to how Asia used to be before tourism took over. It’s a fabulous place to be.
Below you will find all the information you need to make your own visit a success and remember to read our overall guide to Myanmar.
Walking up this hill is a must do Mandalay attraction. Mandalay is flat so there are good views from this 760 foot hill – if the whole city isn’t in a haze like it was when I was there. However, even without the views, I found this walk fantastic.
The walk takes about 40 minutes up a covered stairway on the southern slope of the hill. There are plenty of places to stop with bench seats lining most of the walkway, so it is very easy (and more pleasant) to take your time. It must be walked barefoot.
There are many stalls and praying opportunities on the way as well as a large standing Buddha and various other statues. At the top of Mandalay Hill is a great temple area. There are also far more people as you can also drive up and take a lift to the top.
For me, the top was nice, but nothing that spectacular. The walk, however, was priceless especially as I was mostly alone. Walk it if at all possible. This is also a popular place to watch the sunset.
There is a K1,000 camera fee at the top. People ask for K300 to keep your shoes at the bottom. I’d recommend tucking them in your bag and taking them with you as that way you have the flexibility to walk down a different side on your descent or to take a taxi down. Knees and shoulders must be covered at the summit.
The other big Mandalay attraction is Mandalay Palace, located in the centre of the fortress area. It is a 1990s reconstruction of the original and makes for an impressive site with more than 40 timber buildings. There is a watchtower to climb and a minor museum and information displays.
I enjoyed having a walk around, but if you need to skip something on this list, this is what I would skip.
Admission is via a 10,000 Mandalay combo ticket which will also give you entry to many other attractions around Mandalay. Tourists are only allowed to enter via the East Gate and are not allowed to wander off the main road heading to the palace.
Surrounding the area where the palace is located is a 230 foot wide moat with over 4 miles of 26 foot tall walls. These form a square in the centre of Manadalay around the site of the former fortress. Next to the moat, is a wide, shaded footpath which makes for a pleasant walk. I enjoyed walking along here. Just don’t be like me and try to walk the whole lot!
Another Myanmar must see is the U-Bein Bridge – the longest teak footbridge in the world. It is 1300 yards long across Taungthaman Lake. The experience varies a lot depending on which season you visit – there was no water under most of the bridge when I was here. After the summer rains, apparently the water comes up to just under the bridge planks.
It’s a fun place to walk along and many locals were playing, relaxing and going about their business when I visited. Sunset is the best time to go when many villagers are commuting across the bridge.
U-Bein Bridge is about a 15 minute taxi ride south of central Myanmar.
Sagaing is a beautiful place to spend some time just a short drive from Mandalay. The low rising green hills seem covered in gold and white stupas and the effect is just gorgeous. My driver told me this is where people come to meditate. It looks like a great option to me. Many of the 1600 monasteries that surround Mandalay are located here.
The highlight of Sagaing is climbing one of the many covered stairways up the hills past monasteries, nunneries and temples to viewpoints of the river and the surrounding hills.
I climbed up Sagaing Hill. It is also possible to drive up but, similarly to Mandalay Hill, I think you lose the best part of the experience of visiting here if you skip the climb. It was relatively easy and the undercover stairway was lined with bench seats. There is also a shrine to visit on the way up.
The temple at the top was a highlight of my time in Mandalay. There were many local people and some stunning outfits that eclipsed the great views.
Take a taxi or motorbike to Sagaing. It is about a 30 minute drive from Mandalay. It is close to Inwa and U-Bein Bridge so can be combined with a visit there.
Inwa, an area south of Mandalay near Sagaing, has been the royal capital 4 times since 1364 before it was finally abandoned in 1841. Today it is a rural area with ruins, monasteries and stupas. The easiest way to visit this attraction is a boat ride over the Myitnge River (this is where taxis will drop you off) and then riding around by horse and cart. There are no taxis here.
The Mandalay Combo ticket described above is required for Inwa. The riverboat crossing is K800 return and a horse and cart starts at K6000 for an hour. There is a boat here from Mandalay or you can take a taxi or motorcycle taxi. It makes sense to combine a trip here with Sagaing and U-Bein Bridge.
Mingun is a village up the river from Mandalay. The main attractions here are some beautiful temples especially the Mingun Pahtodawgyi. It is an incomplete stupa and is absolutely huge. It was never completed. If it had of been, it would be the largest in the world at 150 metres. It makes for quite a site – I thought it was a hill when I first saw it! It’s a steep, but relatively quick climb to the top with great views over the surrounding temples. This was one of my highlights in Mandalay.
There is also the Mingun Bell which is the heaviest functioning bell, and many other temples that are worth a visit. The streets are lined with stalls so this is also a good shopping opportunity – although be careful as the quality is not great if my purchases are anything to go by.
I visited here on a boat, but it is also possible to visit via taxi which will have to travel via Sagaing to get here from Mandalay. The boat ride is part of the appeal. It takes about 50 minutes and is a nice introduction to Myanmar. I was able to see Mingun and its temples from quite a distance away.
The return boat ride is K5,000 and leaves Mandalay at 9am. Entry to Mingun Bell and Mingun Pahtodawgyi costs K3,000. It is easy to walk around Mingun on foot but there are ox and carts and tricycles if you want transport.
There are a wide range of hotels in Mandalay. Here are my top picks, all are family friendly.
There are restaurants and food stalls littered all around the place and everywhere I ate had great food. Here are some choices I enjoyed:
*Beer stations are basically outdoor/undercover seating areas that serve cheap beer and barbeques.
There is an international airport in Mandalay, a train station, buses and boats. I flew into Mandalay on a bargain airfare on Air Asia and flew out again on Air Bagan. The airport is about an hour from the city. Air Asia has a free bus between there and central Myanmar. A taxi cost me K12,000 in the early hours of the morning to return.
After flying, buses can be the best option to get to and from Mandalay. The trains can be very uncomfortable with long journey times. The boat is also long and only works if you are coming from certain destinations, like Bagan. It can also run into problems – another tourist was telling me his boat from Bagan got stuck on a sand bar and took 3 hours to get off turning this journey into a 15 hour one. I paid about the same price for my flight as that boat as well!
The main way to get around Mandalay is by taxi or motorbike taxi. Generally, motorbike taxis are about K1,000 – 2,000 within Mandalay with normal taxis about twice the price. They always have a spare helmet available. It can be a bit more difficult to find a normal taxi.
You can also hire a bicycle or moped. Mandalay is mostly very flat, but it is a hot and dusty place.
There are also pick ups which are the public transportation. These are confusing and very full. There are often no seats and everyone is just squished in.
I only spent 1.5 days in Mandalay and was able to do all of the above. I did not have anything else on my list things to see in Mandalay so I was very happy with my time frame. This is what I did:
Day 1: Arrived afternoon, set off to Mandalay Palace and then Mandalay Hill
Day 2: Return boat to Mingun. On arrival back to Mandalay, hopped straight in a taxi for Sagaing, Inwa, U-Bein Bridge. It was a busy day and in an ideal world, I would split this over two days. However, it is completely possible as well.
A smarter idea if you need to do all this in one day would be to hire a taxi in Mandalay before heading to Mingun to pick you up in Mingun. On the boat trip, we were there for 3 hours and I only really needed 1-2 hours.
If you do not have much time at all, Mingun and Sagaing were my highlights. You could easily do these two destinations in half a day with your own driver.
It is very unusual to see anyone in short shorts/dresses/skirts or singlet tops even foreigners. In fact, I don’t think I saw any. Temples will require shoulders and knees to be covered and people generally wear clothes that cover these areas at all times. This includes men. I recommend taking 3/4 length pants such as this or the good old fisherman pants.
I did not take my kids to Mandalay. However, I cannot help but keep an eye out for kid friendly attractions. Below are some things to do in Mandalay with kids. For the above attractions, they would all be suitable for older kids. If you have younger kids, like mine, many attractions would not work unfortunately. I would recommend driving to the tops of Mandalay and Sagaing Hills.
The U-Bein Bridge would terrify my little ones (and me) as there are big gaps between some of the planks and there are no railings along the sides. The boat to Mingun also did not have decent railings, so I would avoid that with young kids too. The horse and cart rides might be fun – for a few minutes, but they are also too squishy for a family and lying room only. I think kids would get uncomfortable and bored of it quickly.
Yadanapon Zoological Gardens
This 53 acre zoo is located at the base of Mandalay Hill near the fortress walls. It has some attractive gardens and over 300 animals, although the conditions of some of the cages can be upsetting.
K2,000 admission per person.
I walked past this park near the river in the early morning when it was shut, but it looked like lots of fun! Check out this review here for more details.
Mandalay City Hotel pool
If you are not staying at the Mandalay City Hotel, you can use its pool for K5,000 each.
If you have travelled to Mandalay with kids, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
My two nights in Mandalay cost me about US$180 including accommodation, taxis, attractions and food. I also bought a pair of trousers (which broke straight away) and thongs/flip flops after mine broke. It would not have cost much more for someone else to be with me since the major costs were accommodation and taxis.
I loved Mandalay. It wasn’t what I expected, but that was not a bad thing. For some reason, I imagined a hilly, green, jungle location, but actually Mandalay is surrounded by dry scrub and is flat. I enjoyed walking around this city and taking it all in. It was rare I would see other foreigners apart from at the attractions.
The sites above are all worth visiting. I particularly liked Mingun and the walks up Sagaing and Mandalay Hills. The one thing I didn’t like was the dust. I felt dirty all of the time.
The people are friendly and there is enough English around that life is not difficult. I loved the simplicity of things – like the horse and carts. I really did feel like I had stepped back in time. It was lovely to be somewhere that is easy to navigate and explore but still not ruined by tourism.
Any questions? Have you been to Mandalay? What are you best tips?