Mandalay was the last Royal Capital of Myanmar and is located nearly 700 km north of Yangon between the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River and the Shan plateau. Mandalay is considered the centre of Burmese culture, a city of artisans and a trading centre of goods in all directions. The geometric laid out streets, the many bicycles riders, the 8 km long moth and wall around the former Royal Palace, the pagodas and monasteries abound and the sacred Mandalay Hill towering over it all, are some of its most visible features. In the vicinity of Mandalay are the former royal capitals and religious centers of Amarapura, Mingun, Inwa (Ava) and Sagaing, each worth visiting. Mandalay is another gateway to Myanmar and has direct air links with Bangkok, Singapore, Kunming and Chiang Mai.
Mandalay had been the royal capital for only 25 years when the British invaded Upper Burma in 1885 and exiled King Thibaw and his queen Supyalat to India. But for thousands of years it had already been considered a sacred place for the Buddhist faith. It was King Mindon who moved the capital from neighbouring Amarapura and built the Royal Palace as the center of the new city, forming a perfect square. Surrounded by a moth, it had 12 gates – 3 on each side, marked with the signs of the zodiac. It was built entirely of teak. Today only the outer walls and the moth remain of the old structures, the old palace itself burned down in 1945 when used as military compound by Japanese occupation forces during World War II it was shelled by British troops. The buildings we can see now are very good replicas of the old palace.
Today, Mandalay is a bustling commercial city among all the golden temples and pagodas; with its location in the middle of the country it acts as a crossroad for goods coming from the outlying areas and from as far away as China, Thailand and India.
Things to do
The Royal Palace, located in Mandalay is the last royal palace of the last Burmese monarchy. The palace was constructed, between 1857 and 1859 as part of King Mindon’s founding of the new royal capital city of Mandalay. The plan of Mandalay Palace largely follows the traditional Burmese palace design, inside a walled fort surrounded by a moat.
Maha Muni pagoda, which in addition to housing the golden image of the same name with its very colourful history, have many small stalls and shops. From there it is on to the artisans who produce some of the gold leaves which the devoted Buddhists bestow in large quantities on Buddha images and stupas in order for them to gain merits for their next life. Gold leaf production is a handicraft that has been in the same families for generations.
Shwe Kyaung (Golden Monastery). This monastery is the only wooden structure left over from the old palace. It was moved here by King Thibaw and therefore it escaped the faith of the other palace buildings. Carving detail of Shwenandaw Kyaung Temple or Golden Palace Monastery is one of the best for photography.
Kuthodaw Pagoda, also called “the world’s largest book”, referring to the 729 marble tablets which together contain the script of the whole Buddhist canon (Tripitaka) and the 729 small pagodas housing them.
Amarapura, about 10 km out of Mandalay has also been a royal capital during brief spells of Burmese history, but these days not much remains of the old palaces. It is, however, a very spiritual place with many monasteries and several thousand monks. You will also be able to watch hundreds of monks coming together for their last daily meal at around 10.30 am. Apart from its history, Amarapura is particularly known for its silk- and cotton weaving and all around you can hear the clackety-clack of the looms. Bronze casting is also a trade famous for this town.
U Bein’s Bridge, a 1.2 km long footbridge across the Taungthaman Lake, built entirely in teak with material salvaged from the royal castle of Innwa when the capital moved from there to Amarapura two hundred years ago. The bridge still stands after all this time and is considered the longest teak span in the world.
The Mingun Bell is a bell located in Mingun, Sagaing Region, Myanmar. It is located approximately 11 km (7 miles) north of Mandalay on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River. At 90 tons, the Mingun Bell reigned as the largest ringing bell in the world until 2000.
Mingun temple, biggest unfinished buddhist structure, Myanmar.