Founded in 1857 by King Mindon Mandalay is a surprisingly young city that was the last royal capital. While today it is a major commercial hub, Mandalay is also regarded as Myanmar's religious and cultural capital due to its high concentration of monks, hundreds of monasteries, multitude of splendid pagodas, notable mosques, Indian temples and striking churches, along with legions of craftsmen.
This large and sprawling city is dominated by the colossal Royal Palace, which was devastated by allied bombs during World War II leaving only the moat and city walls. The whole palace complex has been almost entirely reconstructed and although faithful to the original design and with some traditional construction techniques used, modern materials have been incorporated into the replica. That said, it's still possible to get a sense of what the original would have been like.
The perfectly preserved Shwenandaw Kyaung (Golden Palace Monastery) was originally part of the Royal Palace but was moved in 1878 which saved it from the wartime bombings and it remains the last fully intact royal structure from the original palace. Made entirely of teak it is adorned with beautifully intricate carvings which add a touch of magic to this dramatic religious site.
Also not to be missed is the 780ft Mandalay Hill, covered in spires and pagodas and whose summit is reached via a 45 minute climb up covered stairways (which locals believe is good for your health and soul) or alternatively taxis can be hired. Whichever mode of transport you choose the reward is stunning 360º views of the whole city, the Irrawaddy River and the distant hills, particularly beautiful at sunset. At the foot of Mandalay Hill sits Kuthodaw Paya, a religious complex home to the world's largest 'book' although not in the conventional sense. It actually consists of 729 marble slabs which are inscribed with the entire Buddhist text of the Tripitaka, and are spread across the vast pagoda grounds in long organised rows.
Known as the centre for many of Myanmar's traditional artisan crafts Mandalay has a large number of workshops and showrooms, so visitors can watch as items are created in marble, stone, gold and teak wood. There are also numerous markets including the Gem Market and Jade Market or the Nya Ze Dan (Night Market) where mostly clothes and books are traded.
Mandalay is also the gateway to the surrounding ancient cities of Amarapura, Inwa (Ava), which has numerous historic structures, and Sagaing, known for its hilltop pagodas and monasteries. Other nearby sights include the U Bein Bridge, the world's longest teak bridge, particularly photogenic at sunset when the sun slips behind hills and trees with vast farmlands and spires in the foreground; while a delightful river trip from Mandalay brings you to Mingun, famous for the 90 ton Mingun Bell which hangs in a marvellous unfinished temple.
- Plethora of temples and monasteries
- Spectacular sunset views
- Historic attractions
- Artisan workshops
- Nearby ancient cities
- U Bein Bridge