Mandalay

A busy street scene in Mandalay, Myanmar, with the clock tower built to commemorate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee.

Mandalay (Burmese: မန္တလေး) is the second largest city (after Yangon), and a former capital of Myanmar. The city is the economic and religious hub of upper Myanmar. The city is centred around the royal palace, and has wide avenues filled with bicycles and motorcycles.

Mandalay is known for its millionaires, its monks (half of the country's monks reside in Mandalay and surrounding areas), and its cultural diversity.

Understand

History

The very name Mandalay evokes the splendours of old Burma. But most people will be surprised to learn that Mandalay is not an old city, not even a medieval one, but rather a new city created by King Mingdon Min in 1857 as the new capital of the kingdom of Ava. Only two Burmese kings ruled from there, King Mingdon and King Thibaw, before the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885. It was a city of splendour between 1858 and 1885, but most of the magnificence has vanished, gone in the fires that consume wooden structures and by intensive Allied bombing during the Second World War. The city, neatly planned with its lettered roads and numbered streets, is a British creation. The once magnificent royal palace and the great Atumashi ("incomparable") pagoda, King Mingdon Min's finest creations, are modern reconstructions supervised by the ruling junta with the help of forced labour. Today, Mandalay lies at the end of the Lashio Rd and it is, by Burmese standards, relatively prosperous as a centre for trade with China and India. Despite the capital having been moved to Naypyidaw, Mandalay remains by far the main commercial centre of Upper Myanmar.

People

Mandalay is ethnically diverse, with the Bamar (Burmans) forming a slight majority. In recent years, there has been a major influx of Chinese from mainland China, and the local Chinese (both recent migrants and descendants of colonial-era immigrants) form 30-40% of the population. Their influence is seen in the Chinese-style glass buildings throughout the city. Other ethnic groups include the Shan, who are ethnically and linguistically related to the Thais and Laotians, and the Karen (Kayin). There is also a sizable ethnic Indian population, including Nepalis and Sikhs.

Climate

Mandalay has a semi-tropical climate. Winter (which is dry and cold) lasts from Nov-Feb, and summer lasts from Mar-May. Because Mandalay is in the central dry zone, it receives far less rain than the more tropical south.

Get in

By plane

Mandalay International Airport (MDL), a gleaming modern facility, serves the area with flights to places in Myanmar and some international flights. There are also 3 flights weekly to and from Kunming on flight MU2029 for about CNY2,000 one way.

The airport is 35 km south of the city centre in Tada-U. Expect to pay USD8 to central Mandalay, USD6 from central Mandalay, and USD30 to/from Pyin U Lwin.

By train

From Yangon There are several trains daily from Yangon. While the tracks are old and, in some cases, the carriages may be old, the fifteen hour journey is quite pleasant. In 2006 all trains were rescheduled to travel during the day (so that trains do not cross Pyinmana in the dark), but at least one train (the privately-managed Dagon Mann Express) now runs overnight. Fares range from about USD15 (ordinary class/hard seat) to USD50 (air conditioned sleeper on the Dagon Mann Express).

From Lashio, Hsipaw, and Pwin U Lwin There are two trains daily from Pyin U Lwin (USD4/2) and one from Lashio via Hsipaw and Pwin U Lwin (USD9/3 from Hsipaw). These trains are slow, crowded, but fascinating. The Pyin U Lwin - Hsipaw section includes the famous Gokteik Viaduct, a feat of Raj ingenuity (and American construction!).

From Myitkyina This twenty-four hour journey is on old rolling stock and even older tracks so expect it to be bumpy!

By bus

From Yangon There is a night bus with air-con (there are 5 options, 17:00, 18:00, 19:00, 21:00, and 21:30 departures, standard MYK10,500, VIP MYK15,000, 8.5-9 hr) running into Mandalay. Almost certainly the cheapest option for getting between the two main cities in Myanmar. From Inle Lake, MYK10,000.

From Inle Lake, Kalaw or Mid-Eastern Towns There are buses available along this route, either a day minibus (05:00 departure, 9,000 kyat, 9 hr) or a night bus with air-con (18:00 departure). The minibus in the day takes a slightly shorter route than the larger (and some say more comfortable) full-sized night bus. Expect windy and bumpy roads, stops for picking up and putting down passengers, and, if you are lucky, a search of the bus by just-bribed police officers in plainclothes.

From the Highway Bus Station you can either take a taxi or pick-up into town. Taxis are overly expensive (quoting prices as high as 2,000 kyat per person; don't pay more than 5,000 kyat for the car), and often bargain in a mob fashion (except they all offer the same price and try and gang-up on you). A far cheaper option is to simply walk out of the bus station yards to the west, and find one of the pick-ups that just ran a load of people to the station from town (500 kyat per person). They are normally more than happy to help and there are no commission issues to worry about.

Some bus companies, e.g. OK Bus (btw. Mandalay and Bagan, MMK 9000), offer free pick-up from your hostel and will drop you at your next hostel at your destination.

Get around

See

Mandalay has a "Mandalay Zone Fee" of K10000 that covers most of the central attractions and lasts for about a week. Buy it from the first attraction you visit. The tickets are not always checked at all attractions and you might be able to get individual cheaper tickets for some attractions. If you want to take a chance on avoiding the fee, don't go to the palace, where the ticket is always checked. Mingung and Sagaing are about K3000 extra each (not always enforced).

Religious sites

Miscellaneous

Do

Go back to where the 84th Street splits into two and this time go right. Continue further south. Parallel to your street runs another, getting really close to yours after about 3km, only to then turn right when yours goes gradually left (there is a gas station, 100m to your left is a white pagoda). From there continue on the main road. After 400m the road bends right, then continues straight for about 1km and then bends left. You can stop there to visit the Burkayar Monastery. Afterwards, continue straight and leave the main road. After 500m the railway tracks cross the street. Continue straight through the neighborhoods for 500m more until you reach the Taungthaman Lake. Follow the road counter-clockwise along the lake and after 2km you will reach the parking area of U Bein Bridge. You might have to pay a small parking fee (MMK 100-200). Cross the Bridge and settle in a teahouse on the other side.
Get back on the bicycle and go west until you hit the main road (Saging-Mandalay Expy) and the tracks. From there you can explore the neighbourhoods and stop by any building where you hear the dominant rattling noise of the looms. There are factory-like businesses and private homes with only one or two machines. There are plenty. And you will be warmly welcomed to any of them to have a look.
To go to Innwa follow the main road (Saging-Mandalay Expy) further south for 4.5km, always straight until you reach a roundabout. Go straight for Innwa (or turn right and cross the bridge to Sagaing). After another kilometre you will reach a crossing. The main road bends right a little and crosses the river to Sagaing, a smaller road bends sharply left to somewhere else. And straight continues a small street of rather poor condition. Take this small street and follow it for another kilometre until you reach the river. You can only cross it by ferry (1min). It's MMK 1,000 per person and 200 extra for the bicycle return ticket. Welcome to Innwa!
Once you leave the ferry you will want to continue as soon as possible as the horse cart tour guys try to win you for a ride. Follow the horse tracks.
Mahar Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery: From the jetty follow the road, go left, then right at the T-crossing. When the road turns left follow the small trail straight instead (no horse cart can pass), cross the tiny bridge. And after 50m you reach the monastery (zone ticket). Right hand side from the main entrance there is a stupa, walled with two doors each having stairs. Check if the doors are open and sneak in for free. The stupa is connected to the monastery.
Take 2-3h to explore Inwa fully. Then go back the same way to see the sunset at U Bein Bridge. There are street lamps all the way to Mandalay. There are no hills, just flat land.
Mandalay Clock Tower - Maha Mudi Image: 4km, 20min
Maha Mudi Image - U Bein Bridge: 8km, 40min
U Bein Bridge - Inwa: 8km, 40min
In case you got lost just ask people for the way. As there is next to nobody cycling in that area (not even locals) they are very curious and will gladly help you. Have your destinations written in Myanma as it's easier for people to understand. Try to get a bicycle with lights. Alternatively you can rent a motorcycle for MMK 10,000. But only one can fit at a time on the ferry. 1,500 kyat for bicycle, 1,200 ferry.

Buy

Eat

Mandalay, both due to its history as a former capital of Myanmar, and its position as a major trading centre between Myanmar and its neighbours in China, India and Bangladesh has a notable array of specialties both from various regions within Myanmar as well as from other countries. Cuisine from the Shan State (usually including fermented pastes, vegetables and meats) is popular in Mandalay which has a sizable Shan minority. Muslim Chinese noodles, pronounced pan-THEI-kao-sweh (flat thin noodles mixed with an array of spices, chili, and chicken), are also famous in Mandalay and the surrounding hills. Regardless of where you eat, try to leave space for htou moun(to-moh), a traditional Burmese dessert sold only in Mandalay. Beware, it contains a lot of oil and is extremely sweet.

Drink

Sleep

Budget

Most budget guesthouses are around 25th St, between 81st and 84th Streets. There are many more than those listed here.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Mandalay is a haven for drug kingpins and is a main trading centre of illicit drugs. In 2005, an explosion occurred at Zegyo Market. That being said, Mandalay is generally a very safe city.

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.