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Mandalay

Burma’s cultural and Buddhist center

Streets of Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay traffic

Mandalay, the second largest city of Burma with over 1 million inhabitants is the cultural and Buddhist center of Burma. The city is located on the banks of the Irrawaddy river in Central Burma some 700 kilometers North of Yangon and about 180 kilometers North East of Bagan.

Mandalay founded in 1857 is a relatively new city; the ancient capitals Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura around Mandalay are much older. Mandalay was the capital of Burma during the Konbaung era from 1859 until 1885 when Mandalay was brought under British rule.

Mandalay and surrounding towns are known for the hundreds of pagodas and monasteries found in the area.

The Buddha’s prophecy

According to local legend the Buddha once visited Mandalay Hill and foretold that a great Buddhist city would be build at the base of the hill in the Buddhist year 2400. Near the top of Mandalay hill is a large standing Buddha known as the prophesying Buddha, pointing at the location where the city was to be build.

King Mindon Min who was a devout Buddhist fulfilled the prophecy when he founded Mandalay in 1857 (Buddhist year 2400). A large citadel was built surrounded by walls and moats. In its center the new Royal Palace was constructed. Part of it came from the old Palace of the former capital Amarapura, that was dismantled and transported to the new capital.

Mandalay attractions

Although not one of the oldest cities in Burma, Mandalay and the older towns around it contain a wealth of significant monuments.

Buddhist temples, pagodas & Palaces

In the town of Mandalay and surrounding area are dozens of temples and pagodas.

One of Burma’s most important pilgrimage sites is the Mahamuni Buddha Pagoda in Mandalay. This temple enshrines the gold plated Mahamuni Buddha image, which according to legend was made during the life time of the Buddha and cast after his image.

Another important Buddhist site is the Kuthodaw Pagoda, a beautiful gilded pagoda near Mandalay Hill. It is best known for its 729 stone slabs that contain the texts of the Tripitaka, the sacred Buddhist teachings. Each stone slab is contained in a separate small stupa.

Among the many other temples worth visiting are the Atumashi Monastery and the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda.

The Mandalay Palace is a reproduction of the original all wooden Royal Palace built in 1857. The Shwenandaw Kyaung or Golden Palace Monastery is a very intricately decorated all teak wood building that was moved outside the Palace grounds and is the only remaining original major building of the Palace.

Mandalay Hill is dotted with pagodas and Buddhist temples. From the top of the hill you will have great views of Mandalay and the Irrawaddy river. Getting to the top used to require climbing over 1,700 stairs. A new road and lift provide a more comfortable way to get there. Close to the top is a large standing Buddha pointing to Mandalay.

Ornate Palace building at Mandalay
Mandalay Royal Palace

Ancient cities around Mandalay

Close to Mandalay are the ancient cities of Mingun, Amarapura, Innwa and Sagaing that were all capital cities except for Mingun. Among them these towns have hundreds of temples, pagodas and other monuments like the Mingun Pagoda, the Hsinbyume Pagoda and the Kaungmudaw Pagoda.

Getting to Mandalay

Mandalay can be reached by air, bus, train, boat and car.

Air

Mandalay airport is located a little over 40 kilometers South of town. Air Asia has direct flights from Bangkok to Mandalay from the old Don Muang airport, which is a different airport most international tourists arrive at. The Yangon to Mandalay route is served by a number of domestic airlines including Air Bagan and Yangon Airways. A private taxi from the airport to downtown will cost around US$ 20.

Bus

The Highway Bus Station is located between 60th and 62nd street in the North end of the city. This station serves a number of destinations including Bagan, Inle Lake, Monywa and Yangon.

Train

Mandalay central train station is located in the North end of the city between 78th and 79th street, just South of the Royal Palace. Mandalay is connected to among others Yangon, Bagan, Thazi, Maymyo, Lashio, Myitkyina, Hopin, Myingyan, Taungoo and Monywa.

Boat

There are several connections by boat from Mandalay to Bagan. See How to get to Bagan for details. From Mandalay there are ferries to the nearby cities of Mingun, Sagaing and Inwa.