Myanmar's last royal capital, Mandalay, is a diamond in the rough, offering a fascinating glimpse into Burmese culture once you look past the initial concrete jungle. Its large Chinese minority population also allows a unique peek into the lives and stories of Chinese immigrants living overseas.
In 1857, Mandalay was founded and declared as royal capital by then-king Mindon. It has been said he did so to fulfil a prophecy that a Buddhist metropolis would arise at the foot of Mandalay Hill at the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism. The city continued as capital of the last independent Burmese monarchy for almost 30 years, until the country was annexed by the British Empire. During the colonial period, Mandalay gained a reputation as an outpost of Buddhist and Burmese culture and learning, which it lives up to this day. Later, a large wave of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Yunnan province, contributed to the unique cultural makeup observed in the city.
Mandalay has long been known as Myanmar's 'centre of Buddhism', and features 700 pagodas within the city. In Myanmar, the form of Buddhism practiced is generally Theravada Buddhism. In Kuthodaw Pagoda, you may view the gigantic 'Buddhist Bible', known as the world's largest book.
In the late 20th century, Mandalay suffered from several major fires, resulting in large tracts of empty land. These were mostly purchased and developed by ethnic Chinese immigrants, many from Yunnan province. As a result, the city's culture has a uniquely Chinese character, in addition to the main Burmese culture. To observe these two contrasting yet intertwined cultures, visit both the Mahamuni Buddha Temple and the Yunnanese Buddhist Temple while in the city.
- Believes in concept of face
- Women should wear modest clothing
- Avoid public displays of affection
Mandalay lies in Upper Burma, in the country's central dry zone by the Irrawaddy River. The city has a tropical wet and dry climate, with a wet season (from May to October) and a dry season (during the rest of the year). Temperatures average around 21-31 degrees Celsius, with highs close to 35-40 degrees Celsius during the sweltering months of April and May.
The city takes its name from the 240-metre Mandalay Hill, which sits just to the northeast of the city centre. To fully enjoy the urban landscape of this stunning city, try make the trek up to the hill's peak, enjoying the several sights and stops along the way—or cheat a bit and take the newly-built motorway instead.
69 km away from Mandalay lies the National Kandawgyi Botanic Gardens, one of Myanmar's best draws for ecotourists. Attracting 400,000 visitors every year, this 437-acre beauty boasts 514 species of indigenous trees, 300 species of orchids, and a huge amount of wildlife, including endangered species such as hog deer and the Burmese star tortoise.
Before you go
- Language: Burmese
- Currency: Burmese kyat (mmk)
- Time Zone:Burma Time (UTC+06:30)
- Voltage: 230
- Electric Socket: Type C/D/F/G
- easily available at many local shops.
- good for 30 days each and are available in denominations of 1,000, 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 kyat.
- banking hours are from 10.00am to 3.00pm daily.
- you may get a better exchange rate converting U.S. dollars or euros (bring the crispest, cleanest bills you can)
- U.S. dollars are used interchangeably with Burmese kyats, with U.S. dollars being used for bigger transactions such as settling your hotel bill, buying train tickets and paying entrance fees.
- Wet tha chin: Preserved minced pork accompanied with fluffy white rice.
- Panthay khauk swe: Generous blend of spices, chili and juicy chicken.
- Meeshay: Rice noodles come in a clay pot, drenched in meat sauce and served with a clear soup (usually of chicken stock and scallions) and a variety of fresh vegetables.
There is no tipping culture in Myanmar, but you are welcome to show your appreciation for good service through small tips.
Taxis: let the driver keep the change after rounding up the fare to the nearest dollar. However it is likely you will negotiate a fare before getting into the cab, in this case no tip is required.
Restaurants: Rounding up meal bills would be a good way to show you enjoyed your meal and your service. In higher end restaurants at 10% service charge is often added to the bill, and there is no need to tip above and beyond this amount.
Hotels: give the bellman about 50¢ to $1 for helping you with your bags, and consider leaving a similar amount daily for the maid who helps clean up your room.
- Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Hygiene: Avoid untreated water or ice made from it, and examine preparation methods and general hygiene conditions before buying food from street vendors.
- Health: You should go to Yangon if you need anything more than minor medical help, and to Thailand for serious matters.
- Safety: Myanmar is a relatively safe country, but take the usual precautions of protecting your valuables by keeping them in your hotel safe.
Emergency Line: 199.
Mandalay General Hospital (public): Address: Corner of 30th Street and 74th Street, Mandalay, Myanmar; Tel: (+95) 2 21041
- Hello (in general): nei-gaung-lah
- Excuse me. / Sorry: sorry t-sate-lout
- Thank you: kyei-zù tin-ba-daal
- You’re welcome: rah-par-taal
- Good morning/ Good evening min-ga-la-ba
- Goodbye: swar-tot-maal
- How much is this?:? beh-lau-leh
- Cheers!: (Toasts when drinking): cheers cheers
- Bon appetit!: sar-kya-raung
- Where’s the toilet?: Ay-na sar sai a baalmar shi
- Help!: kueh-bah
- I understand: kya-wantaw narr-lai-par-taal
- I don’t understand:na-maleh-ba-bu
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Mandalay International Airport has air traffic coming in from most of Myanmar, as well as international air traffic coming in from places such as Bangkok, Thailand and Kunming, China. The city is pretty far from the airport, and the best way to get there is via taxi – you’ll be offered a fixed price of around $12-15 to get to the city centre. If you’re comfortable with using a shared taxi, you can pay as little as $5 to get to Mandalay proper.
Several trains come in from Yangon daily. Note that the train ride is kind of bumpy due to the old tracks. Tickets range from 4,500 to 12,000 kyat depending on the class you travel in.
There are quite a few bus stations in Mandalay, running routes from all over the country. A night bus from Yangon costs about 10,000-15,000 kyat while one from Bagan costs around 14,000 kyat. The former route takes about 8-9 hours to get to Mandalay while the latter takes around 7 hours.
Boat services run to Mandalay from Bagan. Expect the trip to last around 10 hours and cost about $40.
Taxis are quite inexpensive in Myanmar and are a good option for getting around Mandalay, however they may be difficult to hail as there aren’t too many at the moment. Haggle and negotiate your fare beforehand.
These are everywhere in Mandalay, and are cheap—a short trip should cost around 1,000 kyat, while one across the city centre costs around 1,500 kyat. You should be able to get a helmet.
These used to be the main form of local transport, but have now become rarer and can only be found in abundance around the markets. A sample fare is 4,000 kyat for a return trip from the city centre to the base of Mandalay Hill, and you may be able to hire one all day for around 10,000 kyat.
Bikes are a fun and easy way to get around the huge city of Mandalay—as long as you’re experienced and know what to expect from Southeast Asian traffic, you’ll be fine. Expect to pay around 1,500 kyat per day to rent a bicycle, and if you want to get a motorcycle instead, it should cost you 10,000 kyat per day.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.