In Mandalay city itself there isn’t much to see, apart from The Royal Palace, it’s better to get out the city for the more interesting sights.
I didn’t get to do much while I was here due to the bad stormy weather conditions, not even the famous Ubein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. I am heartbroken about this as I have a bit of a thing for bridges, although the Myanmar travel grapevine also mostly informed me that it wasn’t worth the hassle and was just a long bridge with a lots of tourists on it now, the monks and locals stay away because the tourists annoy them, well except the ones that want to annoy the tourists.
Not including The Moustache Brothers, who I highly recommend you go to see and can read more about here, I managed just one tourist ‘attraction’ while in Mandalay. Mingun, a village just a little bit north of Mandalay on the Ayerwaddy river with the biggest Pagoda I have ever seen in my life. At 150ft tall it should have been the largest Pagoda in the world but was never completed because the King at the time was told by an astrologer that once the temple was finished he would die. Of course, he died anyway.
Of all the things to do around Mandalay, and there’s many, I chose a trip to Mingun purely because I wanted to combine whatever I did with a boat trip on the Ayerwaddy, which is truly not as romantic as it sounds. But I had missed out on it from Bagan to Mandalay (choose to take the bus as it was quicker and cheaper) and wanted to know what the fuss was about.
The fuss is pretty much about nothing. We are not in Kipling days anymore where you will be romantically floating down the river taking in all these new sights and seeing some Ayerwaddy dolphins. What you will see is a shitload of other boats, all with roaring engines. The river here is wide, but if you have good eyesight you may see the odd cow or buffalo on the river bank.
It happened to be a public holiday collided with my visit to Mingun so it was packed out full of local tourists. Despite this, it was a nice visit, the huge Pagoda is really quite spectacular, go round the back for some peace and quiet if there are crowds.
Mingun is a quaint town with savvy farmers turning their cow ploughs into taxis and selfie taking monks. The town is most famous however for a bell, the Mingun bell is the heaviest functioning bell in the world, apparently. It’s pretty big, there seemed to be about 100 burmese teenagers fitting inside it when I went to have a look. There are also some other pretty temples and pagodas dotted about and it’s well worth the 5000kyat ferry ride over from Mandalay. I’ve gone more in-depth about my day at Mingun here.
Things I didn’t see in Mandalay that I wish I had:
- ‘King Gallon’ or ‘Golden Rose’ Gold Leaf Workshops – Gold leaf is still made in the traditional way here with men beating the gold and women cutting and packing it. How quaint and would be interesting to see. Also, just look at the amazing reviews on tripadvisor for it!
- The Ubein Bridge – yes it’s probably touristic as hell but I bet it still looks beautiful in a nice sunset or sunrise, and I love bridges.
- Shwenandaw Monastary for the peace and tranquility
- Maha Gandhayon Kyaung Monastary in Amarapura – 10am monk donations that are still legitimate and interesting to see and not only a photo opportunity for tourists… yet!
- Sagaing Hill – Although if I’m being honest I probably wouldn’t do it even if I went back, sounds like hard work for little reward.
Be aware for most of these places, including Mingun and the Royal Palace there is of course a foreigner fee, a separate one for each attraction or township. Most of the time it is not clear until someone in uniform comes and tells you.