Mandalay is Myanmar’s second biggest city. Probably best known for its major airport, U-Bein Bridge, white pagodas, and proximity to the village of Mingun. If you’re planning a short stay, this essential guide is for you.
We arrived to Mandalay after three full days of e-biking through Bagan’s plains and chasing sunrises and sunsets. We were staying for 3 days total but the plan was to focus mainly on work — as, after Yangon, we were quite sceptical about the big cities. Hence, we decided to hire a car with a driver and see most things in a one day-trip. We started before sunrise and ended in the early afternoon. While it was a bit exhausting, we saw loads of beautiful places!
▪ Our stay at the Bagan King (yes, it’s in Mandalay) was good. Breakfast was a bit underwhelming but the room was good, interior was indeed very Bagan-esque and service was great. We would recommend it.
▪ We also recommend Win Oo Taxi Service for day tours. He was awesome. Reach him via phone/WhatsApp at +95943143873 or via email to [email protected] We paid
▪ For a fantastic dinner with huge portions and great prices, Mingalabar Myanmar is the way to go. It also happens to be the #1 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor — rightfully so!
▪ Mingun (famous white Hsinbyume Pagoda, as well as the never-finished Pahtodawgyi Pagoda) is an hour or so away from Mandalay by car (if you have more than a day, take the boat ride). When there, wander around a bit and don’t focus on taking pictures from the front. Walk to the back and sides instead to have the place all for yourselves!
Most of the reviews you will find online are quite underwhelmed with Mandalay but we really liked it there. The city has an interesting vibe to it. Surprisingly, it felt a bit more modern and multicultural than Yangon. The usual perks of a big city: delicious food and comfortable hotel, plus a super nice driver elevated our experience tremendously. There is a good variety of places to visit in and around Mandalay. Some of the sights were nicer than others, with our favorites being some of the white pagodas (particularly Kuthodaw and Hsinbyume), and the U-Bein bridge at sunrise.
Coming from Bagan, we took a shared minivan transport for
Mandalay has been on-boarded by Grab (the Uber of Southeast Asia) in June 2018. That means, no negotiating with taxi drivers and always having a reliable transport nearby. The city also has Tuk Tuks that you can hail through Grab (and are approx. half price from taxis). Mind you though that they call these ThoneBane for some reason.
We only took those around the city and never had any issues. In fact, we enjoyed the rides as they were fun and let you explore the city a bit better! Pricing usually was
Since we only had one day to explore the city and its surroundings, a friend we made in Bagan recommended booking a private driver to see all the sights comfortably.
Finding a decently priced driver turned out to be a bit more complicated than we expected. We looked on TripAdvisor first, only to find that they were all ridiculously expensive. The few companies that we reached out to quoted something between
If you have enough time, go to Mingun by boat as the ride takes only approx. 20 minutes one way and is probably way more fun than sitting in a car (even if it’s air-conditioned). This would also decrease the cost of hiring a private driver for a day. If we remember correctly, it would have been around 40 USD if we skipped Mingun.
In the end, we were really happy with our driver and we would recommend him to everybody that’s in town for a day or two. His English was good and he was genuine. He even brought us to
Private Driver Recommendation
The driver that took us around was Win Oo. He’s available via phone and WhatsApp at +95943143873 or via email to winnai[email protected]. Highly recommended!
That was a bit of a bummer since we did not want to take a night bus and arrive at
Mind you that we wouldn’t wish this upon our worst enemies. The drive that took 9h instead of 6h, no air-conditioning, squashed in with locals that didn’t speak the language, differences in where the negotiated drop-off point was, and extremely dusty roads (hence closed windows) all contributed to this not being the greatest experience.
The silver-lining however was that it did only cost around 20 USD per person and we ended up seeing a lot of Myanmar that tourists likely won’t pay attention to, or wouldn’t be able to see at all! It’s truly a stunning country and we would love to go back in the future to see it in more detail.
The 1.2-kilometre bridge was built over 160 years ago and believed to be the oldest and (once) longest teakwood bridge in the world.
This was definitely one of the highlights during our time in Mandalay. A beautiful hazy sunrise over the lake, locals starting their day with a workout session on the bridge and dozens of monks from
When we thought we saw it all and were ready to move on, one of our lens caps fell under the bridge which made us discover a whole different world under there — yet another example that you should explore all the sides and angles of a place.
Beautiful white pagoda that’s great for all those high-contrast Instagram shots. It’s also famous for housing the world’s largest book! We really loved it there, particularly that it was relatively empty in
Contrary to our instincts — to visit locations at sunrise before all the other tourists wake up —
Arguably the most famous white pagoda in all of Myanmar. Plenty of tourists, loads of local sellers — yet, still worth the trip for its cute wave-shaped walls and views from the top. One thing to note though: please remember that this is still a temple (even though it is very touristy). Most pictures you will find on the gram show people who literally climbed on the walls of a temple to get the shot. We’re not sure how to feel about it as it is a religious place after all..
Often overlooked (even though it is enormous!), is this brown never-finished stupa. In a similar manner as the pyramids in Egypt, it was built using thousands of war prisoners and slaves in
The construction was apparently intentionally left unfinished due to the superstitious King Bodawpaya thinking that the country would disappear when the construction was complete.
Here’s a few other places that we visited, but could probably be skipped if you are on a tighter schedule. If you have plenty of time — they were all worth a visit!
- U Min Thonze – An interesting temple that has several levels and nice views from the top. It’s
a bitof a walk up, but it was very quiet and felt like a place not many tourists get to.
- Kaunghmudaw Pagoda – It is an important pilgrimage destination in the Sagaing area.
The relicchamber of the pagoda is said to contain – among other artefacts – Buddha’s lower left tooth relic. It also has a bit of and interesting history. The ex-military government tried to give the dome a golden touch-up, but the people refused to take it and it now remains white and beautiful!
- Sanda Muni Pagoda — If you’re into white pagodas (let’s be honest, who isn’t?) then this one was a must-see as well. Very quiet, but had a few local sellers for flowers and incents. Not too bad and literally around the corner from the Kuthodaw Pagoda.
- Mahamuni Pagoda — also known as the Mahamuni Buddha Temple — major pilgrimage site. Apparently there were only five likenesses of the Buddha, made during his lifetime; two in India, two in paradise, and the fifth is the Mahamuni Buddha image in Myanmar. So, it’s
Honestly, we were a bit underwhelmed by the Burmese food until we arrived in Mandalay. As usual, we were looking for some vegetarian options and found Mingalabar Myanmar which just so happened to be around the corner from our hotel and the #1 rated restaurant in Mandalay.
Let us tell you, it’s great! We loved not only the food but also the amazing service. We heard that the portions were big, but we didn’t expect this. Together with the 2 starters and 2 mains that we ordered, they provided a large plate of fresh vegetables and 3 additional sides for absolutely free! And then there was a complimentary dessert as well…
We went back the next day just to stuff our faces again — it was so good!
On the third day, we tried Indian Tadka. This was recommended to us and “okay”, but we definitely had better Indian food in other countries. They didn’t have Robin’s beloved “Chana Masala” which was a bummer — overall an okay experience if you need some variety!
We stayed at the Bagan King. In a nutshell, it was a a decent stay. Rooms were nice, breakfast buffet was ok but selection was quite limited, and service was really good. They even organized trips without taking a commission from the outside providers (such as taxis and and private drivers).
Overall, it was a pleasant stay. But at over 70 USD per night, we’d say that the value for money was on the lower side. When in town next time, we’d likely search for an alternative.
We liked Mandalay and would definitely recommend a 2-3 day stay if you just want to get the feel for the city. If you are in a rush, just make it to U-Bein Bridge, Mingun and Kuthodaw Pagoda. Wrap up the day with a delicious dinner at Mingalabar Myanmar and you will fall asleep happy.
If you’re researching your trip to Myanmar, check out our other articles:
- The First-Timer’s Guide: What to Know Before Visiting Myanmar
- 8 Things They Don’t Tell You About Myanmar
- 13 Things That Might Surprise You in Bagan
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See you on the road,
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