Mandalay was once the royal capital of the last Burmese monarch. The Mandalay palace was constructed in 1857 and completed in 1861.The architecture of the palace is extremely Burmese with large chamber halls, several pillars, and shades of gold on many of the walls. The city including the royal palace was completely destroyed during World War II; however it has been reconstructed, partially restoring the pride and glory of Mandalay. The majority of monuments including the palace, palace walls, pagodas and monasteries were also re-built after the war.
Mandalay is also home to several Buddhist monasteries ingrained with beautiful woodcarvings and masterpieces from Myanmar masonries. Mandalay is best known not only for its rich traditional, cultural and spiritual significance, but also for its exquisite handicraft such as hand-woven embroidery in silk and cotton, the incredible process of making gold leaves, various forms of carvings, and bronze castings.
The river jetty at Mandalay is a beehive of activity with small boats, bamboo rafts and cargo boats with huge logs from the teak forests constantly going up and down the river. Mandalay is now Myanmar’s second largest city, with a population of 1.2 million. There are several ancient capitals around Mandalay such as Amapura, Sagaing, Ava, and Minguin. Located 650 km north of Yangon, Mandalay can be reached by air, rail, road or river. Travel by car takes about 8 hours on the highway.
Mandalay is more profoundly known, even more so than Yangon, for its high end jewellery and because Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about the wonders of Myanamar’s last royal capital named “The Road to Mandalay”. Founded by King Mindon in 1857, his Golden City (Mandalay) was completed in 1859. He then shifted the capital of Myanmar from Amarapura to the new capital in 1861. However, his son and successor, King Thibaw, lost Mandalay to the British who took over the palace as well as the country after the Third Anglo-Myanmar War in 1886.
It takes about an hour and thirty minutes to fly to Mandalay from Yangon. There are daily flights that go from Yangon and Bagan to Mandalay during the tourist season from October to May. The new Mandalay International Airport has operational since November 2000. Visitors can fly straight to Mandalay from selected countries if they were to make the city their first stop. Express train also run from Yangon to Mandalay, but it takes roughly 15 hours to get there. The government and private express coaches also run every day along Yangon-Mandalay highway, and visitors can also rent a car to Mandalay. Visitors are advised to check with Tourist Information Services for flight / train / express coach schedules.
A natural landmark of Mandalay, the hill is said to be a holy. Legend states that the Buddha on his visit to the hill had made a prophecy that a great city would be founded at its foot. Mandalay Hill is 230 meters high and commands a magnificent view of the city and the surrounding countryside. It is possible to drive right up to the top of the mountain.
The whole magnificent palace complex was burnt down during World War II. However, the palace walls, the city gates with crowning wooden pavilions, and the surrounding moat were rebuilt. The palace today still presents an impressive representation of what the Mandalay Palace used to look like. A Cultural Museum and the entrance to the Pyi-gyi-mon Floating Restaurant on the moat are also located inside the palace grounds.
Originally, this monastery was a royal palace where King Mindon reigned from and died. In 1880, the building was moved out of the royal palace under King Thibaw’s command and converted into a monastery. This teak monastery was also destroyed during the Second World War, but was later restored to replicate the original structure.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda was built in Nyaung U by King Mindon in 1857. The pagoda is surrounded by 729 inscribed stone slabs on which the entire Buddhist Scriptures as edited and approved by the 5th Buddhist Synod is displayed. It is also known as, "The World’s Biggest Book".
The "Atumashi Kyaung" (meaning the Incomparable Monastery) is one of the many exhilarating structures built by King Mindon. It was constructed in 1878, but a fire partially destroyed in not long after in 1890. The reconstruction work on the monastery, however, only began in 1996.
The Sandamuni Pagoda is located to the Southeast of Mandalay Hill and bears resemblance to the Kuthodaw pagoda nearby. This resemblance occurs due to large number of slender whitewashed ancillary stupas on the grounds. The Paya is also famous for the Iron Buddha Sandamuni casted by King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) of the Konbaung dynasty in 1802.
Near the southern approach to Mandalay Hill stands the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, hosting the Buddha image that was built by King Mindon in 1865. The image was carved and sculpted out of a large block of marble. It was hauled to its current position using nearly 12,000 men and took 13 days to transport the marble to the pagoda. The statues of 80 Arahants (the Great Disciples of the Buddha) are also placed around the Image, 20 from each of the four direction.
As one of Myanmar’s most esteemed and religious Images, the Mahamui said to be extremely powerful and it is seated on a golden throne. The massive image sits at 12 feet and 7 inches (3.8 meters) high and is constantly growing in size as pilgrims fix large quantities of gold leaf on the sculpture daily. The massive Buddha sculpture was cast in northern Arakan during the reign of King Candrasuriya in approximately AD 150. King Anawrahta of Bagan conquered Arakan in the 11th Century and attempted to carry the sculpture back to Bagan but failed. Finally, King Bodawpaya succeeded in transporting the Mahamuni Image along with the Arakan King, his weapons, elephants and approximately 20,000 captured Arakan soldiers as prisoner to upper Burma. Six bronze Buddha figures originally from Angkor Wat, Cambodia were also carried to Khmer with the spoils of war. These sculptures were taken to Ayuthia by the Thai after conquering the Khmer capital in approximately AD 1350. The Mon King sacked Ayuthia in AD 1568 and brought these scupltures to Bago. In AD 1599, the Arakan King Yazagyi conquered Bago and moved the figures to his capital, Mrauk-U. People believe that all disease can be cured if one rubs the corresponding area on the bronze figures. It was then brought to Mandalay from Rakhine State during the reign of King Bodawpaya in 1784. Getting back to the Mahamuni image, the morning ritual includes washing the Buddha’s face can also be witnessed, and these rituals draw a large sum of devotees daily.
For people who love the arts and crafts, Mandalay represents the largest repository of Myanmar arts and crafts. Visitors can observe skilled craftsmen making beautiful statues and other items out of ivory, wood, several types different stones and marbles, silverware, and bronze according to the skill set acquired through inheritance from their fathers and forefathers. There are also other arts and crafts workshops such as silk-weaving and gold-leaf casting that are noteworthy.
Situated around 11 km south of Mandalay, Amarapura is one of the capitals of the third Myanmar Empire. A 1,208 meter long wooden bridge that is built using nothing but teak planks by U Pein in the 1800s is the longest wooden bridge in Myanmar and is situated near Amarapura. Monasteries and silk-weaving industries are also places of interest at Amarapur. Ever since 1856, all the important buildings from Amarapura had been transferred to Mandalay. Close to Amarapura is the Mahagandayon temple, the largest Buddhist monastery in Myanmar accommodating more than 1,000 monks during the Buddhist Lent.
Located across Myitnge River about 20 kilometers southwest of Mandalay is the capital of Burmese kingdom for nearly 400 years. All the major buildings, those which were not destroyed during the earthquake of 1838, had been transferred first to Amarapura and then to Mandalay however the 88 foot high watchtower known as the "leaning tower of Ava" and Bargaya teak monastery, which has 267 teak pillars in total, are still to be seen.
Located about 11 km upriver from Mandalay, on the western bank of the Ayeyawaddy River, Mingun is home to a gigantic pagoda that was left unfinished. The pagoda is 50 meters high and overlooks the Ayeyawaddy River. It also houses a 90-ton Mingun Bell, the largest ringing bell in the world, casted in AD 1170 by King Bodawpaya.
The Mingun Bell is the largest bell in the world that is stands suspended in the air. The bell measures at 3.7 m in height, is 5 m wide at the mouth, and weighs 90 tons. The bell was ordered to be casted by King Bodawpaya in 1790. It originally hung from triple-beam massive teak logs coated with metal-plate. However, during the earthquake in 1838, the Mingun Bell survived but the original ‘tazaung’(pagoda pavilion) was completely destroyed. Today the bell is placed in a new "tazaung" held up by stout iron rods.
Sagaing lies 21 km southwest of Mandalay, on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. The Sagaing Hills are known to be a religious retreat and houses over 400 cloisters for monks and nuns. About 10 km away from Sagaing is the Kaunghmudaw, an enormous dome-shaped pagoda built by King Thalun in 1636 on as a replica of the Mahaceti Pagoda in Sri Lanka. The Sagaing (Ava) Bridge built in 1934 links Mandalay and Sagaing across the Ayeyarwaddy River. The bridge was later bombed by the British to stop the advancing Japanese Army during Second World War.
The Kaunghmudaw is situated 10 km away from Sagaing. The enormous dome of the Kaunghmudaw pagoda is 46 m (151 feet) high, and holds the shape of a perfect hemisphere. The pagoda was modelled after the Mahaceti Pagoda in Ceylon, Sri Lanka. Also known as Rajamanisula, the pagoda was built to commemorate Inwa's establishment as the royal capital of Myanmar. Around the base of the pagoda are stone pillars, each of them are 1.5 m high with the details of the pagoda's construction recorded on them.
Shwebo is located 64 miles north of Mandalay on the road to Myitkyina. U Aungzeya, the founder of the Konebaung Dynasty was native to this town. The Pyu culture dating back to the second century A.D. flourished at Hanlin, the ruins of which can still be seen at a place few miles south of Shwebo. During the reign of successive kings in the Konebaung dynasty, the capital had been shifted to various towns in central Myanmar. Hence, the place and other royal parks, lakes, moats and watch tower have been neglected, disrepair, ravaged and ruined over the last two centuries.
Kyaukmyaung, a riverside town on the Ayeyarwady 17 miles east of Shwe Bo is famous for its glazed pottery industry. The use of pots and other earthenware containers for cooking and as tableware originated about 500 years ago. Pots were used to store foods such as fermented fish or Ngapi, fermented fish sauce or Nganpyaryay, cooking oil and water. Traditional eating utensils included lacquered wooden discs or split bamboo trays called Byatwaing, a circular tray on a stand used for serving meals called Daunglan, earthen bowls or basins called Myayzalone, and glazed earthen basins called Aindonsintthoke. Although today, steel, aluminum, brass and bronze pots are more popular most locals still use earthenware pots for cooking. They believe that cooking in earthenware makes the food tastier, more aromatic, tender and sweeter. Pots, bowls and jars of small, medium and large sizes are floated down the river tied tightly together with canes rafts and towed by tugboats to distribute them all over the country.
Monywar, formerly known as the ancient city of Thalawadi, lies on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River. It was only a year after the British annexation of Myanmar that Monywar became the headquarters of the Lower Chindwin District. Monywar is located about 136 km west of Mandalay and acts as the primary commercial center in the Chindwin Valley (Northestern Myanmar). Places of interest around Monywar include the Thanbokde Pagoda which has over 500,000 Buddha images, the Bodhi-ta-taung (one thousand Bo trees), and the Ledi Kyaungtaik which is a monastery where Buddhist scriptures are inscribed on 806 stone slabs.
With over 400,000 ancient Buddha images, statues and murals dating from the 14th to the 16th century, Po Win Taung is as breathtaking as it is old. Po Win Taung caves are located 10 km west of Monywar and are easily accessible to both locals and foreigners
Kyaukka is a town about ten miles to the east of Mandaly. This town is second in lacqureware quality and production, right after Bagan. A few hours drive from Kyaukka will bring you to Twintaung hill, an extinct volcano whose crater now forms a beautiful lake.
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