Immortalised in a poem by Rudyard Kipling and once known as the Golden City, the image painted of the Mandalay of times gone by was of a timeless and exotic place on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The city today, although developing fast, still offers a wealth of rich history to explore. Still Burma’s cultural capital, you’ll find plenty of treasures, including pagodas, churches and mosques, amongst the modernity.
Legends tell that Buddha visited Mandalay Hill and prophesied that a great city would be built at its feet. Today the hill from which the city takes its name is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists, and for travellers to enjoy the sunset from its summit. You can climb one of the staircases to the top passing a number of temples, shrines and souvenir stalls as you go to reach the pagoda at the top from where you will get fantastic views down over the city and Mandalay plain. You can also reach the summit by road.
Home to one of the most honoured Buddha images in the country the Mahamuni Pagoda is Mandalay’s biggest pilgrimage site. Said to be the only true likeness of Gautama Buddha, the statue is honoured by being covered in gold leaf by male devotees – apparently two tonnes have been added to the statue’s weight – and with a ritual face washing and teeth cleaning every morning at dawn. This is the perfect place to see the authentic devotion to Buddhism that the majority Burmese people have.
The palace of the last two Burmese monarchs, the Royal Palace was built at the same time as the city of Mandalay was founded, in 1857. Heavily bombed during World War II, only two buildings on the complex are originals – the Royal Mint and the watchtower, the rest was rebuilt in the 1990s. A symbol of the resistance to colonial rule back in the late 1800s, the Royal Palace remains a symbol of Mandalay. The close by Shwe Inbin Monastery is a traditional teak building built in 1895. Covered in intricate carvings inside and out it is the place to come to find a little peace and quiet in the middle of the city.
Stretching across the Taungthaman Lake, at 1.2 kilometres long the U Bein Bridge is the world’s longest teak bridge. Located in Amarapura, a township of Mandalay, the bridge was built in 1850 with wood recycled from a former royal palace in Inwa. To see the lake at its fullest it is best to visit after the summer rains when you can walk over the bridge and then hop on a boat back across the lake for a different view – this is especially lovely at sunset.
For rich history with less of the crowds head 30 minutes out of Mandalay to the former royal capital of Inwa. The city was abandoned in 1839 after being home to kings and queens on three separate occasions from 1364 and was sacked and rebuilt numerous times. The traditional way to explore the magnificent remains of temples, towers and stupas is by horse and cart, though the 5 kilometre circuit is an easy walk.
Sitting at the foot of Mandalay Hill, this hotel is one of the best in the city with views over the Royal Palace and the hill. The guest rooms are spacious and beautifully furnished. Facilities include a pool, fitness room and the Mandalar Spa which is nestled in the large tropical garden.
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