Mandalay is the centre of the region of… well the ‘Mandalay Region’, which I guess is hardly surprising. It’s an amazing destination in many aspects, but the region surrounding it has many sights and things to do as well, so basing yourself in Mandalay is a great idea to really get to grips with all that this part of the destination of Myanmar has to offer the traveller.
If you’re interested in Mandalay as a destination, check out – Sunday Spotlight – Mandalay.
The Irrawaddy River doesn’t exactly run through the centre of Mandalay, it’s far too wide for that. Instead it rushes along the west side of the city. The river is so wide at Mandalay that you have to go a little south of the town to find a bridge to the other side of the Irrawaddy. It’s an impressive structure built in 2008 called the Yadanabon or less impressively the Irrawaddy Bridge. The older bridge still sits by its side – the Ava or Inwa Bridge. This one was originally built in 1934 and rebuilt in 1954 by the British. Up until the new bridge was built it seems it was the only bridge to ‘span the width of the Irrawaddy River’.
Any sight you wish to see to the east of Mandalay will involve going over most likely the newer of the two bridges, which are side by side and must span around 600 metres or more. I had to chances to get out of Mandalay when I was there, the first was in a day-tour from a, at the time, new company called ‘One Day Tour’ (not sure why they thought that was a good name but hey!), and I also had a guide take me around on the back of his moto across the bridge to western side of the Irrawaddy River. So these sites were seen on one of those two days!
The Mahahandayon Monastery in the township of Amarapura, which is just south of Mandalay on the road towards the bridges, and is a very common stop for the tourists. It seems that as in many places in South-East Asia all the tours go there. They all take people to this one monastery at 1030am, so near the start of the tour, because that’s when the monks have lunch. Of course, I hear you say!
But yes, it seems lunch is served super-early, but then I imagine in a monk’s life the day starts super-early at like 4am so by 1030am it probably is lunch time! Really, it’s a massive photo opportunity because there are hundreds of (I think I’m right in saying) trainee monks lining up outside the buildings for the lunch and apparently they don’t mind being photographed. Really I probably would have been better off photographing the hoards of tourist that were there that day. It was part of the tour and it makes for good photos, but really, what a ridiculous imposition on the poor monks.
Swam Oo Ponnyashin Pagoda
This temple is across the river in the little town of Sagaing. It’s up a hill and has pretty good views, if you’re lucky enough that some of the haze has cleared (this region can be quite hazy). It has deep emerald rooves, a golden stupa and a large Buddha statue.
The Bagaya Monastery is back over the river in township of Inwa, or at least that’s what wiki and my diary say but Google Maps have it up in Amarapura. This monastery is another one made out of wood, and is quite beautiful too. It dates back from 1763 to 1776, the reign of King Hsinbyushin. Not quite as amazing as the Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay proper, but worth a visit.
Known natively as the ‘Nyauksein Pagoda’ is a modern pagoda what was just being finished when I was there in 2015. There was a jade showroom nearby which the tour took us insider – presumably in the hope we’d buy something. We’d been earlier to a craft workshop as well, it seems a critical part of tours in South-East Asia to take people to places/workshops where they might buy a souvenir or two – I’ve had it in Thailand and Vietnam too.
The U-Bein Bridge
And finally the tour finished with the U-Bein Bridge – 2000 yards of teak wood across a sort of lake where every man and his dog congregated at the end of the day as the sun went down, a truly brilliant place to see it happen. It’s a footbridge built between 1849-1851, I wonder just how much of the original wood could possibly still be in place if any. For more on this check out this post – The Stunning U-Bein Bridge.
Mingun – Archaeological Zone
A nice chap who worked at the hotel took me on a half-day trip down to the Yadanabon Bridge and then back up the river to the town of Mingun which has a number of historic things to see, not least of which is Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a giant block of stone in a field that is some sort of temple which you can climb to the very top of. They began construction in 1790 and wiki reckons it was intentionally left unfinished. The king at the time stopped construction because there was a prophecy that the kingdom would fall as soon as it was completed. It looks like it’s built around a lump of ground or rock, but in fact it is claimed that it holds the record for the most bricks used in a single structure.
Of the other sites in the area the one of most note is the Mingun Bell, it’s a huge bell, once the heaviest working bell in the world, and was built between 1808 an 1810. The Mya Thien Tan Pagoda is this amazing white pagoda at Mingun too, and the last thing I saw there. It’s circular, and quite different in a few ways. All in all Mingun needs a good three or four hours, there are a couple more temples there too.
So on top of Mandalay’s attractions – check them out on this photographic post – Mandalay Through My Lens. This whole part of Myanmar is brimming with life and history, and it’s one place in South-East Asia really worth investing some time in. When you can, of course!
Thanks for reading – May the Journey Never End!