Top 6 Things to Do in Mandalay on Your First Visit

Top 6 Things to Do in Mandalay on Your First Visit

Discover the charming pagodas, temples and museums in Mandalay and then look deeper into the local life and other attractions.

A former capital of Myanmar/Burma, Mandalay is the nation’s second-largest city. Home to around half of all the country’s monks, it would perhaps be stating the obvious to say that there’s a strong spiritual aura around the city… as well as many temples and monasteries! There are also several royal and colonial buildings of interest and it’s easy to take day trips to nearby ancient towns.

I fell completely under Mandalay’s spell, returning for a second time to cover more ground and enjoy the atmosphere for longer. Less hectic than Yangon and with a rare sense of peace, here are some of the best things to do in order to get a taste of magical Mandalay’s charm:

1. Marvel at the stunning Mahamuni Pagoda

things to do in mandalay

Image credit: Tee La Rosa

things to do in mandalay

Image credit: leiris202

Officially named Maha Myat Muni Paya, Mahamuni Pagoda is one of the most sacred sites in Mandalay. Many Buddhist pilgrims travel here from far and wide to pay their respects to, and seek blessings from, the Mahamuni—a large golden jewel-encrusted Buddha statue. Although men can approach the statue to pray and make offerings, women must remain some distance away. Flowers, incense, amulets, charms, and other spiritual items can be purchased onsite from several market vendors.

The larger complex has a number of attractive buildings, most of which are adorned with traditional motifs and eye-catching decorative details. Monks wearing burgundy-coloured robes stroll between the buildings, adding vibrant splashes of rich colour to the scene. There are many interesting statues too, including some that were taken from Cambodia.

2. Climb Mandalay Hill

things to do in mandalay

Image credit: David Coleman

Home to the former Royal Palace, there are many other attractions to enjoy around Mandalay Hill. An important spiritual site, monasteries, temples, statues, pagodas, and shrines are sprinkled up the hill. The climb isn’t so challenging, and there are so many interesting places to take a break on the way up. The four staircases are covered, providing welcome shade from the sun. On the top of the hill, you’ll find Sutaungpyei Pagoda, whose beautifully tiled pillars shimmer and shine in the sunlight. The elevated position also provides awesome views over the surroundings. Do note that if the thought of climbing leaves you feeling a bit unenthusiastic, it is possible to travel most of the way up the hill by road and then take an escalator to the peak.   

3. Discover the marble slabs in Kuthodaw Pagoda

Image credit: Tee La Rosa

things to do in mandalay

Image credit: Allan Grey

Often said to home to the world’s biggest book, Kuthodaw Pagoda is located at the base of Mandalay Hill. It’s not an actual book, though—huge blocks of marble have been engraved with the entire text of the Tripitaka. If you’re wondering what the Tripitaka is, it’s the most important scriptures for Theravada Buddhists. It is also the oldest collection of Buddhist knowledge. Unless you can read Pali, however, you won’t be able to actually decipher the words. Regardless, it’s an interesting and attractive sight, with 700+ marble slabs located in numerous caves and alcoves. There are supposedly 729 slabs in total. I did try counting them, being the inquisitive soul that I am, but I quickly gave up. The main golden pagoda glistens in the sunlight, standing an impressive 57 metres tall. A large number of white pagodas stand elegantly around the complex too.

4. Walk through history in the Palace Museum

Located within the grounds of the Royal Palace, the small Palace Museum displays an assortment of historic, cultural, and religious items. Traditional clothing and uniforms hang in glass cases, and there are weapons and suits of armour from times long past. Take a visual journey through the country’s past as you look at the large collection of photographs, and see how important people furnished their homes in times gone by. There are statues of the Lord Buddha in various poses, alms bowls, amulets, royal regalia, and diverse artefacts among the collections as well.   

5. Admire talented locals in small workshops

Image credit: Richard Shaw

As you walk around the city centre, you’ll likely spot craftspeople and artisans making an assortment of items in small open-fronted workshops. Workers and their tools sometimes spill out on the pavement, making them impossible to miss. Some workshops are tucked away down slender alleyways, with hammering, whirring, and the clacking of machinery the only clues from the main streets as to their existence. Women spin yarns, operate large weaving looms, and sew ornate small clothes to be worn by traditional wooden puppets, and men carefully chisel stone, cut wood, mould plaster, and spin pottery.   

6. Catch a performance in the Mandalay Marionette Theatre

Image credit: rainy city

Protecting and conserving the now-uncommon theatrical art of marionette puppetry, the large stringed wooden puppets perform enchanting dances and act out folkloric scenes and events from the nation’s past. Puppetry in Myanmar can trace its heritage back some ten centuries, although it is a dying form of entertainment today. The wooden puppets wear exquisite clothes and shows are accompanied by traditional music. If you become truly mesmerized by the figurines, several shops around the city sell puppets made from wood, plaster, and lightweight metal.   

Other things to do in Mandalay

Take a drive around the outskirts of the city and you’ll find rural areas with small scattered villages. You can make daytrips to the ancient cities of Sagaing, famous for its many temples and monasteries, Ava, with its olde-worlde vibe, horse-drawn carriages, leaning tower, and wooden monastery, and Amarapura with the long teak-built U Bein Bridge. Within Mandalay, there are several colonial buildings to admire, you could take a cooking class, or perhaps you’d prefer to unwind in one of the open beer bars or roti restaurants.     

About Author

Sarah W
Sarah W

Sarah W is a travelling cat-lover who enjoys exploring places that are a little bit quirky or away from headline attractions. Favourite things include delicious falafel, snuggling under a thick duvet, (badly) belting out karaoke at the top of her lungs, and, of course, her family, friends, and furry pets.