Mandalay is a popular and bustling city in the Northern part of Myanmar. Full of beautiful pagodas, a rich history and unique architecture these are some of the top things to do in Mandalay, Myanmar.
Nearby Mandalay you can easily visit Bagan and Inle Lake as part of your tour through Myanmar. Starting in Mandalay, head to Inle Lake followed by Bagan and then eventually make your way towards Yangon to end your trip. You could also do the trip in reverse by starting in Yangon and make your way up towards Mandalay.
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Top Things to Do & See in Mandalay
Visiting the top of Mandalay Hill is an absolute must for sunset and is one of the top things to do in Mandalay. The 240 meters high hill offers stunning panoramic views of central Mandalay. At the top of the hill you will find many pagodas and beautiful architecture. Plan to spend at least 2 hours here and arrive early if you want a good spot to watch the sunset.
There are no shoes allowed within the Mandalay Hill complex so you will need to leave your footwear at the ticket counter. There are designated cubbies where you can place your shoes and you will retrieve them on your way down. To reach the top of Mandalay Hill you will go up a series of escalators. The crazy part is that these escalators can move in both directions and the direction will be reversed for you to come back down.
Entrance Fee: 1000 MMK ($0.65 USD) per person. You will be given a sticker to wear after purchasing your ticket. Do not loose this sticker or you may have to pay again while you are walking around at the top.
It costs 300 MMK ($0.20 USD) to park your motorbike at the base of the hill.
Built in the 1850’s Mandalay Palace is the last Burmese palace of its kind. The architecture is beautiful and its a nice area to walk around for a bit. It’s located close to many of the other sights and is worth a visit since it is included in the combo entrance ticket.
Be sure to climb the watch tower to see how expansive the palace grounds actually is!
Entrance Fee: 10,000 MMK ($6.50 USD) which allows entry to many of the other sights in Mandalay including the Shwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda and a few more. This is called the Mandalay Archaeological Zone Ticket. To enter the Mandalay Palace you will need to leave a form of ID at the ticket counter. I recommend leaving a driver’s license or other form of ID and NOT your passport. You will be given a lanyard which you will need to wear for the duration of your time walking around the Palace.
All foreign visitors will need to park outside the main gates at the ticket office and walk about 10 minutes in to reach the entrance. Another option is to pay to have a motorbike or tuk tuk take you to the entrance but we just walked and it wasn’t too bad.
TIP: There is only one entrance for foreign tourists and it is at these GPS coordinates: 21.9926251, 96.1064441. You will be turned away at all other entrances.
Shwenandaw Monastery & Atumashi Monastery
Located just a short drive from the Mandalay Palace is the unique Shwenandaw Monastery and the Atumashi Monastery.
The wooden details of the small Shwenandaw Monastery are so unique and intricate that you will be amazed that they are all hand carved. Walk around the perimeter and then go upstairs and inside to get a closer look at the carvings and details.
The Atumashi Monastery, previously known as Maha Atulawaiyan Kyaungdawgyi, is located just a 2 minute walk from the Shwenandaw Monastery. Built in 1857, this Buddhist Monastery is a beautiful place to visit. Leave your shoes at the entrance and head up the stairs to the top where you can walk through the grand hall.
Both Monasteries are included in the combined zone ticket with the Mandalay Palace. You just have to show the ticket at the entrance and they will stamp it. You will also need to leave your shoes at the entrance before walking inside the Monastery.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda is known as the world’s largest book. Within the grounds you will find 729 white stupas, each containing an inscribed marble slab. On both sides of the slab is the text from the Tipitaka which is the Buddhist teachings and scriptures hence why it is called the largest book!
TIP: If you want to avoid some of the crowds then take a left when you first enter and explore the stupas on that side. Most of the people will head to the right.
The entrance fee is included in the Mandalay Archaeological Zone Ticket and will be stamped upon entry.
Hsinbyume Pagoda (Mya Thein Tan Pagoda)
The Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun Pagoda and Mingun Bell are all located in a small nearby town called Mingun. You can reach Mingun by driving about 1.5 hours by motorbike or car. You can also reach that side of the Irrawaddy River by taking a boat journey for approximately the same amount of time from the Mandalay Jetty. However, if you want to visit before the crowds then I would recommend hiring a car or renting a motorbike since the boat leaves at a scheduled time.
You can climb each level of the all white pagoda, making it feel like you are climbing up into the clouds. The view from the top is just as impressive as you can see panoramic views of the Irrawaddy River and surrounding riverbanks. This was my favorite Pagoda in Mandalay and was such a unique place to visit. We arrived around 7:30 am beat the crowds which started to show up around 9:30/10 am.
The Hsinbyume Pagoda is definitely one of the best things to do in Mandalay, Myanmar.
Entrance Fee: There is a 5,000 MMK ($3.30 USD) fee for the Mingun Archaeological Zone Ticket which gives you access to the Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun Pagoda and Mingun Bell.
Remember to dress respectfully and remove your shoes.
Mingun Pahtodawgyi (Pagoda)
Built in 1790 by King Bodawpaya in Mingun, this massive pagoda is actually only 1/3 of its intended size. As the story goes, it is said that the King was a strong believer in superstition and the people of the town were burdened by the hard labor that came with the construction of the pagoda.
Therefore they created a prophecy about what would happen after the completion of the pagoda. There are two stories, one states that the King would die and the other says that the country would be gone. Either way it worked and the project was left intentionally unfinished.
Today the Mingun Pagoda serves more as an attraction rather than a religious site. There are large cracks that now appear in the structure which were caused by a earthquake from March of 1839.
TIP: Head around to the back side of the pagoda where you will get the best shot of the famous crack and avoid the crowds.
The fee to enter is included in the Mingun Archaeological Zone Ticket and there is a small fee to park a motorbike.
Located in between the Mingun Pagoda and the Hsinbyume Pagoda is the Mingun Bell. The bell was supposed to be used at the Mingun Pagoda but never was since the Pagoda wasn’t ever completed.
Viewing the bell is a quick stop and you’ll see the small crowd taking pictures in the front. The bell is included in the archaeological zone ticket price. Therefore, you might as well stop for a minute and take a quick peek!
Shwe Kyat Yat Pagoda
We actually spotted this beautiful Pagoda while we were driving from Mandalay over to the small town of Mingun across the Irrawaddy River. Perched on top of a hill, the Shwe Kyat Yat Pagoda offers stunning views of the river and the many pagodas nestled along the hillside.
There is no fee to enter, just remember to remove your shoes and dress appropriately. If you are heading back to Mandalay from Mingun town you should stop here as you’ll most likely be the only foreign visitors around.
Sanda Muni Pagoda
Located very close to the Kuthodaw Pagoda, this 1874 Buddhist temple is known for its large golden stupa surrounded by many smaller white stupas.
Unfortunately, the golden stupa was under renovation during our visit and was hidden by a network of bamboo scaffolding. However, we still felt that it was worth stopping and there was no fee to enter.
This Pagoda is located near the south entrance to the Mandalay Palace making it an easy stop during your sightseeing tour of Mandalay.
The grounds is quite large and spread out so you can wander around and enjoy the different architecture, stupas and buddha statues. There is a small fee to park a motorbike and it is free to enter the Pagoda.
Located about 30 minutes outside of Mandalay on the Taungthaman Lake is the famous U-Bein bridge. Built around 1850 the teakwood bridge stretches across a span of 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) and is considered to be the oldest and longest in the world.
Visiting the U-Bein bridge during sunset is the best time to go but be prepared for a crowd. It will be the busiest time of day but the views are amazing and shouldn’t be missed. If you are a morning person you could visit during sunrise for a quieter experience. This is one of the best things to do around Mandalay, Myanmar and we were so happy that we added this to our itinerary.
Photography Tip: Walk along the side of the bridge and in the grassy area below to capture the best angles of the bridge and sunset. It’s even better if you have a zoom lens!
To reach the U-Bein bridge from Mandalay you will either need to hire a taxi, rickshaw or rent a motorbike. There is no fee to enter the U-Bein bridge but there is a small charge to part a motorbike. Traffic isn’t too bad driving in and out of Mandalay should you decide to rent a motorbike. The drive should take around 35-45 minutes each way to get to the U-Bein bridge from central Mandalay.
Where to Stay in Mandalay
For the duration of your stay in Mandalay you’ll want to stay somewhere centrally located near many of the main pagodas and sights. Besides the Mingun Pagoda, Hsinbyume Pagoda and the U-Bein Bridge, most of the places you’ll want to visit in Mandalay are quite close to each other.
We stayed at the Ruby Land Hotel, a budget friendly accommodation located in the heart of Mandalay just a few minutes drive from the main sights. The rooms are very large and clean with breakfast included. The staff is friendly and helpful and will make sure that you have a pleasant stay. I would highly recommend this hotel if you are staying in Mandalay and looking for a budget friendly accommodation.
AirBnb is always a great option. With a unique selection of accommodations you’re sure to find something that will suit your needs. We used an AirBnb for part of our stay in KL and it was nice having our own kitchen and a bit more space.
Use this link to save $30 off your first booking with AirBnb!
Where to Eat in Mandalay
Pan Thadin- A delicious and family owned restaurant located directly behind the Shwenandaw Monastery and the Atumashi Monastery. The food was fresh, local and cheap!
Marie Min– A highly reviewed vegetarian restaurant located in the heart of Mandalay. The food was some of the best Indian we’ve had since being in India.
Spring Bakery & Cafe– Using only the freshest ingredients, they have a large selection of yummy baked goods that make the perfect snack on those overnight bus journeys.
Maison de Myat– Situated across the road from the Hsinbyume Pagoda this restaurant offers delicious food and an amazing view!
How to Get Around Mandalay
There are a few different options when it comes to transportation within Mandalay. Which option you choose is up to you based on your comfort level and budget.
Depending on your comfort level and confidence on a motorbike you can rent a bike from one of the shops in town. Renting a motorbike in Myanmar was more expensive than most places we rented from in SE Asia. There are two options for rentals: manual and automatic.
The first day we rented a manual motorbike from our hotel, however, the bike seemed to belong to a family member from the staff and wasn’t in the best condition. Therefore, the next day we went to TTBike Motorbike Rental and rented an automatic motorbike for the rest of our time.
The cost to rent an automatic motorbike from TTBike Motorbike Rental is 15K MMK ($10 USD) for 24 hours.
2.Taxi or GRAB
You can use a taxi or the GRAB app to get around the city of Mandalay. Sometimes the cost will be about the same and sometimes it could be less with a taxi. The best thing to do is check the prices on the GRAB app and then ask a taxi to give you a similar price. Don’t be surprised if the taxi drivers all ask their friends for directions or ask you to tell them where to go along the way.
3.Take a Tour
If renting a motorbike isn’t your thing you can easily take a private or group tour. These tours take out all the work of planning and allow you to relax and enjoy at the sights without the stress of figuring it all out. There are a few options available but the most popular ones are either half day or full day tours!
Photography Tips for Mandalay
- Drones are allowed in the country but are NOT allowed to be flown unless you have retained a permit. They have very strict drone laws as to where you can and cannot fly. Be sure to check online before flying your drone anywhere in the country. I chose not to fly my drone as I didn’t want to have any problems with the government or law.
- Myanmar allows tripods everywhere that we went so we didn’t have any issues.
- At some of the pagodas they will charge a small photography fee. This fee applies to cameras and phones.
Visa for Myanmar: Applying for an E-Visa
Most passport holders from other countries will need to apply online for a visa to Myanmar prior to visiting. You will need to do this about 5 days before your arrival. Sometimes it can take that long and you’ll need to find a place to print out your visa.
To apply, you will need a copy of your passport and a passport sized photo that you can upload. The cost is $50 per person and it is good for 28 days.
NOTE: You CANNOT get a visa on arrival in Myanmar so make sure to apply online.
DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you use these links to purchase a product or service I will receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you. Everything I recommend are products or services that I personally use and have been essential for me as a travel blogger.
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WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO I USE?
- Main Camera: Sony A7III
- Wide angle lens: Sony G Master 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom lens: Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
- Secondary Camera: Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon wide angle lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Underwater camera: Leica X-U
- Camera with gimbal: DJI Osmo Pocket & Underwater Housing
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro
- Camera Bag: Polar Pro Drone Trekker
- External Hard Drive: LaCie 1 TB rugged mini external hard drive