Mandalay is Myanmar’s second largest city and in terms of commerce, it’s most important. The population surpasses one million, and though it is a center of Burmese culture, immigrants from Yunnan Province are quickly bringing a Chinese counterculture as well. Just wait until that highway from China opens up. There’s enough to see here to spend a few days on your way north or as you are waiting to board a local boat for a full day’s journey south to Bagan.
You’ll see the big ramparts and surrounding moat and think this must be a big deal. Well, it was. When the monarchy came to an end, this was its last home when the British took it in 1885 and ousted King Thibaw. During World War II most of it was destroyed by fire and what you see today within the walls is a reconstruction from the 1990s. The space is shared by military grounds now, but you can still see what the Glass Palace quarters, the Great Audience Hall, and Lion Throne Room looked like. There is also a climbable watchtower. The Royal Mint and a clocktower survived the WWII fire. If you have time to kill, it’s worth seeing. Oh, and do NOT take photos of the soldiers or military installations.
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Mandalay Hill (photo credit: Kevin Revolinski)
For those who love views, head up Mandalay Hill for a view of the city. You can get to the top with a vehicle, but you can also make merit by climbing this 240-meter hill on foot as you pass Buddha images, flower vendors, and ogre statues. Get there for sunset.
Sandamani or Sanda Muni, Mandalay (photo credit: Kevin Revolinski)
Sandamani or Sanda Muni Paya
Just off to the southeast of Mandalay Hill for a convenient stop, is Sanda Mani pagoda. Inside you’ll find the largest iron Buddha, topping 18.5 metric tons and, like most important Buddha images, arriving here via various previous homes due to war and changing capital cities. This location was where King Mindon’s provisional palace once stood, and the pagoda was his memorial to a younger half-brother. Recognize it by the large collection of white pagodas standing tall and narrow.