Mandalay of Central Burma

After seeing Yangon on our Burma trip, we took an overnight bus to Mandalay where the the last king of Burma was annexed and the era of British colony begun. I had been informed and well prepared but the city was really colorless but the city serves as a strategic location to visit the attractions around the Mandalay and beyond.

If you are planning to see some specific historical sights from the nearby cities – Mingun, Inwa, Sagaing or Amarapura then Mandalay would be a great place to base in. These cities were submitted to UNESCO for world heritage status but based on what we saw how the places were exploited or terribly rebuilt, the world heritage status dream is a far-off dream.

Mandalay

Mahamuni pagoda, most famous pagoda in Mandalay as what Shwedagon was to Yangon, seems pretty popular with both domestic and international visitors. It wasn’t very interesting for me but it wasn’t bad either – especially that we had almost two full days in Mandalay and we were struggling to fill in the gaps. (Exploring the city wasn’t an option because there is hardly anything there.)

Mahamuni pagoda, the most revered pagoda of Upper Myanmar
Mahamuni pagoda, the most revered pagoda of Upper Myanmar
Wall drawing at Mahamuni pagoda
Wall drawing at Mahamuni pagoda
Mahamuni Pagoda
A visitor buying flowers from a flower seller

Mandalay hill is a very popular place for watching sunset, thanks to its unobstructed view of Mandalay city from the high ground. Again, I think Mandalay Hill is a gap filler, the view from the top is nothing to boast about. Well, maybe the sky conditions weren’t favorable on that evening but it was a typical sunset over a city, so it is nothing really special about it. So, my advice to you if you are on a tight schedule, skip this place.

What make the visit more memorable was the ascend to the summit; while you are take the lift up direct, we chose to take the staircases – which took us about 45 minutes without taking breaks or detours. There were plenty of small pagodas and places of worshipping along the staircases enough to keep us engaged throughout; although we decided to climb as an act of devotion and to kill the time – we were too early for the sunset.

Stairway to Mandalay Hill
Stairway to Mandalay Hill

There is a beautiful pagoda on top of the hill with heavy Thai architectural influences. My guess was that when the Burmese kings sacked the Thai capital, Ayutthaya and brought back the artisans over the years; the result being majority of the monuments built around Mandalay region bears heavy resemblance to what you might see in Bangkok or Ayutthaya.

Mandalay Hill Pagoda
Sounding ball at Mandalay Hill Pagoda
Mandalay Hill Pagoda
Pagoda at the summit of Mandalay Hill

If you notice the water pots in the picture, each water pot represents a phrase out from 24 phrase Dharma prayer; so if you drink a bit of water from each pot, you will be protected by the power of the Dharma.

If there is one place that was pretty awesome and memorable was Shwe Nandaw Kaung, can be translated into ‘Golden Palace Monastery’, teakwood monastery originally built in 1880. What makes this monastery amazing was that the entire monastery is filled with wood carving – from the walls, pillars, doors to the ceilings each statue filled with meanings; some I recognized as Lawkanat, the guardian spirit of the universe but more known as the symbol of prosperity and peace.

Buddha Shrine at Shwe Nandaw Kaung
Buddha Shrine at Shwe Nandaw Kaung

Sadly, the details on the wood carvings are fading away with the years but seems like there are restoration efforts in place and the preservation seems pretty authentic. This is one of the places in Mandalay that you need to pay entrance fee but if you don’t feel like paying, there are a few alternatives (similar teakwood monasteries) although not elaborate or decorative as this one. Or if you enjoyed this place so much that you want to the rest, it might be good to know this.

Carving on the pillar at Shwe Nandaw Kaung
Carving on the pillar at Shwe Nandaw Kaung

I am indeed grateful to get the chance to visit Mandalay and see all these sights, I don’t think I would like to visit again; after all, seeing the sights are just one part of my agenda. I couldn’t find anything charming about Mandalay as a city: be it the culture, food scene, architecture or lifestyle.

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