As the former royal capital of Myanmar, Mandalay seemed the perfect place to start our trip. With it’s tall buildings and crowds of motorbikes at first it reminded us of Hanoi but after exploring the many things to do in Mandalay, we soon realised it’s like no other destination we’ve ever been to. For starters, it’s home to many world records including the world’s largest iron Buddha, the world’s longest teakwood bridge and the world’s largest book.
To add to the Mandalay attractions, a short day trip will also bring you to the world’s largest pile of bricks and letting the team down – the world’s SECOND largest bell. If you’re searching for what to do in Mandalay (apart from photograph the world’s largest everything) we also share where to stay in Mandalay and our Mandalay to Mingun day trip.
WHERE TO STAY IN MANDALAY
If you’re wondering where to stay in Mandalay – we’ve found the winner. Not only was our hotel super central but it was ideal for flashpackers on a backpacking budget. As soon as we arrived we were welcomed by fresh fruit juice and refreshing face towels.
We paid £66.00 for 2 nights for Hotel Yadanarbon.
Our room was large and comfortable with the usual amenities such as a fridge, kettle, slippers and water. The highlight for us was the top floor. Not only did the hotel have a huge restaurant (which made one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had) it also had a puppet show theatre in it. More on that later.
The restaurant then leads to a rooftop pool. The views from this pool were incredible and had we not been so busy squeezing in the many things to do in Mandalay we may have had time to relax here. Of all the accommodation we stayed in during our Myanmar trip, our hotel in Mandalay was our favourite.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MANDALAY
1. Visit Zay Cho Market
Start your Mandalay itinerary the same way the locals start their day – at Zay Cho Market. Confusingly, it is also referred to as Ze Cho, Zo Cho and Zegyo Market but however you spell it the name translates to “sweet price.” From the outside, it looks like a tower block, however inside expect a plethora of spices, sweet treats and fresh produce. One of the most popular things to do in Mandalay as it’s not only the largest market in town but the oldest.
We love local markets as they not only provide a fascinating insight into local life but are the perfect place to purchase a few souvenirs, at a “sweet price.” It is located between 84th and 86th Street although the main entrance is on 26th Street.
There are numerous markets throughout Mandalay however if you don’t have time to visit Zay Cho. There was even one right outside our hotel which we loved watching during breakfast time.
2. Hire a Bike
Like most places in Asia, one of the most popular things to do in Mandalay is hiring a bike and explore the local attractions. You can hire a motorbike from £3-£5 per day, although we’re not quite brave enough so prefer to go cycling. You can hire a bike easily in Mandalay and some accommodation even offer bike hire for free.
Alternatively, you can book a bike tour which will take you to through the main Mandalay attractions as well as off the beaten track areas thanks to the local guide. The tour lasts 4-5 hours and includes snacks and drinks.
If you are hiring a bike or have plans to explore the main things to do in Mandalay city, then you will need to purchase a tourist combo ticket. For 10,000MMK (approx. £5.50) you will be able to enter the Mandalay Palace as well as Atumashi Monastery and Schwenandaw Kyaung.
3. Walk U-Bein Bridge
Time to introduce our first record breaker of all the things to do in Mandalay – U-Bein Bridge. Not only is it the world’s longest teakwood bridge at 1.2km but as it was built in 1850 it’s also the oldest. U-Bein bridge also wins its own record for me as being the most terrifying bridge we’ve ever stepped foot on.
As we were visiting in peak hot season, there was no water under the bridge which made it appear very, very high. In true Asian health & safety there were also no handrails and HUNDREDS of people on the bridge. Due to the crowds (and fear of falling off), we only reached half-way before turning back.
Had it been the wet season and the Taungthaman lake much higher it would’ve been far more appealing as you’d be walking over water not hard ground. However, the combination of crowds, rickety bridge and fear of falling off meant we lasted a good 20 minutes before we bailed and headed under the bridge instead.
From our hotel to U-Bein bridge was a 30 minute journey and we paid 7000MK each way. Our grab driver waited as we walked the bridge which was ideal, as it saved us waiting but also avoided him the long car journey back to the city with an empty taxi.
4. Watch Sunset With The Sunflowers
One of the best things to do in Mandalay is to take a boat tour of Taungthaman lake at sunset. Not only can you see U-Bein bridge in its full glory (without having to walk on it – woo hoo) but you will meet many other fishermen and locals as well as a unique view of the city. Due to the very low tide a boat tour wasn’t possible however, visiting the bridge at sunset was spectacular none the less.
Another popular thing to do in Mandalay near U-Bein bridge is photograph the sunflower field which pops up at certain times of year. As well as being out of season for boat tours, we were out of season for sunflowers although we were treated to a beautiful sunflower field during our Inle Lake trip.
After you’ve enjoyed the sunset we recommend heading to the nearby market. It was incredibly crowded with locals during our visit but we loved the buzzing atmosphere. As well as selling the usual sweets and souvenirs there were a handful of restaurants serving beers and juice which are the perfect reward from the long bridge walk.
5. Climb Mandalay Hill
Another popular sunset spot and one of the most famous things to do in Mandalay is climb Mandalay Hill. At 240m high, not only does it provide stunning views over the city but there are a few unmissable stops up Mandalay Hill itself.
As it’s a religious site you have to do the 40 minute climb barefoot (similar to Mount Popa) and ensure you are dressed appropriately with shoulders and knees covered. There is no entrance fee to the hill but there is a small 1,000MMK (approx. £0.50) donation for taking photographs.
If you don’t fancy the barefoot climb (or the walk back in the dark after sunset) you can take a taxi and an elevator up Mandalay Hill.
6. Visit The World’s Heaviest Buddha
The reason climbing Mandalay Hill is one of the most popular things to do in Mandalay is because of Sandamuni Pagoda. It is home to the largest iron Buddha – weighing in at over 41,000 pounds! If you’re wondering what to do in Mandalay, counting the 1774 shrines at Sandamuni Pagoda is bound to keep you busy. Each one houses a marble slab that’s engraved with Buddha inscriptions.
7. Visit The World’s Largest Book
If reading the 1774 Buddha inscriptions didn’t take you long, you may want to head to Kuthodaw Pagoda which neighbours Sandamuni Pagoda as it’s home to the world’s largest book. Visiting Kuthodaw Pagoda is one of the most fascinating things to do in Mandalay as the “book” is actually made up of 729 standing stone pages.
These pages are actually one metre wide and two metres tall and are more like individual stupas known locally as Kyauksa gu. Understandably, it’s one of the most interesting things to do in Mandalay, especially if you have time to kill – it would take you 450 days to read all the “pages” if you spent 8 hours each day here!
8. Visit The “Skinny Buddha”
If you have spent time in the pagodas in Bagan, or elsewhere in Asia you will have seen many, many Buddha statues and images. However, you will never have seen something like the Skinny Buddha in Mandalay. In fact, it’s believed to be the only of its kind in the world and cost nearly £65,000 to build. It represents the Buddha at a time of meditation without eating and is a very peaceful (not to mention unique) thing to do in Mandalay which is rarely mentioned in the usual tourist guides.
You will find it on the corner of 30th & 62nd Street which is on route to Mandalay Hill. It is free to enter although there is a donation box and is it a religious site, remember to remove your shoes. As it was built in 2011 it is still one of the lesser known things to do in Mandalay and sadly we didn’t find out about it until after our visit, so we’re sharing the secret with you to visit on our behalf.
9. Attend a Puppet Show
Attending a puppet show is not only one of the most interesting things to do in Mandalay but is in fact a common past time throughout Myanmar. Our hotel in Mandalay even had it’s own puppet theatre in the restaurant but as we were backpacking Myanmar out of season, the shows were not on.
However, puppet shows were also one of the most popular things to do in Bagan and we managed to attend one there. From the exquisite handmade puppets to the live music, we loved our puppet show visit and can understand why it’s one of the most memorable things to do in Mandalay.
10. Take a Day Trip to Mingun
One of the most popular things to do in Mandalay is take a day trip to Mingun. Mingun is a small town Northwest of Mandalay and is located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.
To get from Mandalay to Mingun, you will need to take a ferry. It takes around 1 hour and costs 10,000MMK (approx. £5.50) for 2 people. Don’t forget your passport you need to show it for purchasing the ferry ticket. The ferry only leaves at 9am and returns at 12:30 lunchtime, if you wanted longer at Mingun or to travel out with these times you can hire a private boat for 30,000MMK (approx. £16.50).
A day trip to Mingun is considered one of the best things to do in Mandalay because it’s home to some epic sights such as:
Mingun Pahtodawgyi: An insanely huge unfinished pagoda, earning the title of the world’s largest pile of bricks. It looks like a scene from a Tomb Raider movie, thanks to the colossal crack down the centre from an earthquake.
Mingun Bell: This used to be the world’s largest bell (the biggest now believed to be in China) but during our visit we still counted 16 people INSIDE it. Yes, that huge.
Hsinbyume Pagoda: After our visit to Kawasan Falls in the Philippines, we stopped believing in photos we saw on Instagram. However, Hsinbyume Pagoda is even more striking in person than it looks in photos. You will recognise it’s tiered terraces and pavlova like appearance instantly.
Like the pagodas in Bagan, to view the sites you will need to purchase an Archaeological tourist ticket on arrival for 5,000MMK (approx. £2.70). A day trip to Mingun was one of our favourite things to do in Mandalay, our photos do not do this incredible place justice.
Hopefully you’re no longer stuck on what to do in Mandalay and this guide has inspired you to explore this incredible city. Whether you manage all the record breaking “world largest” Mandalay attractions or just one or two, your trip it guaranteed to be unforgettable.