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It may be Myanmar’s second largest city after Rangoon, but Mandalay in Upper Burma feels more like a big rural town. Low-rise, laidback and boasting a pace that’s even more leisurely than Rangoon’s – everybody gets about by bicycle and more increasingly by motorbike – it’s hard to believe the city is rumoured to be home to more of Myanmar’s millionaires than Rangoon. Most of the wealth comes from trade with nearby China and increasingly India. The region’s commercial and spiritual centre – half of Myanmar’s monks also live here – every hill in Mandalay appears to be topped by a pagoda.
Much to most visitors’ surprise, Mandalay isn’t an ancient city. Established in 1857 by King Mingdon Min as the new Burmese capital, it was only ruled by one more monarch, King Thibaw, before the British occupied northern Burma in 1885. A beautiful city of sprawling wooden buildings, embellished with ornate carvings, during its short-lived time as a capital, most of Mandalay was devastated by fire after bombing during World War II. Like Rangoon it now feels very British, well planned, with lettered roads and numbered streets.Read more
Due to its proximity to China, Mandalay’s Chinese residents comprise roughly a third of the city’s population, both descendents of colonial-era immigrants and recent migrants here to do business. As a result, the new architecture is more Chinese than Burmese and Mandarin can be heard in the streets. Mandalay is also home to ethnic minorities, including the Shan and Karen (Kayin) groups, along with Indian Sikhs and Nepalese, with the Burmese Bamar forming only a very a slight majority.
Mandalay’s sights include myriad spiritual sites, many of which are located on Mandalay Hill. Maha Myat Muni Paya is one of Myanmar's holiest places of pilgrimage, with an enormous bejewelled Buddha statue. Shwe Kyi Myin Paya is a stupa dating to the 1st century that was built by Prince Min Shin Saw.
At the base of Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Paya is home to the world's largest book, the complete work of Theravada Buddhism’s most sacred text, the Tripitaka, which is located within the 729 white stupas scattered across the complex, built in the 1800s by King Mingdon. Sandamuni Paya, also at the bottom of Mandalay Hill, is home to the world’s largest iron Buddha. Shwenandaw Monastery is constructed entirely from teak wood with ornate carvings. Originally in Mandalay’s old royal palace, it was the only building to survive the World War II bombing. The Royal Palace, a walled city built in 1861 by King Mindon, was rebuilt after the war and renovated in recent years.