Mandalay, Myanmar`s second largest city, was the last capital of the Burmese kingdom and is considered the country’s cultural heartland. As an important trade centre, it is home to some of Myanmar’s most important pagodas as well as its finest handicraft workshops.
Three ancient capital cities – Ava, Sagaing and Amarapura – are within easy reach of Mandalay and well worth a side trip. Just across the Irrawaddy River and a short but fascinating boat ride away is Mingun, home to one of the largest intact bells in existence as well as the earthquake ravaged base of an unfinished pagoda, which would have been the tallest in the world.
Sights in Mandalay:
Royal Palace: This imposing palace was built by King Mindon in 1857, when he decided for Mandalay to be the Royal City. It was essentially a walled city within Mandalay which was destroyed by a fire on 20th March 1945 during a fierce fighting between advancing British troops and the occupying Japanese forces. It was recently reconstructed, but with concrete instead of flammable wood.
You can visit the miniature palace and then stroll through the reconstruction, housing a lot of original artifacts. Afterwards, climb the 33 meter high watchtower with views over the whole palace compound and the city. The fort also contains the tomb of King Mindon and the Sabbath Hall.
Mahamuni Pagoda: The Mahamuni Pagoda was built by King Bodawpaya in 1784. However, the original shrine was destroyed in 1884 by a fire, so that the current one is of comparatively recent origin. It features the Mahamuni Buddha image that was transported to Mandalay from Mrauk Oo in 1784, possibly cast as long ago as the 1st century. The four metre high image is cast in bronze, but over the years it has been covered with a thick layer of gold leaves.
In the courtyard there are six bronze Khmer figures that were brought back from Mrauk Oo and have their actual origins in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Shwe Inbin Monastery: This monastery, dating 1895, features exquisite wooden carvings along the balustrades and roof cornices.
Shwe Nandaw Monastery: This “Golden Palace Monastery” is a fragile reminder of the old Mandalay Fort. Once part of the palace complex and used as an apartment by King Mindon, who died in this building, King Thibaw had dismantled and reassembled it at its present site in 1880.
Kuthodaw Pagoda: The 729 marble slabs surrounding this pagoda are inscribed with the entire Tripitaka, earning this pagoda the moniker of "the world's biggest book".
Kyauktaw-Gyi Pagoda: The pagoda is famous for its huge seated Buddha image, carved from one single block of marble. Until a couple of years ago it was the biggest single carved image in the world.
Mandalay Hill: After a pleasant climb, this hill, topped with a temple style pagoda of mirrored hallways, offers a fantastic view all over the city and the central plain. The Mandalay Hill is a must and can be visited all day long, but enjoying the sunset from the pagoda on top of the hill is always a nice ending of a hot day. (driving up halfway, missing no important sights, cuts the walk to only 20 minutes)
Mingun:Pondaw Paya: 5 m high, working model for the gigantic Mingun Paya. It illustrates well how the Paya could have looked like if it had been completed.
Mingun Paya: Work on this gigantic structure was started in 1790 by king Bodawpaya and stopped when he died in 1819. If the work had been completed, Mingun had today the world's largest Zedi. The stupa's base suffered great damage during the earthquake of 1838, which left a deep crack in the facade. With its 50 meters height one third of the intended height of the project has been reached. From the top you can enjoy magnificent views of the Irrawaddy and Mandalay.
Mingun Bell: In 1808 the king had a giant bell constructed for the Mingun Paya with 90 tons of weight. This bell is the largest unbroken and still working bell in the world.
Hsinbyume Paya: built in 1816 under Bagyidaw before he became king, in memory of his wife Princess Hsinbyume. It is a pretty white round Zedi. One can reach the top terrace by climbing a beautifully decorated stairway.
Monywa is a lovely town, situated on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River and a major trade centre for agricultural products from the surrounding Chindwin Valley. It is the gateway to the magnificent Thanboddhay pagoda complex, with 7.350 statues and almost 600.000 sacred images of the Buddha, as well as the world`s highest standing Buddha. This colossal figure measures approximately 130 metres in height and is hollow inside.
About two hours driving time from Monywa, you will find the impressive sandstone caves of Hpo Win Daung.
sights in Monywa:
Thanboddhay Pagoda: this attraction 20km southeast of Monywa. It was built between 1939 and 1952; so fairly new it is an interesting site. It mainly imposes through the over 500.000 small images of Buddha's disciplines featured inside of the Pagoda. The Pagoda itself looks from outside vaguely like Borobudur in Indonesia, just in gold. There is a little watchtower on the compound, on which man are allowed to climb up and enjoy the view over the pagoda.
Boddhi-Tataung (1000 Buddhas): 4km from Thanboddhay Pagoda is this grove of Banyan trees, each with a Buddha image placed at its foot.
Aung Setkya Paya: is a Pagoda nearby the Boddhi-Taung, which is surrounded by 1060 small zedis. A good view over this compound is from in front of the large 90m long reclining Buddha, which is placed up the hill. It is hollow inside and features some stories of Buddhas life with men height figures.
Ledi Kyaung: monastery founded by the famous monk Ledi Sayadaw. There are 806 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist scriptures in Pali and their Burmese translation.
Hpo Win Daung Caves: this magnificent sandstone caves are reached by a short ferry ride across the Chindwin River and a following ¾ hrs carried. The caves are named after U Hpo Win a famous alchemist who once lived there, they feature various beautiful fine murals and Buddha images, some of them are date as far back as the 14th and 16th century, mostly the ones with the smaller entrance. The most of the over 200.000 large and small caves exhibit the Inwa (Ava) style from the 17th and 18th century.
Shwebataung Paya: (right next to Hpo Win Daung) these large caves, like temples, with very colorful entrances have been cut into the sandstone in the 18th century. Amazing are the long stairways with the straight tall walls leading down to the complex.