Hoi An is Vietnam's foodies and photographers' heaven, with endless markets, colorful lanterns, nearby fishing...
We arrived to Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, at the end of our trip. We had a few days to spend here and after visiting Bagan and Inle Lake we thought we’d already seen the best of Myanmar’s attractions. Boy, we were wrong because we LOVED our time here and we couldn’t get enough of the colorful markets and the day trips to nearby villages (not to mention the Indian restaurant we have visited 3 times). Mandalay is located on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River which provides a wonderful setting for many Instagram-worthy pictures. Allow for at least 3-4 days to explore Mandalay and its surrounding area if you can include it in your Myanmar itinerary
Things to See and Do in and around Mandalay
Take a Ferry to Mingun
Mingun is a small village which is situated on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River. We took a small boat to get there and for a moment felt like trainee pirates because we had to cross long planks to get on and off the boat. The next couple of hours we spent strolling around Mingun and browsing the numerous souvenir stands, visiting the Mingun Bell (the biggest hanging bell in the world) and the Pahtodwgyi Pagoda. Our favorite attraction in Mingun was without a doubt the Hsinbyume Pagoda (the pagoda of love). It is very unique in its bright white color and the design that is similar to waves or as someone else described it – “a great white meringue style pavlova”.
Watch the Sunset at U Bein Bridge
The famous U Bein Bridge (the longest wooden bridge in the world) is located in Amarapura. It is such a beautiful sight to watch the sunset from one of the boats on the river. We arrived here about two hours before the sunset and had some time to cross the bridge and hire a boat to watch the sunset. Since many tourists have this attraction on their Myanmar bucket list, make sure to make a reservation in advance with one of the local boats because sometimes there are no more boats to hire (yep, talking from experience). An important tip – even if there are no more boats available, ask around and perhaps share a boat with someone who has already hired one. For a more romantic experience you can also hire one of the small boats which provide drinks and a bite to eat in this stunning setting. Just before sunset dozens of boats dock in front of the bridge in a long chain-like structure, almost touching one another while waiting for the sunset to color the sky in golden hues.
Visit the Family-Owned Workshops
If you have been following our Myanmar itinerary then you already know we love the local family-owned workshops. We really loved the unique small factories/workshops in the villages around Mandalay because it was a great opportunity to experience the every-day life of the villagers. We found out that most of the villages here choose to concentrate on one kind of specialty such as clay or terracotta. Each family makes a different kind of item such as clay candle-holders or vases and people from all around the area know they can find every clay item they need in this specific village. We strolled around the different workshops with our guide and viewed the various phases involved in making such items. In the first village we learned about the different stages of making clay vases and money boxes for children.
In another workshop just at the outskirts of Mandalay we saw the different stages of making paper mache toys.
One of our most memorable experience form Myanmar is our visit to the hand-made broom workshop. You can see these lovely colorful brooms all over Myanmar. What made this visit so memorable was the fact that we were the main attraction there. After all of the explanations about the production process and spending some time taking pictures, the workers got over their shyness and asked us to pose with them for selfies. By then we were already used to these kind of requests but this time we had to spend about 30 minutes posing with everyone, making videos and joking around. It was such a fun experience and this small factory has such an old charm to it we just loved our time there.
When you are in Mandalay, make sure to visit one of these workshops that specialize in producing the gold leaves which the locals place on the Buddha statues everywhere in Myanmar – it is the specialty of this area.
Visit a Local Monastery in the Evening or Morning Time
From the start we knew we would like to visit one of the local monasteries in the area in the morning or just before sunset and witness the long line of monks who are on their way to the evening pray which is followed by supper. The problem is we’ve heard many mixed reviews about such visits since many times there are so many other tourists around you can’t really enjoy the experience. Therefore, we asked our guide to take us to a relatively less-known monastery in the afternoon since most tourists arrive in the mornings, and apart from us we saw perhaps 4 other tourists around. So our recommendation is to come in the afternoon to a smaller monastery if you want to enjoy your visit.
Visit Shwenandaw Kyaung
The Golden Palace Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung) is a historic Buddhist monastery located near Mandalay Hill and it is the only major original structure of the original Royal Palace. Both the exterior and interior of the monastery are decorated with intricate wood carvings. It is hard not the admire this beautiful monastery and the craftsmanship required to build it.
Visit the Mandalay Markets
If you are a market person (as we are) Mandalay is blessed with many great markets such as the fish market, flower market and fresh produce market. Our guide was wise enough to understand that just one visit to one of the markets was not going to satisfy our thirst and we came back a few times because markets are a little bit like Disneyland for us… Before choosing which market to visit, you’d better consult your guide or hotel regarding the best time of day to visit each of the markets. We couldn’t get enough of the sights and sounds (though we could do without the fishy odor of the fish market) of these market. We just strolled around, taking pictures, trying to spot unfamiliar fruits and veggies and basically inhale the richness and liveliness of these markets.
Watch the Sunset on the Banks of the Irrawaddy River
To finish your visit in the beautiful Mandalay, buy some snacks at the local market and sit to watch the sunset at the viewpoint just above the village of bamboo weavers. The villagers are weaving the bamboo which is used to build everything from roofs and walls to fans. The sunset is spectacular from here, coloring the scene in golden hues and it is a great spot to take some sunset pictures. Another bonus – many couples come to have a romantic evening here and many local kids and families come to enjoy the small park and playground.