With its ancient, gilded pagodas and traditional way of life, Myanmar is an exotic and charming destination. Mandalay – Myanmar’s last royal capital – is the perfect starting point for adventurous travellers. Here are the top five must-dos to include in your itinerary.
Climb Mandalay Hill
For the best views of Mandalay – Myanmar’s last royal capital – head to Mandalay Hill. It might take about a half-hour on foot to get to the top, or hire a car to drive you as far up as the foot of the Su Taung Pyai Pagoda.
As with any religious site in Myanmar, you’ll need to remove shoes and socks before entering, so you’ll have to climb the rest of the way barefoot. However, there is an escalator and lift access to the pagoda, and the view at the top makes any small discomfort getting there worth it.
Go for a cooking class
There is probably no better way to connect with the locals and learn about a culture than through sharing a meal! Several guesthouses and independently run travel operators offer cooking classes or tours that include a market visit. Learn how to prepare the Burmese signature dish, tea leaf salad or laphet thoke – the pickled tea leaf is combined with ingredients such as roasted peanuts, fried ginger and fish sauce, and makes an addictive snack or starter.
Take a walk along U Bein Bridge
The iconic bridge is one of the world’s oldest and longest made of teakwood, and it’s a great place to catch the sunset. But if you’d rather beat the tourist crowds, go early in the morning for the sunrise instead. Get a glimpse of the locals going about their daily lives – Buddhist monks and nuns passing through, a street dog trotting by, brisk walkers and the occasional jogger. Another advantage of visiting in the early morning: it’s usually cooler and more comfortable.
Catch a puppet performance
For a dose of the arts, head to the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre, where one of the country’s most experienced puppeteers – an octogenarian and one of the founders of the theatre – still performs almost every night! Preserving the heritage art of marionette puppetry, the intimate show comprises traditional music, dance and about six puppeteers deftly manipulating elaborately dressed wooden string puppets, acting out scenes from Burmese folk tales.
Plan a relaxing half-day trip to Mingun, a small town northwest of Mandalay that is easily accessible by ferry. Take in the sight of the unfinished monument of Mingun Pahtodawgyi – construction of the stupa began in 1790 and would have reached 150 metres in height if the project hadn’t been abandoned upon alleged royal decree. Around the corner from the ruins is the massive Mingun Bell, which was originally cast for the monumental stupa. Finally, no trip is complete until you visit the striking Hsinbyume Pagoda.
Where to stay
Hilton Mandalay is centrally located with lovely views of Mandalay Hill and the Royal Palace. It’s a great home base for your stay in Mandalay, especially if the weather becomes too stifling in the afternoons. Enjoy expertly cooked local dishes at Café Mandalay and lounge by the pool. Guests can even rent bicycles for free for a leisurely cycle along the moat next to the Royal Palace. Bonus: the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre is just a 3-minute walk away from the hotel.