We’ve heard enough people rave about Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar, that we couldn’t wait to see it for ourselves. Beautiful architecture, friendly people, AND great food!? Sign us up!
So after a LONG 8 hour bus ride up from Yangon (which has an insanely good street food scene), we checked into our hotel and went to bed. The next morning, we fueled up with a big breakfast at the hotel and then hit the pavement to explore Mandalay.
Mandalay is a pretty big city (the population is over 1 million people) so walking isn’t really feasible if you want to see all the main sights. Luckily, our hotel had free bicycles for us to use.
We spent the day seeing a bunch of great sights, so without further ado, here are the best things to do in Mandalay, Myanmar.
9 Amazing Things To Do In Mandalay, Myanmar
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1. Visit the Mandalay Palace
Mandalay Palace is the last royal palace that was constructed under the Burmese monarchy. Situated on a sprawling palace grounds that is surrounded by a moat, you can’t miss this beautiful piece of Burmese history.
No seriously, you can’t miss it. Literally. It’s located right on the heart of town and the grounds are massive. When we first saw it on Google Maps, it looked like a massive football field right in the heart of the city center.
There is a US $5 entrance fee if you want to enter the actual grounds and see the palace, but you can still admire the grounds from the other side of the moat. The architecture is spectacular! The moat is so wide, it looks like a river running through town.
2. Explore the magnificent Kuthodaw Pagoda
The Kuthodaw Pagoda was the first pagoda that we had the chance to visit in Myanmar. Pictures can’t do this beauty justice…especially on a sunny day. This massive gold pagoda is bright and glowing and incredible. We wouldn’t be surprised if you could see it from outer space!
There is no entrance fee, but make sure that you are wearing appropriate clothing (shoulders and knees covered). They make you take your shoes off at the gate so be prepared to walk barefoot…your feet will definitely get dirty.
3. Have your face painted with “thanaka” (traditional Burmese makeup)
In Myanmar, you’ll notice both men and women with a light colored substance painted onto their faces. It’s called thanaka, and it is made from ground bark. The people use it both for beauty and to protect their faces from the sun.
While we were at Kuthodaw Pagoda, a local woman approached us and asked us if we wanted thanaka painted onto our cheeks. We had been excited to try it since we first saw people wearing it when we arrived in Yangon. So we said yes!
She did a beautiful job and when we offered to pay her, she wouldn’t take it. She sold beautiful watercolor painted cards at the entrance to the pagoda so we purchased one of those to show our gratitude.
4. Climb Mandalay Hill
If you’re looking for a great place to watch a sunset, look no further than Mandalay Hill. Located right next to Kuthodaw Pagoda, this beautiful hill features panoramic views of Mandalay. Climb the steps to see the views for yourself!
5. Experience the spectacular Shwenandaw Monestary
The Shwenandaw Monestary is an incredible intricately designed teak building that looks more like art than anything else. This beautiful monestary looks hundreds of years old, but surprisingly, it was only built about 130 years ago.
There is a small fee to enter the monastery, but the funds supposedly go to maintaining and up-keeping the building.
6. Bike Your Way Through Mandalay
Since Mandalay is a fairly large city, biking is one of the best ways to truly see the city. hop on a bike and explore random areas of the city to see the true local life for yourself.
A lot of hotels in Mandalay offer free bike rentals. Just make sure the hotel you pick offers bikes and you’ve got free transportation for the day! We stayed at the Royal Yadanarbon and loved it–it was a total deal plus breakfast was included.
We biked around for hours exploring random back streets and alleys, and were amazed at how different local life is from the tourist areas. The locals were extremely friendly too!
(Side Note: Bikes are our favorite way to explore a new city. It’s a great workout, plus very eco-friendly).
Want to travel greener? Download our free guide with 33 Eco-Friendly Travel Tips!
7. Explore Zay Cho Market (Zegyo Market)
Zay Cho Market is the largest market in Mandalay. You can easily get lost inside this massive market, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of friendly locals willing to lend a helping hand.
This market is a great place to pick out souvenirs from your trip to Myanmar. From beautiful silk clothes to beaded colorful dolls, Zay Cho Market has it all. Just remember that they do close at 5 PM, so plan your visit during the day.
8. Visit the Mahamuni Buddha Temple
When in Myanmar…visit Pagodas! There are so many incredible ones to see, especially in Mandalay. But this one is truly special to see in person.
The Mahamuni Pagoda looks like an intricate gold pyramid on the outside. On the inside, sits a massive gold buddha. Make sure to dress appropriately and remember that only men are invited to sit and pray in front of the buddha.
9. Try the Cherry Passion Fruit Chicken from Pan Cherry Noodle House
While searching for a place to have dinner in Mandalay one night, we came across Pan Cherry Noodle House. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s popular among tourists for a reason!
Their Shan Noodles are absolutely delicious, but the dish that you must try is the Cherry Passion Fruit Chicken. It’s so tart and sweet and crispy (all at the same time!) and it’s some of the yummiest chicken we’ve ever had.
Love trying new foods? You’ll also love the street food scene in Yangon’s China Town.
What To Pack For Mandalay, Myanmar
Myanmar is an intimidating country to pack for…especially for Westerners. It’s such a different country than what we’re used to. So if you’re struggling to come up with what to pack, don’t worry. You’re not alone!
We’ve been traveling full-time for almost a year so at this point, we are pretty much packing experts. Here are a few things that we are so glad that we brought to Myanmar.
- LifeStraw Water Bottle: The water in Myanmar is not safe to drink. This means you can either purchase plastic water bottles everywhere you go (which is expensive and terrible for the environment). OR you can get a Lifestraw Water Bottle which has an awesome filter that allows you to drink the tap water (or any water for that matter). Order it on Amazon here.
- Anker Portable Battery Charger: It’s so hard to find outlets in Myanmar. And we can’t risk our phones dying on a long travel day. That’s why we love the Anker portable battery charger. It can charge your smart phone up to 7 times. It’s saved our butts so many times. Get it here.
Check out these 17 Things That We Can’t Travel Without for some other ideas.
Where to Stay in Mandalay
Mandalay is a pretty big city, so you’ll want to make sure to stay in a central area. That way, you’re near the good attractions and have yummy places to eat nearby.
We stayed at the Royal Yadanarbon Hotel and loved it. This is the hotel we recommend for all travelers on a budget. The rooms were small and basic, but the staff was extremely friendly and there was a great breakfast buffet.
If you’re looking to spend a little more and be situated super close to Mandalay Palace, the Hilton Mandalay is a great option.
You can also get an Airbnb if you’re looking to have a more local experience. If you’re new to Airbnb, sign up with our link to get $55 off your first booking!
Mandalay is a pretty awesome city. With so many beautiful temples, pagodas and monasteries, it’s very Instagram friendly 😉 Make sure to bring a good camera because many of the sights in Mandalay are unforgettable; you’ll definitely want to capture them on camera.
If you’re looking to buy a new travel camera, we love our Sony RX100. It’s lightweight and can easily fit in a purse or even your pocket. Yet it takes pictures better than many DSLR’s!
Have an awesome time in Mandalay…Happy Travels!
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