Stunning and bustling, Mandalay is a prospering economic city located around 700km to the north of Yangon on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. Famous all over the world thanks to Rudyard Kipling's poem Mandalay, this sprawling and lively city has a population of around 1 million, is home to many significant religious and cultural sites and can be reached by flight, rail or train. The broad streets are reminiscent of the colonial era and make it a perfect town to explore on foot, cycle or trishaw. The best time to visit Mandalay is in the cool and dry season, which runs from November until March. Outside of this time, visitors should expect very hot temperatures climbing over 40 degrees in April and May and heavy monsoonal rains between May and October.
The most important Buddhist site in Mandalay is the Mahamuni Paya, which houses the highly venerated Mahamuni Buddha image. Located in the south west of the city, this shrine has one of five original representations of Buddha as stipulated in Buddhist legend; two are in paradise, two in India and the fifth is in modern day Mandalay. The beautiful golden statue sits at over 4 meters high and is covered with over 15cm of gold leaf that has been placed on the figure by devotees over centuries.
Mandalay Hill, located at the northeastern center of the city is another important religious site to visit. It is a spectacular spot to view the impressive landscape around Mandalay and to watch the sunset. Considered an important pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists, Mandalay Hill is approximately 240m high and houses a number of beautiful pagodas and shrines. At the southeastern stairway at the base of Mandalay Hill is Kuthdaw Paya, a large walled temple complex. This pagoda is often referred to as the world's largest book because of the 729 stone slabs imbedded into shines. These slabs measure an impressive 1.5m tall x 1.1 meter wide and are inscribed with the entire text of the Tripitaka Buddhist sacred text. Put together, the 729 slabs would form the world's largest book.
The politically conscious traveler can visit The Moustache Brothers, a comedian troupe who perform political satire. Their performance combines comedy, classic Burmese dance and sharp criticism of the Burmese military regime. A visit is very worthwhile.
Other interesting sites in and around Mandalay include;
* Sagaing – Located 20km south west of Mandalay, this area is interesting for the Bronze Age archaeological site, Ngaung-Gan; the Inwa Bridge, the only structure to cross the Irrawaddy river until 1998 and; the Mingun Bell, the largest ringing bell in the world. Sagaing is also popular for the numerous Buddhist sites including Sagaing Hill which has over 600 monasteries.
* U-Bien Bridge – Located approximately 10km south of Mandalay city at Amarapura, this 1.2 km teak wood bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world.
* Mandalay Royal Palace – Top tourist destination in Mandalay, however questions surround visiting the site due to reports that rebuilding of the complex in the 1990's was done during forced labor. Entrance fees go directly to the government.
* Moustache Brothers – Infamous and controversial comedy trio who are renowned for their anti-government performances in Mandalay. Performances occur daily and cost 8000 kyat - highly recommended.