If Yangon is a little England of Asia, Mandalay is genuine Myanmar. It is where the culture, and tradition arts and crafts have been passed on for generations. You can see how the city’s small industries such as tapestry, weaving, and pottery are thriving. Although it is developing fast into a globalised metropolis, and much of its heritage has been destroyed by disasters and wars, Mandalay still boasts a great many sites of historical significance and remains one of the places that provides the best insight into the heart and soul of Myanmar.
Mandalay is the youngest royal city in Myanmar – it’s not even 200 years old yet! Built in 1857 by King Mindon, father of Myanmar’s last monarch King Thibaw, it is located at the foot of 230-metre-high (790-foot-high) Mandalay Hill, on the eastern bank of River Ayeyarwaddy. The royal name of Mandalay is Yadanabon, which was derived from the Pali name Ratanapura (“city of gems”).
Mandalay is truly a city of gems. The first precious gem you may adore is Kuthodaw Pagoda near the foot of the hill, where “world’s biggest book” is on display in the form of 729 marble slabs on which the entire Buddhist canon is inscribed.
Nearby stands Atumashi (Incomparable) Monastery. One of the Seven Great Edifices simultaneously founded by King Mindon in 1857, the original Atumashi is said to have been a magnificent wooden structure with considerable exterior stucco and set on a high platform. Unfortunately, only stumps of the charred teak pillars, a grand staircase and some colonnaded walls were left after it caught fire in 1890.
Adjacent to Atumashi stands Shwenandaw, or the Golden Palace Monastery, but there are no longer gold leaves on it. Adorned with woodcarvings depicting stories from the life of the Buddha, it was once a royal chamber in which King Mindon died in October 1878. It was moved to the present location and established as monastery by his son King Thibaw. Thanks to the move, it was the only original royal chamber left following World War II, during which the royal palace and residences were destroyed by the bombings.
Sunset is the best time for the visitors to watch the cityscape and the breath-taking panorama. From atop the hill, you can watch the sky turn rose with the sun about to set behind the Sagaing Hills across the distant river, when the city looks so exquisite in the twilight. Make sure you don’t miss to see the night view as the city emerges in the darkness along with light that gleams on the water of the square moat edging the inner city.Inside that one-square-mile moat and the red-brick walls lie the royal chambers. The original palace was burnt down by the bombings during World War II, and a replica of the palace was built in the 1990s and open to the public as a museum.
Other gems may include nearby historical sites such as the unfinished stupa and the world’s largest ringing bell at Mingun; sacred sites in the Sagaing Hills; the ruins of old capital Inwa; Taungthaman Lake, where visitors walk on the teakwood U Bein Bridge and rode in a boat enjoying the breeze; and old monasteries and stupas in Amarapura. Wherever you visit, you will be enthralled by the traditional arts and crafts, and felt lost in the pleasant natural surroundings.