In our armchair travels we have now left Malaysia behind and are heading for Myanmar, formerly Burma. Mandalay is a city and the former royal capital located in northern Myanmar. The city sits on the Irrawaddy River. To get an awesome view of the city and surrounding area people climb up to the summit of Mandalay Hill.
Climb on up Mandalay Hill and see the city spread out in front of you. This 760 ft. hill has covered stairways that will lead you upwards. The most popular climb is from the southern side. People especially enjoy going up to the summit at sunset. The climb takes around thirty minutes.
The hill has two southern stairways. One of them begins between two giant chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon guardian deities) with a total of 1729 steps. An alternative is the southeastern stairway. These two routes converge and then the climb takes you to a shrine building with a large standing Buddha with an outstretched arm pointing towards the royal palace.
Further on up you come to the Myatsawnyinaung Ordination Hall, the windowless ruins of a three-story stone fortress that was retaken from the Japanese in a March 1945 battle by Britain’s Royal Berkshire Regiment. Just near the summit is a contemporary statue depicting ogress San Dha Mukhi offering her severed breasts. According to legend her self-mutilation so impressed the Buddha that he ensured her reincarnation 2400 years later as King Mindon.
The other stairways lead up to the summit from the north side or west side but they offer little to see while heading on up. It is possible to drive partway up Mandalay Hill and then from the upper car park you can choose between a lift or an escalator tower to get to the summit.
At the foot of Mandalay Hill you’ll find Kuthodaw Paya, a religious complex which is home to the world’s largest book. it houses the complete text of the Tripitaka (Theravada Buddhism’s most sacred text) inscribed on 729 marble slabs, each of which is enshrined in its own stupa and arranged in rows around the grounds.
Visitors go to Mahamuni Paya to see the 13 ft. tall seated Buddha which is supposedly about 2000 years old. Through the centuries male devotees have applied votary gold leaf to this statue and it now has a 6 in. layer of pure gold. In 1784 this statue was seized from Mrauk U by the Burmese army of King Bodawpaya. The story of how this statue was dragged back to Mandalay has been retold in a series of 1950s paintings displayed in a picture gallery across the pagoda’s inner courtyard to the northeast of the Buddha image. The central shrine has a multi-tiered golden roof, long concrete passageways that lead in each cardinal direction. There are stalls that sell all kinds of religious trinkets. The western passage has marble workshops where Buddha statues are crafted.
From the outside you can view a 230 ft. wide moat and more than 4 miles of crenelated 26 ft. high walls that form a vast square around the site of the former Mandalay fortress/citadel. The site has been reconstructed in its original 1857 style. At regular intervals the walls have gate towers that are topped by pyramidal creations of intricately carved woodwork.
A great place for quiet meditation is Shwe In Bin Kyaung. This lovely carved teak monastery was commissioned in 1895 by a pair of wealthy Chinese jade merchants. The central building stands on tree-trunk poles and the interior is quite majestic. There are detailed engravings on the balustrades and roof cornices.
Mandalay Palace was reconstructed in the 1990s. This royal palace has more than 40 timbered buildings which were built to resemble the original ones from the 1850s. To get great views climb up the spiral, timber-walled watchtower. One of the most striking structures is a multi-layered pyramid of gilt filigree above the main throne room. The westernmost building has a minor culture museum that exhibits things like King Thibaw’s glass-pillared four-poster bed. Access to the palace is through the East gate. Visitors must keep to the palace loop road from which you can see but not approach the tomb of King Mindon, a large drum-tower, sheds that contain more than 600 stone inscription slabs and a small airplane sitting on some rocks in the trees.
Climb on up Yankin Hill to get awesome views of greater Mandalay’s rice-field setting and of the Shan foothills. The ten minute climb up the covered stairway can bring an encounter with some domesticated stags. The pagoda walkways turn south along the ridge top and then down into a rocky cleft where devotees like to splash water on gold fish statues found at the feet of a Buddha statue.
Shwenandaw Kyaung is a teak monastery temple with carved panels. The interior has gilded Jataka scenes (past-life stories of the Buddha). This building was once part of the Mandalay Palace complex as the royal apartment of King Mindon, who died in it in 1875. The story behind the move of the building is that his successor King Thibaw couldn’t live with Mindon’s ghost so he has the building dismantled and taken out of the palace complex. It was then reassembled outside of the fortress walls and converted into a monastery in 1880.
Head for the Jade Market to see craftsmen cutting and polishing jade. You can then take a refreshing break in the Unison Teahouse.
In the Gold Pounder’s District 1 in.-square gold-leaf sheets are hand-pounded in the dozens of specialist workshops in this two-block area. These gold-leaf sheets are placed on sacred Buddha images by worshipers. At two main street souvenir shop showrooms, King Galon and Golden Rose there are English-speaking staff available to explain the gold-leaf sheet pounding process and you can see a demonstration.
You can see a Skinny 75 ft. tall seated Buddah that was built in 2011.
U Bein Bridge is more than two centuries old. It is the world’s longest teak bridge spanning Taungthaman Lake in Mandalay’s Amarapura township. Amarapura was once a separate city and an ancient capital of Myanmar.
For a great shopping experience go to Zay Cho Market. This is one of the main market places in Mandalay and here you can get most anything like silk, cotton clothing, sticky cakes, pickled tea leaves, velvet slippers, silverware, lacquerware, jewelry, gems and so much more.
Setkyathiha Pagoda rises up from an elevated masonry platform. Even though it was badly damaged in WW II it was repaired and its main point of interest is a five-meter high seated Buddha. This statue was cast in bronze by King Bagyidaw in Inwa in 1823. This image was brought to Mandalay in 1884. Reclining Buddha images can be seen in the Pagoda’s courtyard along with a sacred Bodhi tree.