My first day in Mandalay, I met a motorbike driver named Mr. Zaw as I was leaving the golden palace. I paid him to take me to the Kuthodaw Paya and he unexpectedly gave me such a great tour in English around the monastery that I paid him 10,000 Kyat ($8) for the rest of the day.
Mr. Zaw in action
Downtown Mandalay is organized in a grid so it’s easy to get around. However most of the streets do not have sidewalks or street lights so it’s not the easiest walk. If you do explore downtown, you’ll see a lot of the scenery below, which gets kind of boring.
We traveled to a few of the popular spots in downtown Mandalay. When you pay the Mandalay Zone Admission Fees (USD10) it will give you access to all the sites I mention below + a few others. You can buy it at the entrance of any of the pagodas. Make sure you keep it on you!
The first stop I went to was the Mandalay Palace. The Palace sits across several blocks in the middle of Mandalay and is surrounded by a huge moat and massive walls. It looks like a huge fortress from the outside. Your motorbike driver has to drop you off at the moat, and you can walk into the area within the walled gates. You can take the 10 minute walk to the Mandalay Palace, or rent a bike for 1,000 Kyat (less than $1) which I did. Tourists aren’t allowed to bike or walk anywhere except the road that leads up to the Golden Palace.
Next I went to Kuthodaw Paya. Out of all of the monasteries in Mandalay, this was my favorite as the glowing white pagodas against the bright blue sky was so pretty.
I also went and saw the Shwenandaw Monastery which is made entirely out of teak wood and has beautiful ornate carvings.
Entrance to Shwenandaw Monastery
Ornate Carvings at Shwenandaw Monastery
We drove up to the top of Mandalay hill and it was a nice view, but nothing epic. Note – I went mid-day and it’s suggested to go at sunset if it’s not cloudy out.
We also drove over to Maha Myat Muni Pagoda. This is the pagoda that is famous for the buddha face washing ceremony every day at 4am. I actually really liked this pagoda. Around 4pm they start to close down and a little group of musicians plays beautiful music. There is also a ton of artwork depicting the many lives of the Buddha.
While I was taking a photo of the pagoda, a woman asked me to be in a picture with her and that set off a chain reaction of 20 other women asking for a picture as well.
Another stop that may be interesting in Mandalay is the Jade Market. It closes down mid-morning, but I went at about 9am and was able to see some jade being laid out for auction. This is really not a souvenir buying excursion although there were 1-2 tables that I saw that had jade jewelry for sale. But largely this is a wholesaler/auction market where you can see huge rocks of jade as well as small cut pebbles. You can even watch the jade being cut. Beware of where you step or walk – there is a fair amount of betal spitting going on by locals in the market!