Mandalay, once a royal capital, is now a busy and modern urban center on the Irrawaddy River. The city's architecture offers a striking contrast of traditional and modern-day structures, with temples, mosques, and a moat-encircled palace standing within a grid of concrete buildings.
What We Love
Religious Sites: Mandalay has just as many pagodas and temples as it does concrete buildings, many on the slopes of Mandalay Hill, where — as the legend goes — Buddha trod many ages ago. At the Mahamuni Temple, devotees (gentlemen only) can apply gold leaf to a two-thousand-year-old standing Buddha already covered in six inches of the precious metal, and at Shwenandaw, admire the gilded carvings in a royal apartment that was converted into a monastery.
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Craft Workshops: Traditional craftsmanship continues to thrive in Mandalay. In tapestry studios, weavers work beautiful beads, sequins, and silk thread into embroidery and appliqués; and the meticulous details of Mandalay’s wood carvings — religious figures, decorative panels — are nothing short of breathtaking. You can also walk into a shop where craftsmen hammer and pound gold into flat sheaths for placing onto sacred statutes.
Amarapura: Located just outside of Mandalay, this former capital is home to the iconic U Bein Bridge. The slightly rickety teak structure is picture-perfect at sunset, when monks walk across and sampan boats bob along the lake.
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Who It's Best For
Cultured Cosmopolitans: The largest city after Yangon, Mandalay exudes an energy that can be a welcome change of pace from the rural villages along the Irawaddy River.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Vendors Can Be Aggressive: "Persistence pays" is the motto of some very entrepreneurial souvenir peddlers. They know the itinerary by heart, won’t take no for an answer, and will unabashedly follow your tour bus from stop to stop on their motorbikes.
No Palace Visits: Many shore excursions arranged through the cruise lines skip the royal complex since it’s still controlled by the military.
Lisa Cheng is a New York-based writer for ShermansCruise who also writes for Travel + Leisure.