When one speaks of handicrafts and cottage industries, Mandalay, the city of the last Myanmar kings and heart of Myanmar’s culture, artistry and religion, surely is the place. There is unique gold embroidery, hand-weaving of silk and cotton, the incredible process of making gold leaves, wood and stone carving and bronze casting. The river jetty at Mandalay is a beehive of activity with small boats going up and down the river, bamboo rafts and cargo boats with huge logs from the teak forests upriver. Here, the water buffaloes are the beasts of burden, hauling the logs from the river up to the lumber storage areas along the river bank.
How to get to Mandalay
It is about 1 – 1/2 hours by air from Yangon, and daily flights from Yangon and Bagan – Mandalay. Express trains from Yangon – Mandalay (14 hours). Daily private express coaches for Yangon-Mandalay highway, (over 700 km long), and travelers can break the journey at Taungoo (280 km) or at Meiktila (540 km), where there are hotels for overnight stay.
Mandalay Palace is the city within the city, built in 1857 and destroyed by fire during the Second World War, it is surrounded by thick brick walls. Myanan-Sankyaw Golden Palace (model of the Mandalay palace), the Nanmyint-Saung Tower and the Cultural Museum can be found inside the palace grounds. Mahamuni Pagoda is the holiest pagoda in Myanmar, hosting the revered Mahamuni image, cast in the 1st century and now covered in thick gold leaves. It attracts pilgrims from all over the country. Mandalay Hill has a height of 236 meters which you can climb over 1,729 steps. It offers a terrific view of the city and the surrounding countryside! From there you can see the Kuthodaw Pagoda, which was built by King Mindon in 1877. This pagoda is surrounded by 729 upright marble slabs on which the entire Buddhist scriptures are inscribed. Created by 2,400 monks, it is also known as the “World’s Largest Book”. Next to this pagoda you will find the Shwenandaw Monastery, famous for its exquisite wood carving. It was part of the palace complex during King Mindon’s time before it was shifted piece by piece to the east of the Mandalay palace. Shwe In Bin Monastery is an attractive monastery built in traditional Burmese fashion. It is one of the few buildings that have survived the test of time. Constructed in 1895 by Chinese merchants, the monastery consists of many impressive woodcarvings and also contains a number of admirable works of art. At present there are 35 monks that live in the monastery complex which is held up by the classical teak foundation that is often seen throughout the country but rarely in as good condition as at this illuminating site.
Yankin Inn is 3 km east of Mandalay Fort and has a whole complex of temples and monasteries running along the top of its ridge. With two staircases at either ‘end’ of the hill, you can walk the complete circuit – so take your shoes with you.
You can find many wondrous places in various part of the world and Myanmar is no exception. One of these is the Snake Pagoda, situated at the town of Paleik, which is 15 miles from Mandalay. The formal name of the Pagoda is known as “Ratana Laba Muni Sutaungpyi Muei Phaya” but it is known to be as “Meui Phaya” or “Snake Pagoda”. In 1977, a Buddhist monk was clearing the bush in that area and found a Buddha image inside a ruined Pagoda. On top of the image were three large pythons and from that time on, the place became known far and wide in the country as the Snake Pagoda. Each snake is fed a pot of milk and three eggs every five days. But later on, due to instructions from a veterinarian, each was given 50 ticals of goat meat for protein. But every morning at 11:00 a.m., the snakes are given a bath. Pilgrims from various parts of the country come to pay homage to the snake Pagoda in Paleik town whenever they arrive in Mandalay. It is Buddhist belief that even animals through merit earned in previous existences are deserving of care and attention.
Arts and Crafts
For lovers of arts and crafts, Mandalay represents the largest repository of Myanmar arts and crafts. It is here that visitors can observe skilled craftsmen making beautiful articles of tapestry, ivory, wood, marble and stone carving and engravings, silverware and bronze statues according to the time-honored traditions of their forefathers. Besides those, the other arts and crafts workshops of silk-weaving and gold-leaf making are also places worthy of visiting…
Mingun is located about 6 miles up the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay. You reach Mingun by ferryboats across the river and it only takes you one hour to get there. Mingun is noted for its Mingun Khaung Laung, a 90-ton bell, which is the largest ringing bell in the world. (Russia’s famous Tsar-Kolokol might the largest bell in the world, but it is broken.) This bell was cast by King Bodawpaya on 28 April 1808 and is about 13 feet tall. It weighs 55555 peik-thar, or 90.55 metric tons (about 200 US tons). (Peik-thar are a traditional unit of weight equalling 3.6 lbs (1.63 kg) — that’s what the five characters that look like 9’s on the side of the bell mean.) An other attraction is Mingun Pahtodawgyi, an unfinished huge pagoda, the world’s largest piece of bricks with 50 meter in height, obscuring life along the river banks. The pagoda itself was the main jewel in the crown of an ambitious building campaign sponsored by King Bodawpaya (ruled 1782-1819). Its base is 256 feet square and it rises some 150 feet. It is now viewed as little more than a curiosity, enhanced by dramatic fissures in its wall created by an earthquake in 1839 — visitors can even climb to the top by a modern stairway mounted on the most ruined corner fo the monument, though no access to the summit existed originally. Since one must go bare-footed in all pagodas, it is quite a climb to the top – finished or unfinished – but the views over the village and the river are spectacular.
Situated 21 km southwest of Mandalay, Sagaing Hills is known as the heart of the Buddhist religion with over 400 monasteries for monks and nuns. Mural paintings can be seen in the Tilawkaguru cave temple, which was built around 1672. At the nearby village of YWAHTAUNG you can see silver workers producing bowls and other silver items by traditional methods.
The most impressive Soon Oo Pon Nya Shin Pagoda nearby was constructed in 1312. The sunsets over the Ayeyarwaddy River, viewed from Son Oo Ponyashin Pagoda, are breathtaking. About 10 km from Sagaing is the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, an enormous dome-shaped pagoda built by King Thalun in 1636, on the model of the Mahaceti Pagoda of Sri Lanka.
Ava is situated on a small island, between the Ayeyarwaddy and Myittha rivers, was first founded as a capital by King Thado Minbya in 1364 A.D. It was destroyed by the earthquake of 1838. The ruins of the palace, the massive fort walls and moat can still be seen of the splendour of the past when it had been the capital for more than four and half centuries. The best way to explore this island is by horse cart. The king palace at that time does not exist any longer, however there still exists the “Leaning Tower” of Inwa, 27 meter (90 feet) high Watch Tower. The Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery, a brick-and-stucco monastery built by the Chief Queen of King Bagyidaw for her royal abbot (Nyaung Gan Sayadaw) in 1818 and the Bagayar Monastery, famous for its impressive ornate woodcarvings and teak posts are the high lights.
Amarapura, nowadays famous for silk and cotton weaving, but in ancient times known as the “City of Immortals”. The former capital of Upper Burma (until 1850) is located idyllically at the Thaungthaman Lake which is crossed by the U Bein Bridge, a teak footbridge spanning 1.2 km, the world’s longest of its kind. Why not having a Chinese tea at the banks of the Thaungthaman Lake before you walk across the bridge to the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, which houses an excellent seated Buddha image and has wonderful well-preserved frescoes in the four entrance porches. At the Bagaya Monastery you will find over 400 Buddha statues and the oldest Buddhist scriptures which are written on palm leaves.
PYIN OO LWIN (MAYMYO)
This very charming small town is also known as Maymyo, when it was a British hill station. The old stagecoaches are still operating as local taxi service. There is plenty to see, such as the wonderful Botanical Garden, Pwe Kauk Waterfall, the busy market and the newly built Pye Lone Chan Tha Pagoda, which houses a mysterious Buddha image. Why not taking a train one early morning which takes a winding circuitous route up through the hills at sunrise!
Shwebo is a rice-collecting centre on the railway about 50 miles (80 km) north-northwest of Mandalay and 17 miles west of Kyauk Myaung, a river-side town on the Ayeyarwady, which is famous for glazed pottery works from toys, cups, letters, bowls, pots to huge water jars that are tied in hundreds and floated down the river as rafts. These are widely used throughout the country. Shwebo was the birthplace of Alaungpaya, founder of the Alaungpaya dynasty (1752-1885), and is the site of his tomb. The palace and other royal parks, lakes, moats and watch tower have been neglected, disrepaired, ravaged and ruined in the last two centuries. With the promotion of the tourism industry, the government has launched upon the reconstruction of the palace buildings, parks and dredged the royal lake for the benefit of the visitors and locals.
136 km to the west, is the commercial center of Chindwin Valley. 95 km to the northwest of Monywa, a 17 km bumpy ride including trekking and continuing on the back of an elephant will make your excursion to a National Park quite a bit of an adventure. En route encounter wonderful markets for rice, beans, peanuts and corn. Plenty of sight seeing highlights to be found here! Thanbokede Pagoda with its over 500,000 Buddha images; Ledi Kyaungtaik, a teaching monastery where Buddhist scriptures are inscribed on 806 stone slabs; Boddhi Tahtaung, which means ‘One Thousand Bo Trees’, and, not to forget the Shwe Thalyaung, the Reclining Buddha with over 70 meters in length and – again – the largest one in the world. Just on the other side of the Chindwin River and a 30 minutes drive by pick-up is the seldom visited 15th Phowin Taung temple complex where more than 450,000 sandstone Buddha’s were carved in the hillsides in caves, alcoves, or tiny niches. The cave murals are still intact with indigo blues and soft pastels. Many of the Buddha’s can be seen without entering the caves or niches and footwear is permitted as long as one is not entering the sanctuaries.
It is said that the land of Mogoke existed about 1-thousand million years ago… after a 5 and a half hours drive north of Mandalay you will arrive to the City of Gem Mines. Located at 3,800 ft., picturesquely and naturally surrounded by chains of high mountains, Mogoke also enjoys a temperate climate. Observe the mining techniques by which these precious stones are taken from the alluvial limestone gravels.