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36 Hours in Mandalay, Burma

| Words by Rachel McCombie |

Planning a trip to Burma? Then don’t leave without a visit to Mandalay. Today we give you some suggestions for how to see the city’s highlights in just 36 hours.

If ever there was a name to conjure up the allure of the east, it’s surely Mandalay. You may be surprised, then, to learn that Burma’s second largest city is in fact of relatively recent foundation, created in 1857. It came under British rule in 1885, and much of the city you see today is British in origin. Here are some of the highlights to see if you have 36 hours to kill in Mandalay.

Morning

After a breakfast of noodles, spend the morning at the moated Royal Palace and Fort, a heavily restored walled city built in 1861 by King Mindon. When you’ve had your fill of its pavilions, and explored its excellent museum (admission is US$10), pay a visit to the Shwenandaw Kyaung, otherwise known as the Teak Monastery. Originally royal apartments, it was converted to a Buddhist monastery and is the only significant part of the original royal palace to have survived Second World War bombing.

Local girl Burma Local Girl in Burma

Afternoon

A US$10 admission fee gets you into the Mandalay zone, which includes entry to a number of sites in the area around the palace. After lunch (the Golden Lion Restaurant is conveniently located close by, serving mostly Chinese dishes), make your way to the Kuthodaw Pagoda, which is home to what’s known as the “world’s largest book”: 729 stupas, each bearing inscriptions that together make up a complete sacred Buddhist doctrine, the Tripitaka. You’ll probably also have time to call in at one of the other monasteries or pagodas around here, such as the Sandamuni Pagoda, which boasts the world’s largest iron Buddha statue.

Sculptures on the staircase in Mingun, Mandalay

Late afternoon/evening

As the afternoon heads towards evening, climb up Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset. It’s 230m high and the half-hour climb involves lots of stairs, but it’s worth it. With sweeping panoramic views of the city, and several interesting temples, pagodas and statues on the way up and at its summit, this is an excellent (free) activity to end the day with.

Come nightfall, grab a bite to eat before catching a Moustache Brothers performance at 8.30pm. This comedy and dance duo - previously a trio until the death of one of the brothers last year - have been imprisoned in the past for their political jokes. They perform from their home on 39th street, with the MMK8,000 ($US7.65) admission fee going towards helping fellow political prisoners.

Traditional Tea Leaf Salad

Next morning

Get up early and head to Maha Myat Muni Paya for the daily 4am ritual in which monks wash the face of the 4m-high Buddha statue. The face is the only part not covered with gold leaf, and if you’re a man, you can participate in the tradition of ascending the staircase and applying your own gold leaf to the statue for MMK1600 (about $US1.50). Unfortunately, women must hand their gold leaf to an assistant to apply for them and must watch from the foot of the stairs.

U Bein Bridge at sunset

Finish your stay in Mandalay with a relaxing walk along the 200-year-old U Bein bridge in the Amarapura area of the city. This is the longest teak bridge in the world, crossing the shallow Lake Taungthaman, and it’s the perfect place to mingle with the monks, soak up the atmosphere and savour your final moments in magical Mandalay.