Mandalay boasts unique, stupendous sights with fewer tourists than more popular cities like Bagan and Yangon. It’s definitely worth staying a few days even if you’re as weary of temples and pagodas as I was. Here’s what I did for a quick two day itinerary, though there’s much more that I missed thanks to unseasonable rain and late morning starts.
Note: I was told downtown is centered around the southwest of the large, square moat housing the Mandalay Palace, directions are described from that area.
Day 1: Inn Wa and U-Bein Bridge: We arranged through our hotel for a tuktuk to take us to Inn Wa and U-Bein Bridge for sunset in Amarapura, cost 35,000 kyat including driving around Inn Wa so we didn’t have to hire a horse cart. We also didn’t go to Sagaing so it started at noon. I don’t know all the names of places we went in Inn Wa, but it included Lay Htat Gyi, Myint Mo Taung and Bagaya Monastery near it, and many others. Wonderful experience poking around ruins different than what you see in Bagan with few to no other tourists at each spot. U-Bein Bridge is a major tourist attraction and takes no effort to figure out on your own, just follow the crowds and don’t fall in the mud.
Technically you need a Mandalay Archaeological Zone Pass to visit (10,000 kyat), but only some places checked. If you don’t have one you can buy it at the ticket booths where they check. Hold onto the ticket, you’ll need it for attractions in the city as well.
Day 2: Mingun: This place is one of my favorites – the epic base of what was going to be the largest pagoda in the world, the world’s second-largest ringing bell (largest until 2000), and a uniquely bright-white pagoda covered in waves. Leave from Mingun Jetty. I’d get there 8:30am for the 9am ferry – it’s a fun walk as streets and markets in the morning have a completely different energy. Buy your ticket at the jetty, they need a passport or picture of a passport. Keep the paper ticket, it’s the same ticket for the ride back.
~1 hour boat ride there, you can ignore the oxen-taxis and walk to the main things: Mingun Pahtodawgyi and the stone lions in front of it near the water, Mingun Bell (don’t be afraid to ring it), and Mya Thein Tan Pagoda. Make sure you’re back by the departure time because they won’t wait. It’s usually around 12:30 or 1pm.
Once back, you’ll have half the day to see some more things before sunset from Mandalay Hill. You can use Grab for tuktuks, select Grab Thonebane instead of car. We Grabbed to Shwenandaw Monastery (same ticket as Inn Wa) and Kuthodaw Pagoda, then climbed steps to Su Taung Pyae Pagoda for sunset from Mandalay Hill. You can get a tuktuk most of the way up if you are low on time or just don’t feel like stairs, it took me 20 minutes moving quickly, though I’d heard 40. They’ll charge some kyat at the bottom to hold your shoes, and there’s a 1000 kyat entry at the very top. There are landings on the way up with nice, free views to rest on. There are also countless snack and drink stands on the way up.
Good places we ate: Golden Shan Buffet (5,000 per person). Pan Cherry Noodle House & Cafe: (not Pan Cherry Indian, there are two with the same name.) Order the number 1 with Shan noodles. It’s a noodle soup with lots of veggies and it is delicious. The wings are awesome too. They have wings with passion fruit sauce as a special. It’s cute there and the food is great.