The city of Mandalay was developed in 1957 and was Myanmar’s capital city from 1861 until the British took control in 1885. It is less developed than Yangon and clearly attracts much less foreign investment, although the hope is that this will change in the future given its useful position in terms of trade, sitting mid-way between India, Southern China and Thailand.
Travelling up the Ayeyarwady (or Irrawaddy) river by ferry is a popular way to get to the city and, although you don’t get to say you’ve taken the Road to Mandalay, it’s definitely a pleasant trip. We left our Bagan hotel early in the morning in order to see the sun rise from the river and spent the day watching ferries, cargo boats and fishermen go by, rural life going on at the shore, and glinting temples inland.
Mandalay itself feels smaller than Yangon, but noisier too as motorbikes and horn honking are permitted, and chaotic tuk-tuks rather than sedate taxis seem to be the norm for getting around. It certainly has its fair share of history and sights though, like the (reconstructed) former royal palace; now a military base but still open to visitors; and Mandalay Hill, the top of which you can reach by foot, escalator or lift to find a dazzling temple and a lovely view over the city. Kuthodaw Paya is home to the ‘world’s largest book’, not really a book at all but a temple surrounded by 729 marble tablets depicting the Tripitaka, the Buddhist sacred text, each one housed in its own little white stone building.
On the other side of the river is Mingun, home to a gigantic temple started in 1790 which, if finished, would have been the largest in the world. Earthquakes in 1838 and 2012 left the half built pagoda in ruins, but its still an imposing structure and the bodies of two gigantic sitting lions are visible flanking the entrance to the temple from the river. The site also houses the world’s largest un-cracked and intact bell (16ft3 diameter), which you can ring, creep inside – there’s room for at least 20 people to stand under it – and apparently write on without anyone minding.
Also in Mandalay is U-Bein Bridge, the world’s longest teak bridge at 1188m long, crossing over Taung Tha Man Lake to the former capital of Amarapura. It was built by the town’s mayor from the wood of the disused palace after the King decided to relocate the capital to central Mandalay 7 miles to the north. At the time it was thought to be bad luck to used the sanctified wood of a palace to build a bridge that peasants would walk on, but now it’s a popular sport for early morning exercisers, groups of teenagers and Buddhist monks. We stopped there before sunrise on our way out of Mandalay to Kalaw, and at this point I had seen three sunrises already in Myanmar and was starting to get a little bit tired of the early starts. But this sunrise was phenomenal, particularly as the light colour and quality changed constantly. For this reason it would be impossible to sum it up with just one photo.