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Mandalay

The Former Royal Capitals- see below.
Click for:   River Journeys and Pwin Oo Lwin and Train to Hsipaw in Shan State

The Shwenandaw known also as the Golden Palace Monastery. Intricately carved in teak wood in the 19th century, this used to be part of the Mandalay Royal Palace. In 1857, King Mindon used this palace as his personal living quarters. After he died, his son, King Thibaw relocated the building outside of the palace grounds in 1880 and dedicated it to be used as a monastery. The Shwenandaw is the only original building remaining from the Royal Palace which was destroyed by fire in World War II.

King Thibaw was the last king of the Konbaung dynasty and Burmese monarchy. His reign ended when the British annexed Upper Burma to their empire in the 3rd Anglo- Burmese war in 1885.  King Thibaw and his wife Supalayat with their two infant daughters, were exiled to India.

Mandalay remains the center of Burmese arts today. Traditional dance and puppetry, and home to artisans producing kalaga tapestries, silk weavings and gold leaf.

On first arrival from the airport located about 45 minutes south of the city center, the first impression will feel like arriving into a surreal China-fied sprawl. But the old part of Mandalay has many beautiful monasteries to explore and the city maintains its traditional lifestyle.

The old historical part of Mandalay lies to the east of the former Royal Palace which was built in 1857-1859 by King Mindon when he moved the capital to Mandalay from Amarapura. The palace is surrounded by a moat with 2km long walls. Following the fire which destroyed the palace during World War II, the Burmese military have occupied the grounds and created a replica of the former Royal Palace which visitors can visit today. Fortunately the Shwenandaw was able to survive the fire.

Mandalay_Kuthodaw_Pagoda__aweb

Kuthodaw Pagoda which houses the world’s largest book is to the east of the former palace. The pagoda was built by King Mindon in 1857 and in 1871, Burma hosted the 5th Buddhist Synod. King Mindon wished to leave a great act of merit by having the Buddhist Tripitaka teachings set in stone. Inscriptions can be found on 729 marble slabs arranged neatly in rows each in its own enclosure. Kuthodaw is a wonderful place to wander and contemplate.

 

Mandalay Hill
Rising  240 meters behind the palace and Kuthodaw,  Mandalay Hill is home to a number of pagodas and monasteries and is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists, many coming to worship at the wish-fulfilling stupa. The main stairway has 1729 steps, and as usual, are lined with interesting stalls selling all sorts of religious items as well as crafts, food and offering  rest stops for tea.  There is also a road with local mini-buses shuttling up to an escalator for those who may find the walk difficult.  Sunset time is especially popular to enjoy the panorama of Mandalay from the top and you may be approached by young monks and students eager to practice their English.

 

Mahamuni Pagoda
Located to the southwest of the palace area on the way to Amarapura, the sacred Mahamuni Buddha image is considered to be a living breathing Buddha.
Legend tells of the Mahamuni being cast back in 554BC when the Buddha visited Arakan (Rakhine State) and breathed upon the image.
In 1784, the Konbaung dynasty Crown Prince Thado Minsaw conquered Mrauk U of Arakan and had the Mahamuni dismantled and brought to the Konbaung capital, then at Amarapura.
Each morning at 4:00-4:30am just before dawn, a face washing ritual of the Mahamuni Buddha takes place with many worshippers coming to pay respects and receive blessings. Monks assisted by lay helpers wash the face and brush the teeth of the Buddha with sandalwood paste and scented water using fresh face towels offered by devotees.
After this wonderful early morning experience, it is nice to have breakfast at a local tea shop.


Ancient Royal Capitals:

The ancient royal capitals of Amarapura and Ava (Inwa) south of Mandalay center, can be visited in a day, and across the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) river is Sagaing, home to numerous monasteries and nunneries.
Besides the result of conquests or natural disasters, it was also common for kings to move their capitals according to astrological consultations. This tradition remained with the last military regime developing the new bizarre capital at Naypyidaw.

Amarapura  was the capital twice of Konbaung Dynasty.  First founded by King Bodawpaya – 1783-1821 and again under King Tharrawaddy from 1842-1859.
Amarapura today remains a center of silk and cotton weaving. You can visit workshops of weavers producing traditional acheik – the 100 shuttle wave patterned longyis very popular with Burmese women.  Amarapura is also a center for bronze casting.
The famous U Bein Bridge in Amarapura is considered the world’s longest teakwood bridge-  1.2km long above Taungthawan Lake. Made of scavenged teakwood pilings from the Amarapura palace when King Mindon moved to Mandalay, the bridge has become very popular for a stroll and photography at sunset.  Be prepared for the crowds at sunset though and the bridge is a bit shaky.  Local markets nearby offer more temptations.

Ava (Inwa)
Located at the confluence of the Ayeyarwaddy and Myit Nge rivers, take a short local ferry from Amarapura across to Ava where pony carts await you to take you on a delightful tour of this ancient place which was the capital on 5 different occasions between 1365-1842.  Originally Ava was founded by Shan rulers following the decline of Bagan. Finally during the Konbaung period, an earthquake resulted in the final abandonment.
Enjoy a day going back in time exploring he ruins of the old brick walls and the leaning tower.  Pony carts will take you on a loop to visit the Yadana Sinme Pagoda with a beautiful seated Buddha. Then continue to visit the teak monastery of Bagaya Kyaung. There is a school for novices you can visit here and if you bring a picnic lunch, there are shady spots under the trees to enjoy. Finally the Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery built by Queen Nanmadaw Me Nu in 1822 is a nice site to explore before heading back to the jetty.

Sagaing:
Opposite bank of the Ayeyarwaddy is this important center for Buddhist studies with pagodas dotting the hills along the river. There are numerous monasteries home to over 6000 monks and nuns.
Sagaing was capital first under the Shan rulers from 1315-1364 before Ava.  Then again during the Burmese Konbaung period from 1760-1763.

U Ponya Shin dates back to 14h century with a beautiful seated Buddha and the grounds offer panoramic views of the hills and the river.

Close by is U Min Thounzeh:

U Min Thounzeh can either be reached by walkway or short drive and is a lovely crescent shape temple housing 45 seated Buddha images with tiled mosaics.

Kaunghmudaw Pagoda is also worthwhile to visit if time permits with a white chedi in Sri Lankan style, 800 stone pillars along with 120 images of nat spirits with a white marble Buddha at the center.


It is possible to visit one of the nunneries of Sagaing but for a better welcome and translation, it is best to be accompanied by a good local guide.

If you are interested to spend more time in Sagaing on a meditation retreat with English language teachings, check into Vipassana Hawaii’s course– usually offered annually with Steven Smith:
http://vipassanahawaii.org/2664-2/

More on Meditation Centers in Myanmar:
http://www.buddhanet.net/medburma.htm


Mingun:   

Approx 1 hour pleasant boat ride upriver north of Mandalay is home to what would have been the world’s largest chedi had the project of King Bodapaya been completed before his death in 1819.

The Pahtodawgyi Pagoda was built by thousands of prisoners of war and only 1/3 completed. A prophecy had suggested if the giant chedi was completed, the King would die. So it was left to be damaged by the 1839 earthquake.

Climbing steps 50 meters to the summit offers a great view.


The Mingun Bell
found close by was completed by King Bodawpaya.
Cast in 1808 and weighing 90 tons, it is considered the second largest
ringing bell in the world.
The 1839 earthquake left the bell on the ground until 1896.

This little boy wishes he could ring the bell!

 

A short walk or ox cart ride further north is the Hsinbyume Pagoda

Looking like white frosting on a cake and inspired by legends of mythological Mt. Meru, King Bagyidaw
(grandson of Bodapaya) built this pagoda in 1816 in memory of his wife Princess Hsinbyume, the Lady of the White Elephant, who died in childbirth.  The 1839 earthquake had also destroyed much of this pagoda but it was restored by King Mindon.

Getting to Mingun is very easy to do on your own either by public boat (ask your hotel about boat schedule) or charter your own from the Mingun Jetty in Mandalay.



On Arrival at Mingun, you can hire ox cart taxis to take you to the sites or it is an easy walk.  You will need to buy an entrance ticket to Mingun for 5000 Kyats. 
There are lots of stalls for snacks and refreshments along the way.

Welcoming local artists display their paintings in the shops along with some fabulous puppets.

If you wish to see a traditional puppet performance back in town, check out the:
Mandalay Marionette Theatre.   Founded in 1986 by two women, Ma Ma Naing and Naing Yee Mar, their group performs a one hour show daily.  Their website may be down but the theatre is located close to southeast of end of former palace moat close to Sedona Hotel. Everyone will know it. 
Here is a little You Tube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=athgoE5jDXA

 

Phaung Daw Oo (PDO) Monastic School

A highlight in Mandalay is to visit the Phaung Daw Oo (PDO) Monastic School where, U Nayaka, a highly progressive monk has over the years, developed a school allowing over 6000 poor lay children, monks and novices free education. A free clinic also serves the school and surrounding community. Run entirely on private donations, the school is also blessed with a wonderful library facility. Visitors are always warmly welcomed and students are thrilled to have the chance to practice English. The school is an example of what can be possible in helping to educate a future generation. www.pdo-education.blogspot.com

 

Mandalay Accomodations:

Rupar Mandalar: lovely oasis short drive from center: www.ruparmandalar.com

Hotel Red Canal: in town off the former palace moat: www.hotelredcanal.com

Yadanarpon Dynasty Hotel:  just southeast of palace moat and close to Mandalay Marrionettes:  http://yadanarpondynastyhotel.com/

Budget:

The Hotel Emperor Mandalay:
great location directly off the moat on 74th Road between 26/27 Streets. Very welcoming staff with great service. www.hotelemperormandalay.com

A nice veggie travelers restaurant called Marie Min is around the corner: www.happycow.net/reviews/marie-min-mandalay-11956

Golden Mandalay Hotel  on 19th Street near PDO School and close to historical area.  Find it on Booking.com

More Dining:

Green Elephant: www.greenelephant-restaurants.com/restaurant-mandalay.htm

A Little Bit of Mandalay: www.littlemandalay.com


Monywa:

Ancient caves with mural paintings approx 136km west of Mandalay and Sagaing.
Consider spending a few nights here and then arrange a boat down the Chindwin River to the confluence of the Ayeyarwaddy and on to Bagan.  See more on River Journeys.

Monywa accomodations: www.winunityhotels.com/monywa_home.html


Pwin Oo Lwin (Maymyo):
Escape the heat of Mandalay  and take the train to Hsipaw: Click HERE

 

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