Photo: Downtown Mandalay.


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Mandalay: the evocative name of Burma’s present day northern capital rolls satisfyingly off the tongue. Made famous in a host of films, popular songs and books by Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Frank Sinatra and more recently even Robbie Williams, Mandalay has become a household name, even if most people don’t actually know where it is.

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Although closely surrounded by the ancient city sites of Sagaing, Mingun, Inwa and Amarapura, Mandalay itself was only founded in 1857 by King Mindon. Under the name of Yadanarpon, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Upper Burma until it was annexed by Britain in 1885. The king claimed to be fulfilling a prophecy by building a new capital at the foot of Mandalay Hill, though in reality most of the remainder of his kingdom, and former capitals, had already been swallowed up by the British.

It might not be as romantic as its name, but Mandalay is still a fab town to explore. Photo taken in or around Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

It might not be as romantic as its name, but Mandalay is still a fab town to explore. Photo: Mark Ord

Mandalay was occupied by the Japanese during World War II and suffered severe damaged from both heavy ground fighting, which extended right into the city centre, as well as Allied bombing. Estimates say well over half of the city was destroyed. In more recent times it’s seen a lot of investment and immigration from nearby China and the resulting reconstruction of the city hasn’t been free of controversy.

Today Mandalay is northern Burma’s commercial, cultural and administrative capital; it’s a sprawling, bustling city of some 1.5 million people. It’s also a major transport hub, so an essential stop at some stage for many visitors to Burma, though possessing plenty of fine sights of its own. It unfortunately receives a fair amount of negative feedback from visitors as the romantic and exotic name fails to meet preconceptions. Mandalay does lack Yangon’s fantastic stock of colonial architecture and it’s never going to be Burma’s cutesy equivalent of Thailand’s Chiang Mai. At the end of the day, it’s just a regular, traffic-clogged and bustling large city, albeit with more than its fair share of spectacular monuments. Suburbs sprawl but downtown is still largely free of high-rise and there are still quiet back streets and friendly tea shops to be discovered. We reckon you should allow at least two or three days for a ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,300 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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What next?

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