Photo: Spectacular sunset views from Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay Hill

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A 240-metre hill covered in spires and pagodas juts out into the sky northeast of Mandalay Palace, offering an all-encompassing 360-degree viewpoint of the town and beyond. Monks from all around the city join photographers, worshippers, courting couples and sunset tourists on top of Mandalay Hill every afternoon.

Crowning the summit is Sutaungpyi Pagoda, one of Burma's major Buddhist pilgrim destinations. Legend has it that the Buddha himself climbed to the top and prophesied that in the year of 2400, a great religious city would lay at the hill's base. Losing no chance to prove his greatness, King Mindon dismantled the ancient capital city of Amarapura in 1857—2400 on the Burmese calendar—and reassembled it as said great city.

The main entrance. Photo taken in or around Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

The main entrance. Photo: Mark Ord

The locals will tell you that the 45-minute, barefoot climb up the covered stairways is good for the health and soul. We're not so sure. The main route begins at the pair of giant lion statues on 10th Street, opposite a small carpark and row of tea shops. These mythical lions, called Chinthes, guard many temple entrances and are also considered to protect your kyat; hence their image is imprinted on Burmese bank notes.

From here steps proceed in a series of short sections up the hill, broken up by concrete landings surrounded by stall placements. When we visited most of these were vacant, with more stray dogs than vendors, and the flights of stairs follow no logical, continuous route so each time we had to ask where the next set was.

Devotees at Sutaungpyi Pagoda, a key Buddhist pilgrimage site. Photo taken in or around Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Devotees at Sutaungpyi Pagoda, a key Buddhist pilgrimage site. Photo: Mark Ord

Because—in theory at least—the entire hill is a sacred monument, you’ll have to remove your shoes at the lion statues. Though various Buddhist and nat shrines dot the route, it is in reality a series of semi-derelict snack bars and tourist tat stalls linked by filthy paths and stairs covered in dog excrement. Wooded slopes on either side double as garbage tips. It's not a delightful place for a stroll and the constant changing in direction of the staircases is infuriating.

Near the top is a larger carpark and busier souvenir stands which are reached—by smarter people—by way of a winding sealed road and from where a lift (if it’s working), takes you the last stretch to the summit itself. If you’ve driven up yourself, there’s a 500 kyat parking fee, while there’s an additional 1,000 kyat entry fee regardless of how you get here. (We wouldn’t recommend trying to cycle up.)

View to the west from Mandalay Hill during the rainy season. Photo taken in or around Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

View to the west from Mandalay Hill during the rainy season. Photo: Mark Ord

The road departs from 10th Street too, a little further on by the junction with 68th near Mandalay Hill Resort. Moto taxis will take you up and down for 5,000 kyat or you may be able to find small pick-up trucks which function as shared taxis for local pilgrims and should set you back 1,000 each way. If you’ve got a taxi from your hotel then normally the 10,000 fare includes waiting time at the summit carpark.

If you do walk, one of the many monuments you will pass by is a gigantic standing image of the Buddha called Shweyattaw. He points his right hand towards the city in honour of the prophecy and as a general reminder for Mandalay to stay classy. Three of the Buddha’s bone fragments once resided along the journey up the hill; they were known as the Peshawar Relics as they were brought here from the Pakistani town of the same name. Unfortunately the bone fragments were moved for safe-keeping during World War II and are no longer accessible to the public. Don’t despair though, for you can still visit the statue of the immortalised ogress San Dha Mukhi in her act of offering her severed breasts to Buddha. This gesture was so grand that she gained enough merit to be reincarnated as the glorious King Mindon himself.

Another day, another view from the hill. Photo taken in or around Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Christopher Smith.

Another day, another view from the hill. Photo: Christopher Smith

At the summit is a flat courtyard around a golden chedi, which provides the popular sunset viewing point. On a clear day you can see Amarapura, while to the east you’ll look out over flat farmland to the hazy hills of the Shan Plateau. To the north and west you’ll see the Ayeyarwaddy beyond the golf courses in the foreground.

Sunset is a spectacular time to capture on camera, but getting here early is important to claim the best spot, as the crowds can be thick. If you are looking for something different to the standard view, you can move to the glass mosaic-covered pagoda that sits just one flight of stairs below – casting kaleidoscopic colours and reflections across the pillars, statues and people.

More than just a view at the top of the hill. Photo taken in or around Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Christopher Smith.

More than just a view at the top of the hill. Photo: Christopher Smith

Honestly, we have seen better views from Burmese hilltop pagodas such as Mount Popa, Mawlamyine’s Kyaik Than Lan Paya or of course the Golden Rock, while closer by Sagaing Hill provides a far less crowded option. Riverside bars such as Mya Nandar or Ayarwaddy River View Hotel’s skybar also afford wonderful scenes of the sun setting over the river. We admit our opinion was coloured by wading barefoot through garbage and dog faeces for 45 minutes, so check it out if you have time, but we’d strongly recommend driving both up and down.

How to get there
The main steps start between the Chinthe statues on 10th Street though there are shorter but steeper routes on the north and west sides. Road access is also on 10th Street and taxis are available to take you to the summit. For a return trip from a downtown hotel we were quoted 10,000 kyat by taxi.

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Location map for Mandalay Hill

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