Take in the best
With a range of sights to see in Mandalay and its surrounds, some accessible by bicycle, others by boat, and some requiring motorised transport, it can be tricky at first glance to arrange your time here into a coherent programme. Our two-day itinerary will help optimise your time and money in Mandalay, without rushing too much.
One day could be done by bicycle but for the other you’ll need a motorbike or taxi. The two days are interchangeable.
Head down to the 26th Street and Strand Road jetty to catch the 09:00 Mingunboat, but leave early to take in a couple of markets on the way down there. Heading down 26th Street you’ll pass Zay Cho—the main city market—as well as the fish market just opposite the jetty itself. Both are good at early mornings and make interesting diversions but don’t be late, since if you miss the scheduled 5,000 kyat ferry at 09:00 you’ll have to pay $25 for a private hire.
Leave your bike at the jetty or pay a few extra kyat to take it on the boat. The boat ride upriver won’t take more than an hour and we’d allow another hour or 90 minutes to explore Mingun, including a coffee and snack break, so waiting for the scheduled return boat, which leaves at 12:30, isn’t quite going to work. Since a lot of other visitors are going to be in the same boat (sorry!), it shouldn’t be a problem to find other people to split the cost of a private return boat, otherwise you’ll have quite a bit to squeeze into the afternoon.
Aim to get back to town by 12:30 at the latest. For the afternoon you'll explore the temples northeast of the palace, so Shwe Pyi Moe at the corner of 26 and 66th Streets is on the way and makes an excellent spot for lunch. It's approximately four kilometres from the jetty.
Timing’s important for the afternoon, since our goal is to get to the top of Mandalay Hill before sunset so, depending upon time of year, say 17:00 or 17:30. From the restaurant, cycling up 66th Street along the side of the moat, your next stop, is the Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery, two kilometres away. Then head to Kuthodaw and Sandamuni Pagodas—the world’s largest books—which are a short distance north. Give yourself at least a couple of hours to do the three sights, then get up to the foot of Mandalay Hill in time to organise transport to the top. If you’re doing it by moto or taxi, you could shoot back down to the riverside for a sundowner at Ayarwaddy River View or Mya Nandar Restaurant.
Today’s programme is too far for a bicycle and with bad road surfaces, congested traffic and rotten road signage, we’re not suggesting doing it by rental motorbike either. We’d recommend getting a couple of other people together and splitting the cost of a taxi. You ought to be able to get one for $10 to $15 per person. That’s not bad for a whole day’s air-con private taxi plus you won’t get lost.
The earlier you start the better this morning, since that’s the best time to take in our first stop: the the jade market or Mahar Aung Myay. Grab a coffee or tea in one of the cafes and watch the goings on with the precious green stuff. From here ask your driver to head down to Mahamuni Paya, which is another good site to see in the morning. Allow 30 minutes or so before heading south to the bridge and crossing over the Ayeyarwaddy to Sagaing.
You could spend a while here, exploring the various wooded paths and stairways and checking out the minor pagodas and lesser known views, but we’d recommend sticking to the most spectacular two: U Ponya Shin and U Min Thounzeh Pagodas. You can either get the driver to drop you off at the One Lion gate and walk up or depending upon time, drive to both temples. The Sagaing Hill Restaurant close to the foot of the steps makes a reasonalbe lunch break or if it’s too early, there are a couple of restaurants at our next stop: Inwa.
This involves a short drive back over the bridge and down to the Myint Nge jetty, where your driver will wait while you take the local ferry across the river to the entrance to Inwa. The full tour takes up to two hours by pony and trap and though you can abbreviate it if necessary, unless you had a late start you should be okay for time. Buggies take two passengers and cost 10,000 kyat. Your 10,000 kyat Mandalay combo ticket will be checked here.
The next and final stop on today’s itinerary is U Bein, where again the idea’s to arrive before sunset. If you want to spend some time walking up and down the bridge and making sure you get a boat, then you’ll need to arrive not too late, but there are plenty of lakeside cafes for a drink so getting there early isn’t a problem.
All sights mentioned here are included in the 10,000 kyat Mandalay ticket, except Sagaing which is 5,000 kyat extra. There may be additional photo fees to pay from time to time and Mandalay Hill has a 1,000 kyat per person supplement too. Most guesthouses and hotels should be able to find you a bicycle or there are a few rental places down 83rd Street; reception should also have numbers of reliable taxi drivers.
If you're keen on exploring the area further, you can always add on a daytrip to Monywa or Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay to round out your adventure.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Mandalay