Mandalay is the religious and cultural center of the country. It was the capital of the last Myanmar kingdom. King Mindon, the penultimate king in the Konbaung dynasty, founded the city in 1857. The city streets are laid out in a grid system with famous pagodas lying scattered all over the city. Mandalay Hill, with the red fort and the calm moat at its base, is the central focus of the city.
Northeast of the city, amid leafy surroundings, stands the 236 m-high Mandalay Hill, from which the current city name derives. It is one of Myanmar's more famous Buddhist sites. It is covered with pagodas, images of the Buddha, works of sculpture and some other Buddhist religious objects. A total of three covered, interconnected staircases lead zigzag through the green of the hill to the top. Most of these sanctuaries were developed by the initiative of the hermit U Kanthi only at the beginning of the 20th century. From the top of the hill you can enjoy a full panoramic view - the hazy blue outline of the Shan hills to the east, the Mandalay Palace to the south and the Ayeyarwady river to the west.
The construction of the Kuthodaw pagoda commenced in 1857, the same year the royal city was founded. Situated at the foot of Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw features a cluster of white-washed stupas. The complete teachings of Buddha are inscribed on 729 marble slabs, each of which is housed in its own small stupa. It is often called 'the world's biggest book' for its surrounding inscriptions.
Originally, Shwenandaw Monastery was part of the palace complex which was built inside the fort. It is said that King Mindon passed away in it. Afterwards, King Thibaw had it dismantled and reassembled outside the walls. He used it as a private meditation center at first, but then he offered it to the monks as a monastery. It is worth a visit not only as a fine example of a traditional Myanmar wooden monastery but also for a fragile reminder of the old palace. All the other royal buildings were lost to WWII bombs.
The highly venerated Mahamuni Buddha Image is housed in a temple at the southwestern part of the city. It is believed to have been cast during the 1st century AD. In 1784, it was brought to Mandalay from Mrauk U in Rakhaing State. The 3.80 m seated image is cast in bronze. The pagoda is officially called Mahamuni "Exalted Sage", but the inhabitants of Mandalay prefer the name Hpaya-gyi, "Great Pagoda". Over the years thousands of devout Buddhists have coated the image with layers of gold leaf.
Amarapura, the penultimate royal capital of Myanmar, was founded in 1783 by King Bodawpaya. Some 11km south of Mandalay, the town is well known for U Pein's Bridge built of over 1000 teak posts. This 1.2 km-long footbridge was built across the Taungthaman Lake in 1849. It is the longest teak bridge in the world. There are five shaded rest areas on the bridge and it is really a worthwhile experience to walk over it. Another attraction of Amarapura is the Maha Ganayon monastery. Home to several thousand young monks, it is like a university of Buddhist studies.
Set on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady River, about 18 km southwest of Mandalay, Inwa had been the longest standing capital of all the Myanmar kingdoms. In 1364, the city of Inwa was founded by King Thadominpya, serving as the seat of about 30 kings for nearly four centuries. The long passage of time damaged many interesting things. Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery (also known as Me Nu Oak Kyaung), Bagaya Monastery and Manmyint Watchtower remain places of interest. Passing many other pagoda ruins lost in palm-lined rice fields, a horse-cart ride is a delightful experience.
Pyin U Lwin is also known as Maymyo (May-town) since the Colonel May of the 5th Bengal Infantry stationed here during the British colonial era. Its climate is much different from that of Mandalay although it is situated only 69km east of Mandalay. Set on 1050 m above sea level, it has a delightfully cool and pleasant weather all the year round. In the south of the town is the National Kandawgyi Garden with more than 480 species of trees and 133 species of colorful flowers. Pwe Kauk Waterfall, Maha Anthtookantha Pagoda and Peik Chin Myaung Cave are another interest of places.
Bagan is a place of interest because it is a repository of ancient Myanmar architecture and related arts. Set on the eastern side of the Ayeyarwady river, 190 km south east of Mandalay, numerous temples with a variety of shapes and sizes dot the 42-sq-km plain. Bagan is also a place of importance because it is the beginning of the recorted Myanmar history. Bagan was founded by King Anawrahta in 1044. It was the capital of the first Myanmar Empire that flourished from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries AD and all the religoius buildings were constructed in that period.
Ananda Temple was built in 1105 AD by King Kyansittha, one of the most famous Bagan kings. He was a gracious ruler and his mentality is reflected in the structure of his temple. Unlike most of the other Bagan temples, Ananda is sleek and fascinating. The inside of the temple is decorated with stone sculptures and glazed tiles of exquisite handiwork, respresenting scenes in Buddha's life. The architectural arrangement that follows light to get into the inner recesses of the temple has remained a marvel to this day.
Thatbyinnyu Temple is located on the southeast corner of Old Bagan. With a height of 61 m, it is the tallest temple in Bagan. It was built in 1144 by King Alaungsithu. Its name derives from the Pali word 'Sabbannnuta' and means 'omniscience'. The temple consists of two high blocks standing one on top of another. Two rows of windows make the interior light and airy. The interior of the temple was damaged during the 1975 earthquake. The walls were covered with murals; unfortunately, only a few frescoes are recognizable today.
Dhammayangyi Temple is one of the most impressive buildings of Bagan. It has four entrance halls and consists of only one floor, on which five steep terraces were placed, giving the building the appearance of a pyramid. To stabilize, the builders used sandstone at the corners. It was built in the middle of the 12th century and was a good deed of King Narathu, who in the glass palace chronicle was described as a cruel king and murderer of his father.
Set on the bank of the Ayeyarwady river, west of Nyaung U, the impressive Shwezigon Pagoda is a good deed of two famous Bagan kings. The construction of the pagoda was started by King Anawrahta and completed in the reign of King Kyansittha. The stupa stands on three terraces, around which enameled plaques in panels illustrate scenes from the previous lives of Buddha. It has a graceful bell shape and is a prototype for later stupas all over the country.
About 50 km southeast of Bagan is Mt. Popa, one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. And it is also a major nat worship center in Myanmar. Rising to 737 m above the plain, it is said to be the core of an extinct volcano. The 25-minute climb is steep and stiff, but the view from the top is breath-taking. The tree-clad mountain standing majestically on the yellowish-brown plain is indeed a sight that pleases the eye and cools the breast.