Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Burma. Located 445 miles (716 km) north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, the city has a population of one million, and is the capital of Mandalay Region (formerly Mandalay Division).
Mandalay is located in the central dry zone of Burma by the Irrawaddy river at 21.98° North, 96.08° East, 64 metres (210 feet) above sea level. Its standard time zone is UTC/GMT +6:30 hours. Mandalay lies along the Sagaing Fault, a tectonic plate boundary between the India and Sunda plates. (The biggest earthquake in its history, with a magnitude of 7, occurred in 1956. The devastation however was greatest in nearby Sagaing, and it came to be known as the Great Sagaing Quake.)
Mandalay is the economic hub of Upper Burma and considered the center of Burmese culture. A continuing influx of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Yunnan Province, in the past twenty years, has reshaped the city's ethnic makeup and increased its economic dynamism. Despite Naypyidaw's recent rise, Mandalay remains Upper Burma's main commercial, educational and health center.
Like most former (and present) capitals of Burma, Mandalay was founded on the wishes of the ruler of the day. On 13 February 1857, King Mindon founded a new royal capital at the foot of Mandalay Hill, ostensibly to fulfill a prophecy on the founding of a metropolis of Buddhism in that exact place on the occasion of the 2,400th jubilee of Buddhism.
How to get there
Mandalay International Airport, a gleaming modern facility, serves the area with flights to most places in Myanmar and some international flights. Air Mandalay used to provide a service, twice a week, flying from Chiang Mai, Thailand, however, it was suspended in 2008 and, whilst rumors persist, the service has not yet returned. There are also 3 flights weekly to and from Kunming on MU2029. The airport is far from the city, 45km on a modern highway (with a few hiccups). Expect to pay US$8 to downtown Mandalay, US$6 from downtown Mandalay, and US$30 to/from Pyin U Lwin.
From Yangon There are several trains daily from Yangon. While the tracks are old and, in some cases, the carriages may be old, the fifteen hour journey is quite pleasant. Note that in Fall of 2006 all trains were rescheduled to travel during the day (so that trains do not cross Pyinmana in the dark) but at least one train (the privately managed Dagon Mann Express) now runs overnight. Fares range from about US$15 (ordinary class/hard seat) to US$50 (Air Conditioned Sleeper on the Dagon Mann Express).
From Lashio, Hsipaw, and Pwin U Lwin There are two trains daily from Pyin U Lwin (US$4/$2) and one from Lashio via Hsipaw and Pwin U Lwin (US$9/3 from Hsipaw). These trains are slow, crowded, but fascinating. The Pyin U Lwin - Hsipaw section includes the famous Gokteik Viaduct, a feat of Raj ingenuity (and American construction!).
From Myitkyina This twenty-four hour journey is on old rolling stock and even older tracks so expect it to be bumpy!
From Yangon There is a night bus with air-con (6PM departure, 10400k, 12-15 hours) running into Mandalay. Almost certainly the cheapest option for getting between the two main cities in Myanmar.
Taxis are relatively inexpensive and are excellent for travelling around Mandalay.
Many sights are centred around Mandalay Hill, which makes foot-walking feasible in that area.
The best and cheapest way to see the city is by bicycle, as traffic isn't as heavy as in other Asian cities.
Where to stay
Mandalay has several tourist-friendly accommodations. Many hotels face the Royal Palace.
Most budget guesthouses are located around 25th Street, between 81st and 84th Streets. There are many more than those listed here, so if you find somewhere nice (or nasty), share it here.
*AD1 Hotel, Eindawya Sintada Steet, Chan Aye Thar San Township (East of the Eindawya Pagoda), Tel: 02-34505/09-6502430. Great place to stay! Central location in the heart of Zeygo market. Rooftop is something special. Rooms are tacky and bathrooms dated but the price is right. 5/10US$.
*Peacock Lodge, 5 61st St., Mandalay. Terrific homestay B&B, with very friendly family staff. A little bit out of the center, also has a bike rental. US$20.
*Royal Guesthouse, No. 41 25th Street (Between 82nd & 83rd Streets, Southern side.), Tel: 0265697. checkout: 12 Midday. A traveler favourite (and Lonely Planet "Our Pick"). This place does fill up pretty quickly, so if you want to be sure - place a reservation before arriving in Mandalay. Cheaper rooms have fan and shared bathroom - more expensive have aircon. That being said, aircon is on the government grid and so will go down during (common) blackouts. Friendly staff, and close to the Royal Palace. Bike rental (1500k per day, negotiable) available across the road. US$7 plus.
*Mandalay Hill Resort, No.9, Kwin (416.B), 10th Street. An 8-storey hotel located at the foot of Mandalay Hill.
*Sedona Mandalay, No. 1, Junction of 26th & 66th Streets. A Singaporean-owned hotel built blending traditional Burmese and modern architecture that faces the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill