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el2995 Mandalay - A travel report by USC
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Mandalay,  Burma - flag Burma -  Mandalay
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el2995's travel reports

Mandalay, Burma

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The city of Mandalay, which was the capital of the last independent Burmese kingdom and holds the status of being the capital of both Burmese culture and Buddhist learning, lies 600 kilometers North of Rangoon on the Irrawadi River.

Mandalay Hill and Palace Wall
Mandalay Hill and Palace Wall
The city, named after Mandalay Hill (which is considered a holy mount), was founded by King Mindon in 1857 with the laying of the foundation for the royal city (palace), its battlemented walls which faced the four cardinal directions, and its square surrounding moat. The palace was completed in 1859, with the structures within the walls built almost entirely of teak. After the conquering of Mandalay by the British in 1885, King Thibaw (King Mindon’s son and successor) handed over control of the royal city, which was then turned into a British military headquarters and renamed Fort Dufferin. During World War II, the former palace was turned into a military camp by the Japanese, whose defence was provided by both Japanese and Burmese soldiers. On March 20, 1945 the British military shelled the stronghold, reducing the teak palace structures to ash. The only original teak building from the palace grounds to survive the fire is the Shwenandaw Kyaung meditation center, which features intricate wood carvings; as it was the site of King Mindon’s death, his son King Thibaw had it dismantled and re-erected at its present site South of Kuthodaw Pagoda and East of the palace moat. The former palace grounds are now known as Fort Mandalay and houses elements of the Burmese Army's Mandalay Division, and modern wood and concrete replicas of the palace structures have been erected to give the visitor a sense of what the palace was like. In addition to its history, temples and pagodas (most-notably, the Maha Muni Pagoda), Mandalay is also known for its cottage industry handicrafts (silk weaving, gold leaf making, silversmithing, stone carving, tapestries, and marionettes), Mandalay Beer, Mandalay Rum, and it's Shan-influenced local cuisine. Unlike Rangoon, Mandalay does not limit the number of motorcycles allowed to operate in the city, and as such, the two-stroke motorcycle is a popular and afordable mode of transportation, at times to the detriment of the air quality.

Favourite spots:
Sandamuni Pagoda
Sandamuni Pagoda
Kuthodaw Pagoda, with its central 98-foot high gilded Maha Lawka Marazein Pagoda is often referred to as the “World’s Largest Book”, as it is flanked by 729 white-washed “pitaka pagodas” that house marble tablets displaying the entire Tipitaka (Buddhist canon, or Bible) recorded in Pali script. The nearby Sandamuni Pagoda is similarly in both nature and appearance, with its 758 white-washed Dharma Ceti pagodas also containing tablets of Buddhist text. The Maha Muni Pagoda is revered world-wide, as its Buddha statue is one of only five that is said to have been made during Buddha’s lifetime. The seemingly irregular body outline of the Buddha statue is due to the 1-2” of gold leaf rubbed on by the faithful, and the pagoda contains 6 bronze statues taken from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

What's really great:
Mandalay Open Market
Mandalay Open Market
I especially enjoyed the hustle and bustle amid the morning sidewalk produce vendors near Zegyo Market (West of 84th Street between 26th and 28th Road), which was far more interesting than the indoor dry goods portion. The market was still quite active when I arrived at 7:30 am, with very few other foreign tourists to be seen (due the lack of available time in their tour packages, according to my guide). Given the coolness of the morning air, most of the vendor women improvise turbans out of scarves, shawls, towels and the like for warmth which, together with their colorful longyis, thanaka paste and non-matching flannel shirts makes many of them look like hill tribe members, though some in the market are from the Shan, Karen and Pa-O tribes, based on their ethnic clothing. The sights, aromas (a earthy mix of ripe produce, spices, dried shrimp and fermented fish paste), and the echoing of the hawkers’ calls mixed with the din of stall-side negotiations gives the open market it's charm.

Mandalay Palace
Mandalay Palace
Check out the reconstructed Mandalay Royal palace, which is interesting despite being a wood and concrete mock-up. The watchtower affords a good view of the palace grounds, Mandalay Hill and some of the surrounding temples and pagodas. The Shwenandaw Kyaung meditation center, with its exquisite wood carvings, is the only surviving teak building from the royal palace. It was relocated outside the palace grounds to a site near the Kuthodaw Pagoda by King Thibaw after his father, King Mindon, died inside the building; the act spared the building from later destruction during the shelling of the palace to defeat the Japanese and Burmese rebel occupiers. Be sure to take in the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill, though the small fires set to dispose of piles of dried leaves and rubish around the hill can make the air a bit too smokey for those with reactive airways, so bring your inhalers and saline bottles.

Vendor Girls at Kuthodaw Pagoda
Vendor Girls at Kuthodaw Pagoda
I stayed at the Mandalay Swan Hotel near the Southeast cornor of the Royal Moat. The hotel was decent, though the electrical outlets use the Singapore-styled three-pronged plug geometry instead of the typical S.E. Asian two-pronged, so I had to rent an adapter from the front desk. The hotel has a good breakfast buffet, with a mix of Western and Bumese items. There is a restaurant/coffee shop to the West of the hotel that offers an outdoor dinner buffet (I think it was USD $15) and live Burmese cultural show, though I opted to eat much cheaper out front at the tables adjacent to the sideway and then take in the show afterwards; note that with the motorcycle traffic in Mandalay, eating near the sidewalk means having to contend with the scent of two-stoke motorcycle exhaust that seems to lingers just below the aroma of your food.

Stone Carver and Monk, Mandalay
Stone Carver and Monk, Mandalay
Pakokku Daw Lay May 'Myanmar Cuisine Shop' (73rd Street, bewteen 29th and 30th Street, Mandalay - Tel: 02-35170) serves up some excellant Burmese pork curry ("whet-tha see pyun hin"), which came with the Burmese version of hot and sour soup ("chin hin"), chiken broth with ginger, a variety of Burmese-style pickled vegetables, and your utensiles delivered to your table in a bowl of steaming-hot water.

Mandalay is known for its spicy Shan-influenced noodle, rice and tofu-based dishes. A particularly good dish from the region is "Mandalay moah-ti", which consists of small chunks of chicken meat cooked Burmese dry curry-style with roasted pea powder ("beh moaht") poured over noodles and mixed together with cilantro and sliced onions, then served garnished with fried chow mein noodles, roasted chili, a squeeze of lime or lemon, fried garlic oil and fish sauce to suit one's tastes; it goes especially well with a cold Mandalay Beer (particularly with the more robust 'Red Label' variety).

Other recommendations:
Woman Fishing Near U Bein Bridge, Amarapura
Woman Fishing Near U Bein Bridge, Amarapura
A day trip to Maymyo is worth while, as the higher altitude of the former British hill station provides a nice change of scenery and a break from the heat and dust; the main sights would be the Kandawgyi National Park, Pwe Kyauk Waterfall and the Chinese Buddhist Temple. An afternoon trip up the Irrawadi River to visit Mingun Pagoda, Mingun Bell and Hsinbyume Pagoda, with an enjoyable return trip at sunset back down to Mandalay, should be added to your itinerary, as with a day trip that takes in the main sights of Sagaing (U Min Thonze Pagoda) and Amarapura (U Bein Bridge).

As I've been having difficulties with getting the pasted web links to work, I've posted two short videos that I shot to capture the sights and sounds of the outdoor vendors near Mandalay's Zeigyo Market (Parts I and II) on, which can be accessed by typing "Mandalay Zeigyo Market" in the search field. Enjoy.

Published on Friday April 27th, 2007

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Sun, May 06 2007 - 02:53 AM rating by marianne

This report gives very detailed information, A lovely read and beautiful pictures

Sat, Apr 28 2007 - 01:18 AM rating by mistybleu

A very informative, interesting report. Nice work.

Fri, Apr 27 2007 - 11:50 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Wondeful report about a wonderful country.

Fri, Apr 27 2007 - 11:32 PM rating by rangutan

Quite a comprehensive report full of information. I wish we could insert videos (or sound) at GLOBO, your links a lively example of the places atmosphere.

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