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Mandalay and Amarapura

Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar, with a population of approx. 1.5m (of which 40% are Chinese origin), is a cultural, economic and religious centre and was the last royal capital of the country. Mandalay neighbours the mountain regions of the Shan and Kachin people and is their main market town in Upper Burma.


Built between 1857 and 1859 under the order of King Mindom, it fulfilled a prophecy (and as is often the case with Monarchs, to his own glory). The legend that Gautama Buddha visited Mandalay Hill with his disciple Anana and proclaimed that in 2400 years after his death a great city for Buddhist teaching will be founded at the foot of the hill.

Mahamuni Pagoda - the much admired Mahamuni Pagoda is one of the three most visited religious sites in Myanmar (the others being Shwedagon Pagoda and The Rock). Its famous Buddha image is covered with a thick layer of gold leaf placed there over decades by visiting worshippers. Ladies are not allowed to go near the Buddha. Below you can see the Buddha as it was and as it is today - much larger than the original.

Mandalay Palace

Mandalay was the site of a fierce battle at the end of World War Two when the Grand Palace/Fort Dufferin was bombed – it has now been rebuilt but not on any standard of its original glory. Although the buildings are accurate copies, much of the detail is missing. They have only been partly renovated.

Shwe Nan Daw / Kyaung Monastery

One of the most remarkable all-teak buildings in Burma, the Shwenandaw Monastery was once part of Mandalay’s enormous palace complex of King Mindon. Its intricate carvings, gilded columns and elaborate fretwork, give a glimpse of the extravagant lifestyle once enjoyed by Burmese royalty. The building was dismantled and reassembled out of the palace complex in 1880 which is the reason that it is the only remaining existing building of the royal palace. The other buildings were lost to WWII bombs.

Kutodaw Pagoda

Built in 1857 by King Mindon as a copy of the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan. Kutodaw often called the 'world’s largest book', consisting of 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist scriptures in triptaka text, each within their own individual stupa.

Workshops and Market

We visited a street of Marble Carving Workshops where they carve the marble Buddhas. The face is left until an order has been received as there are many styles of face. Typically, a 3ft high Buddha would cost about $2500.

Gold Leaf Workshop to see the gold leaf still beaten out by hand. A tiny piece of gold is beaten for 30 minutes, then it is split into two and beaten a second time for 30 minutes. Then it is beaten for 5 hours to increase its size.

ZeGyo Market. The main market bustles with life. The warehouse is stacked high with textiles, spices and household goods. Outside there are fruit sellers and food vendors with an array of offerings.


11 miles south of Mandalay, Amarapura means ‘City of Immortality’. It was built by King Bodawpaya in 1762 and is the youngest of the royal cities around Mandalay. In its heyday it had 200,000 inhabitants but it now has a population of only 35,000. It is well known as a centre of weaving with over 10,000 inhabitants producing some of the finest festive clothing.


Weaving factory

We were greeted with the ‘click-clack’ sound from the looms of the cotton and silk weavers, the small factory was filled with hardworking people, both young and old.

U-Bein Bridge – the world’s longest teak bridge

The 1.2km teak bridge links Amarapura with an island in the middle of Lake Taungthaman, an intermittent body of water which dries up during winter. It was built in 1849 from old planks and timber posts salvaged from the houses in Sagaing and Inwa (Ava). The bridge has 1086 posts and 482 spans. At 9 points were draw bridges that would allow boats to pass through towards the Irrawaddy. As the river recedes in the dry season the locals claim it for farming.


We walked across and then took a boat ride back, stopping en route to see the sunset set behind the bridge. We were treated to a surprise glass of bubbly and a bowl of nuts by our Cruise Manager. Very romantic and very welcomed!


Royal Custom

It was the custom for every new King to move the capital to a new site whenever he ascends the throne and hence, there are many previous capital cities in the Mandalay area. These include Inwa (Ava), Amarapura and Mandalay.


King Mindon thought he could achieve enlightenment by making true the prophesy, so in 1861 he disposed of his half-brother Pagan Min as the Monbaung King. Taking over the throne, he moved his capital – most of his Palace as well as 150,000 of his subjects – from Amarapura 20 km away. He built the Royal Palace and worked towards realising the ‘Golden City’ of Buddhist teachings. Unfortunately, he died in 1878 and the tyrannic King Thibaw and his imperious wife Supyalet took over the reign. During their terror reign, they killed many of their friends and relatives to prevent any challenge to their rule. There was a smallpox epidemic and on the advice of the astrologers, they had many of their own subjects and foreigners killed. This resulted in the invasion by the British, who occupied upper Burma in 1885, when the palace became known as Fort Dufferin.

The large bronze figures were brought to Myanmar from Thailand by King Bayinaung Kyaw - they originated from the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. They are called 'Devanat' statures and the people believe that when ever anyone suffers from pain and disease, if they pray and brush the figures with the related parts the pain and disease will be relieved.