A local walks across U-Bein Bridge during Sunrise in Myanmar Mandalay

Mandalay Itinerary: Perfect 2 Days

Looking for a quick Mandalay itinerary? At some point on your trip through Myanmar, you will find yourself in Mandalay. Centrally located and the country’s second-largest city, it’s normally an incredibly convenient changeover, particularly if you’re travelling east to west or vice versa.

We’d heard pretty negative reviews from other backpackers but decided to check it out anyway, and while we can’t deny that we enjoyed some of Mandalay’s surrounding sights, it was by far our least favourite place in the country. Downtown Mandalay is a gridlocked, gawking assault on the senses. Pavements are a luxury and each corner is another confusing collision of scooters, cars and trikes you can’t battle past. Apart from a few pagodas and the colours of Sunset Hill, there’s little to see in the city centre itself; surrounding Sagaing, Mingun and Amarapura day-trips do however mean that you can still enjoy your time here while avoiding the city-centre sweat.

Whether you choose to spend any time here or instead head straight to your connecting flight, bus or boat is up to you. If you’re really, really determined to visit, then this Quick 2 Day Mandalay Itinerary will help you make the most of your time here.

Getting There

AIR

Mandalay’s airport (MDL) is located 35km south of the city centre – this journey can take anything from 45 minutes to over an hour. Similarly to Yangon Airport, there is a taxi desk where you can organise your transfer for a set price and give the coupon to the driver. If you’re travelling alone or in a small group, remember to try find others to share your ride and bring the costs down!

BUS

Mandalay has several different bus stations, and you’re not often told which one you’ll be arriving in to.

  • Chan Mya Shwe Pyi Highway Station (south)
  • Pyi Gyi Myet Shin Highway Station (south-east-central)
  • Chanmyathazi (central)

Chan Mya Shwe Pyi Highway Station is the bus station that you’re most likely to use. JJ Express operates out of here, and we took a ride to Shwe Nyaung (close to Inle) from this station. You’ll need to take a trike or a taxi from town to get here.

Pyi Gyi Myet Shin Highway Station is located south-east of the moat and tends to serve some of the northern destinations. We left from here headed for Hsipaw.

We arrived in to Chanmyathazi station from Bagan. This was a very local bus station, which makes sense as we were on a very local bus with no other tourists! We doubt you’ll use this one, but it is very central in case you end up there.

As in Yangon, when you’re heading to your departure station tell your trike driver which company you’re travelling with and they’ll take you to the correct terminal and platform.

BOAT

Although much of Burma is becoming less accessible by boat (this is chiefly because of conflict in the area) you can still travel between Bagan and Mandalay by boat safely. It is a little on the pricey side at around $40, but it’s a different way of travel and breaks up the bus journeys a little.

WEE TIP: we wouldn’t recommend renting a motorbike in Mandalay – the traffic is chaotic. It’s cheap enough to hop on a motorbike taxi, most drivers will even take two people on the back.

Mandalay Itinerary: Things to Do in Mandalay

Monks on a walkway during sunset at Mandalay Hill, Myanmar
Monks on a walkway at Mandalay Hill
Visit Mingun
Hsinbyume Pagoda

First thing’s first – head straight back out of Mandalay to see Mingun’s dazzling Hsinbyume Pagoda. Coupled with a few other interesting temples and Pahtodawgyi Pagoda– the cursed temple which was never finished – it makes for a really enjoyable day trip.

First of all pack your passport! You’ll need it for the boat ticket. To arrive from downtown, get on a trike and head to Mingun Jetty. Grab is an option, but we only used it for a price-check and paid 2,000MKK for the trike we flagged down. The journey should only take around 15 minutes from near downtown.

Day trips to Mingun are government-controlled, so 5,000MKK per person is what you should be paying. The ferry takes approximately 1 hour, leaving at 9am and returning at 12.30pm. Make sure you’ve returned to the ferry with 5/10 minutes to spare, as the boys on the boat don’t wait around; they left a group behind who were on the outward journey with us. You’d have to fork out for a private boat back, which is much pricier!

After you’ve arrived in Mingun the walk to the attractions is pretty obvious and you’ll pass some pretty temples on your way. There will be an ox and cart waiting for six ‘lucky’ passengers, but really the distance is walk-able. Entrance fee at the booth is 5,000 MKK. Although Pahtodawgyi is the first big attraction you’ll come to, we’d recommend heading straight to Hsinbyume Pagoda – commonly known as Mandalay’s White Pagoda – to avoid the crowds that stop at the first sight. It’s a showstopper, and makes for some impressive Instagram shots.

Girl walking on archways in Hsinbyume White Pagoda, Mingun, Myanmar
Emma was happy to find her Instagram shot at White Pagoda

WEE TIP: a word of warning – it was incredibly hot when we were at the White Pagoda in November, so bring plenty of suncream and heaps of water. There’s shade in the stairways but this can be crowded with tour groups.

Pahtodawgyi Pagoda

Mingun Pahtodawgyi is next and dominates your view on the walk back. This colossal 50m tall pagoda was never finished, a result of the prophecy predicting that King Bodawpaya would die as soon as the pagoda was completed. In 1838 there was also an earthquake that cracked the cursed building in several places. You can’t enter the stupa and the stairway to the top is now barricaded, but be sure to walk around the far side where you’ll get your pictures with way less people around.

Other tourist attractions worth a look include the lion sculptures guarding the pagoda & the 90-ton Mingun Bell (the world’s largest supposedly). If you’re a bell-spotter then, ehm, I guess this one’s for you.

Mingun Bell - the oldest in the world world in Myanmar
The mighty Mingun Bell

The last thing we saw on our walk back towards the jetty was a garden built out of plastic! It sounds unusual but it’s really worth seeing – the owners of this home have built fencing, candles, plant pots, and more with the waste plastic bottles they’ve found around them. There aren’t too many people raising awareness or protecting the environment in Burma, so this was really refreshing to see.

Plastic bottles are re-used and filled with plants in Mingun, Myanmar
Innovative use of plastic waste in Mingun was refreshing to say the least

WEE TIP: the fort in the centre of the moat area in Mandalay is not worth visiting. It’s an army base and closed to the public majority of the time, so there’s really nothing to see here, and makes it frustrating that the whole downtown area seems to have been built around it.

Hike Sunset Hill

Mandalay Sunset Hill is best visited at, you guessed it, sunset. The hike up really does take 30-40 minutes, so pack wisely and be prepared. The entrance fee is 1,000MKK per person and worth it on your Mandalay itinerary.

WEE TIP: as with all pagodas, you’ll need to remove your footwear for the climb up all the steps, so we recommend visiting in easily removable flip-flops and sandals. When you take them off, stick them in your bag and take them up with you. This way you won’t be forced to pay the ‘security’ fee for leaving your shoes at the bottom.

There are plenty of rest points on your walk up the hill, and stalls selling all kinds of food and drink. Nearing the top you’ll pass more pagodas (it’s the country of temples and pagodas after all) before finding the glimmering, golden peak of Sunset Hill. Timing it so that you’re there roughly thirty minutes before sunset, the tiles will be caked in a lovely golden hue and makes for some great photo opportunities, as well as some pretty cool views along Ayeyarwaddy River.

Golden hour, sunset, in the archways of Mandalay Hill, Myanmar
Golden hour on Mandalay Hill

Every tourist in the city is likely to be at the viewpoint for the sunset, and this will feel especially true when the coach tours turn up in the parking area and take their one minute elevator to the top. Still, the sunset is worth hanging around for. You’ll also have a great opportunity here to engage with the local monks, learning about their livelihood, their daily routines and about their faith in general. We loved that they were so willing to chat and practice their English – but please do make an effort to speak with them openly and genuinely. We saw far too many people asking for selfies then dashing away for the next photo with no attempt at honest interaction.

Tourists crowding for sunset on Mandalay Hill in Mandalay, Myanmar
Tourists gathering for sunset on Mandalay Hill
Sunrise on U Bein Bridge

One of the top things to do on your Mandalay itinerary is to go to Amarapura for sunrise on U Bein Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. We paid 10,000MKK for a return taxi there –  the journey takes around 25-30 minutes each way.

WEE TIP: don’t bother watching sunset from U Bein Bridge. Just don’t. Everybody we spoke to did not particularly enjoy the experience, and complained bitterly about how busy it was, how they were nearly elbowed off the bridge itself and could barely move. The sunrise alarms are a nightmare, but you’re going to enjoy a beautiful sunrise all to yourself.

To be honest we didn’t really know where we were going or how best to ‘see’ the sunrise when we got there. We wandered down to the water and had a quick walk along the beach, enjoying the views and the quiet, calming atmosphere. A few locals cycled past us and a couple of monks beamed at us walking by. Apart from that there was nobody here.

On the bridge we spotted a photography tour group heading under the bridge and along the mud banks, so naturally we followed them until we were at roughly this spot here:

21.893045, 96.052894

With the tripod set up in plenty of time, we were ready and able to catch great shots of the pinks, purples and magentas appearing over the bridge:

Sunrise over U Bein teak bridge in Amarapura, Mandalay, Myanmar
The sun rising over U Bein Bridge

Even for non-photographers the atmosphere, the quiet and the spectacle of walking along the creaky old bridge are enough to make this trip worthwhile. We saw some people on boats heading over to the other side of the bridge, and if you really wanted the best possible view then this is probably a pretty good idea too.

Visit Sagaing

From Mandalay, it is also easy enough to visit Sagaing and many people include this stop on their itinerary. It is a destination popular with tourists and locals alike, and just 45 minutes drive from Amarapura (where U Bein Bridge is located). The enthralling town has numerous viewpoints, pagodas and monasteries to visit, all providing unrivalled views of the Irrawaddy River and is an enjoyable way to spend the rest of the day.

And there it is! Our 2 Day Mandalay Itinerary for a whistlestop tour of the city and its surroundings. If you have any suggestions to add to this guide, please get in touch in the Comments below – we’re always open to opinions and/or updated information! Be sure to check out our other Myanmar posts if you’re planning your trip to this incredible country.

Where to Stay

When you get to Mandalay, chances are you’ve just arrived from Yangon, Inle, Bagan or further north. Make sure and stay central, because all the popular day-trips from the city are in different directions.

Royal Guest House

We stayed at the Royal Guest House, as recommended by Rough Guide and its reviews are pretty positive online. We honestly believe we got the wrong place; there was nothing special about this hotel at all. It was $15 for an AC room with a private bathroom, but it feels dated and the included breakfast is pretty standard fare. The sweltering hallways are decorated with the most bizarre rubix cube colours, and we don’t think you’d have to look far to find better value.

There were lots of hotels on the same street as Royal Guest House, we’d recommend checking out a few of these, which were all reviewed positively online and were pretty similar in cost.

Ostello Bello Mandalay

The obvious hostel choice is the popular backpacker chain Ostello Bello, and many people we spoke to named this one as ‘the best Ostello Bello of them all’ in Myanmar. It was still a little pricey for us, and we didn’t want to stay at the complete set, so we tried to find somewhere different in town.

Ace Star Hostel

A reasonably priced hostel option Ace Star is where a lot of backpackers on a strict budget end up. Good choice for solo travellers looking to buddy up with others for the day trips.

Where to Eat

Zegyo Market

We found some tasty noodle soup at Zegyo Market, but wouldn’t recommend visiting the market itself, it was chaotic, sweaty and didn’t really have much to offer to tourists. A bird also shit square on to Daniel’s head, so understandably it wasn’t his favourite place.

Nylon Ice Cream

One of the top things to do in Mandalay is to grab an ice cream at popular Nylon Ice Cream – the ice cream cups are crazy cheap and very tasty on a hot Burmese day. We’d recommend the ‘cream soda’ and avocado flavours. Perfect way to cool down in the sweaty Burmese heat.

Aye Myit Tar

The perfect place to enjoy some local Burmese food. We loved the pickled mango curry, and you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy on the extensive menu. We would choose this restaurant over the Rough Guide recommended Lashio Lay, the food was much better and it was less touristy.

WEE TIP: you’ll need to be ready for a big, filling meal at Aye Myit Tar! When your main dish arrives it will be followed by a seemingly impossible amount of side dishes, including mashed sweetcorn, salad, soup, spicy beans, dried chilli fish and more. Don’t harm yourself trying to finish them all, the staff will refill every side dish you see the bottom of within minutes and there is literally no way of eating it all!

Goffee Coffee

Be sure to check out Goffee Coffee at 29th Street for a locally sourced filter coffee (try the black honey blend) and amazingly friendly staff. We’d recommend here over Nova Coffee which had no real atmosphere, pretty average coffee and overall seemed a little Starbucks-esque.

WEE TIP: There are actually two Goffee Coffee branches. Just a word of warning that the one on 39th Street is a little smaller and does not have WiFi – go to 28th Street if you’re looking to do some work.

Mandalay Quick 2-Day Itinerary

Day 0

  • Arrival

Day 1

  • Mingun:
    • The White Pagoda
    • Pahtodawgyi Pagoda
  • Nylon Ice Cream
  • Kuthodaw Pagoda
  • Shwenandaw Monastery
  • Sunset Hill
  • Aye Myit Tar (dinner)

Day 2

  • Amarapura (U Bein Bridge) Sunrise
  • Sagaing (optional)
  • Goffee Coffe on 29th Street
Accommodation:
  • Royal Guest House
  • Ostello Bello
  • Ace Star Hostel
Cafes:
  • NOVA Coffee
  • Goffee Coffee (28th street)
  • Goffee Coffee (39th street)
Restaurants:
  • Lashio Lay
  • Aye Myit Tar

Mandalay Itinerary Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • Bagan (Shwe Pyi Highway Terminal) – Mandalay (Chanmyathazi)
  • 07:00-12:00 (several during the day and night) with Moe Thauk Hun Express
  • Normal (2+2)
  • 9,500MKK per person

Total: 19,000MKK ($12.50)

Accommodation:

Royal Guest House

  • Double (AC)
  • Walk-in (no deposit)
  • 22,250MKK per night ($15)

Total: 45,000MKK ($30)

Attractions:
  • Mingun Entrance fee 5,000MKK
  • Kuthodaw Pagoda 7,500MKK
  • Mandalay Hill 2,000MKK

Total: 29,000MKK ($19)

Local Transport:
  • Motorbike taxi Royal Guest House to Mingun Jetty 2,000MKK
  • Return ferry from Mingun Jetty to Mingun Pier 5,000MKK
  • Tricycle Mingun Jetty to downtown 2,000MKK
  • Return motorbike taxi Royal Guest House to Mandalay Hill 4,000MKK
  • Return taxi Royal Guest House to U Bein Bridge 10,000MKK
  • Tricycle Goffee Coffee to Bus Station 3,000MKK

Total: 26,000MKK ($17)

*Sagaing not included

Moving On:
  • Mandalay (Pyi Gyi Myet Shin Highway Station) – Hsipaw (Dokhtawaddy Station) (bus)
  • 14:00 – 20:30 with DuHta Wadi Man
  • Normal (2+2)
  • $6.20 pp

Total: 18,500MKK ($12.40)

Total for 2D/2N: 137,500MKK/$90

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink is not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.

*all currencies accurate at the time of writing*

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