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MANDALAY:  
Situated at the edge of the Shan Plateau, this bustling city  was the country’s capital until 1885, when the last king was sent into exile by the British conquerors. Mandalay’s old splendour comes alive in her numerous temples, monasteries and the reconstructed palace. Many visitors consider the Mahamuni the most important object of interest - it is the most revered Buddha statue in the country.


Others are Kuthodaw Temple, the “world’s biggest book”, the Golden Monastery and, of course, the famous sunset from Mandalay Hill. Equally famous are Mandalay’s artists and craftsmen that have earned the city the title “cradle of Burmese culture”. Visits to the workshops of bronze casters, marble sculptors and gold-leaf beaters as well as others are an indispensable part of a visit to Mandalay.

Others are Kuthodaw Temple, the ‘world’s biggest book’, the Golden Monastery and, of course, the famous sunset from Mandalay Hill. Equally famous are Mandalay’s artists and craftsmen that have earned the city the title ‘cradle of Burmese culture’. Visits to the workshops of bronze casters, marble sculptors and gold-leaf beaters as well as others are an indispensable part of a visit to Mandalay.

The surrounding areas of Mandalay are equally worthwhile. Until today numerous buildings in Amarapura and Ava, which cities preceded Mandalay as capital, still bear witness to old ancient glory.


A walk along U Bein Bridge - being the longest teakwood bridge in the world - to the picturesque village of Thaung-taman gives an insight into rural Myanmar. On the west bank of the Ayeyarwady River the pagoda-studded hills of Sagaing invite for a walk - how about a chat with the friendly nuns who tell you about their secluded life in the nunnery?

In the small hamlet of Mingun, about an hour’s upstream from Mandalay, we stand speechless in front of the remains of 'Bodawphaya’s Dream'. This powerful monarch planned to build the biggest pagoda in the world with a height of more than 170 m. However, Bodawphaya died before the monument could be completed and his successor left it untouched. An earthquake split the structure’s base; however, what remained of the building is still very impressive…

An excursion to the hill station Pyin U Lwin (formerly Maymyo) originating from the British time warps the traveler into a bygone area...suddenly you have the feeling you arrived in a turn-of-the-century British highland village: Old churches, cozy hotels, a golf course - everything is there. The hill station is about two hours by car from Mandalay. Around Pyin U Lwin various waterfalls are inviting the weary traveler to a swim.


Lashio, the last big city before the Chinese border, can be reached in a few hours. On the way to Lashio a stop in Hsipaw, once the capital of a Shan chief's principality may be rewarding. Railway enthusiasts definitely are going to like the trip from Mandalay to Lashio or vice versa by train: Between Mandalay and Pyin U Lwin the train climbs up more than 1,000 m in spectacular zigzags - an adventure definitely not to be missed!


After another two hours the train arrives at the breathtaking Gokteik Rail Viaduct which is claiming to be the second highest in the world. It was built by an American company in the early 20th century with a 75-years-warranty that expired recently...

However, this is nothing to worry about as the train creeps over the viaduct at a pedestrian’s pace!

Paul Theroux’s novel 'The Great Railway Bazaar' gives a rather impressive description of this trip. The train continues through wide valleys and dense jungle, passing the occasional waterfall on its way to Lashio.

Another rewarding excursion is a journey to Monywa, about four hours from Mandalay. This city of about 100,000 people is the center of the Chindwin Basin. It stuns the visitor with its Thanboddhaye Temple, which houses nearly 600,000 Buddha images!

Crossing the Chindwin River to its west bank, the Powintaung Caves can be reached in only 45 minutes.


Literally hundreds of caves, the earliest of them dating back to the 13th century, make the cave system one of the biggest of its kind in South East Asia; Thousands of Buddha statues and murals bear witness to the strong belief of the donors.

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2008 Axel Bruns