If Yangon charms, Mandalay appeals even more. Where Yangon reminds us of a bygone era and a distinct British influence, Mandalay has an even stronger old world charm. Not a very small city, it is amazing to see the number of pagodas and Buddha shrines glittering in gold on hills surrounding the city. Culturally rich, the epicentre for business and trade for Upper Myanmar, Mandalay is home to over 2 million people, including 50% of the country’s monks, and a slightly larger percentage of Bamars compared to other ethnic groups of the country.
A former capital, home to two Myanmar kings, the flowing Ayeyarwady River, Phaya Gyi Pagoda that houses one of the most revered Buddha images, are some of the star attractions of the city. The U Bein Bridge is one of the oldest and longest teak wood bridges in the world, 1.2 kilometers in length and was supposedly erected in 1850.
A trip to Mandalay is memorable for its majestic sights, both natural and man made. The sunrise behind the golden tips of numerous pagodas, the sunset from the old teak bridge, are breath-taking. A visit to the sprawling Royal Palace, a walk by the surrounding moat, a day trip to Mandalay Hill, lined with pagodas and monasteries, the list is endless, and a week is barely sufficient to discover all the religious and cultural sights.
One notices a stronger Chinese influence in this city compared to others, and the use of Mandarin language is common among the people, and also on signboards. It is not uncommon to find second and third generation Chinese in the city.
Burmese cuisine rules Mandalay and one is spoilt for choice. Other cuisines are also available, and the less adventurous tourist will find ample Chinese, Thai, Indian and Italian food restaurants. No matter how much western influences penetrate, the best loved dishes include Mandalay Mee Shay (a rice noodle dish with pepper, pork and bean sprouts), Mont Di(another rice noodle dish with curried chicken or pork and special spices), fried crickets eaten as a snack, tea leaf salad, khow suey and mohingya, and other Burmese delicacies. Tea shops line the streets and tourist spots, and remain popular meeting places for the locals.
Nightlife revolves around the numerous bars and cafes, a night market which sells some amazing wares, and cultural shows held from time to time.