Enchanting Mandalay: A fresh guide to Myanmar’s ancient city

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Step aside, Bagan. If Mandalay isn’t on your bucket list of wanderlust-worthy destinations, then it really should be. Most people think of Mandalay as ancient, majestic and mysterious. In reality, it’s a vibrant city where your curiosity can and will lead you to new perspectives. Local culture isn’t relegated to museums — it’s meant to be shared. Time spent in Mandalay means immersing in the stories of the people and architecture around you, soaking in traditional culture, and fully appreciating the city’s history.

Mandalay has everything a holiday in Southeast Asia should have: spicy, fresh local flavors, sunset views from magnificent vantage points, ancient Buddhist temples that make you realize just how small and insignificant you are (in a good way). But there’s more; let a local game of chinlone be your workout and golden, skin-soothing thanaka be your sunscreen, and let us guide you on three wondrous days in Mandalay.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Day 1

Food is the fastest language to learn

Food is the best form of communication to break down any language barrier, and every dish in Mandalay is on point.

One amazing — and interactive — culinary experience can be found at Peacock Lodge. The guesthouse and cooking studio opens its doors (and hearts…awww) to guests who want a deeper understanding of Burmese cuisine. So if you want to taste, but also know the origins, methods, and local ingredients, then step right up.

Chop, slice, and dice fresh produce under the guidance of the friendly staff. (Not that we doubt your cooking skills, but you know, safety first!) And voila…after just a couple hours in the kitchen you can feast on your creations in the charming, home-style cafe. Spicy tea leaf salad, anyone?

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Or if fatigue catches up to you unexpectedly, feel at home and indulge in both international and local gourmet cuisine at Hilton’s Café Mandalay and Moat Bar & Grill.

Café Mandalay at Hilton Mandalay.
Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Hike up to look out from Mandalay Hill

The views from Mandalay Hill are absolutely priceless. Hike up in the late afternoon to make it in time to see the sunset over the city, or take the express route and bike up to the top – thanks to Hilton’s complimentary bike rental service.

The climb is only half an hour, and each step ascending is well worth your time. As the sun sets, golden rays gleam off pagodas and you can gaze out over the Irrawaddy and the walls of the Royal Palace. It’s a scene that you’re not likely to forget, no matter how many sunset peaks you’ve scaled, or how many hot air balloon rides you’ve taken.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Day 2

Rise and shine to see U Bein Bridge

U Bein Bridge was once the longest teakwood bridge in the entire world. The 1.2km bridge stretches over the Taungthaman Lake, near the ancient capital of Amarapura, just south of Mandalay. This bridge is also one of the oldest teakwood bridges, built around 1850.

It’s a sight to behold, especially if you’re able to capture a panoramic scene over sunrise or sunset. But if you want to experience this landmark without too many people around, we recommend going in the early morning.

The bridge is surrounded by wide open fields of crops dotted with small thatched-roof huts. On the lake, men wearing traditional longyi paddle boats quietly through the rippled water. They might be ferrying a small group of tourists or fishing for their daily catch. A lot of local activity takes place near the bridge; people park their motorbikes to take walks along the water, locals gather to hang out and share snacks. It’s a great way to be part of the community — even if you’re only in Mandalay for a few days.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Happy feet: Join in a game of chinlone

Sure, you can talk about football with the locals and where your team stands this season, but when it comes to playing, nothing beats chinlone (also known as sepak takraw in other Southeast Asian countries). It’s the equivalent of foot-volleyball where the ball happens to be made of hard, fibrous rattan. It’s basically a game of six people in a circle dribbling to keep the ball off the ground — and it’s so fun!

Not sure how to play? Anyone you see playing will be happy to teach you. So move it with your feet, knock it with your head, and play this Myanmar version of hot potato with your feet. Jokes aside, this is a sport that requires teamwork, skills and athleticism — a very unique activity to add to your Mandalay itinerary. Who knows, maybe by the end of your trip you’ll be a skilled chinlone player.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Day 3

Don’t confuse your stupas with your pagodas in historic Mingun

When you think of ancient relics of immeasurable cultural value, Mandalay should be at the top of your list. Sure, Angkor Wat, Rome, and Athens are global tourist attractions, but there was a whole world of activity going on in Myanmar through the centuries too, people. And Myanmar’s ruins are just on the cusp of becoming global attractions. Why not travel there now, before everyone else catches on?

One such national treasure is Mingun, a small town on the banks of the Irrawaddy, northwest of Mandalay. The crowning glory of this old town is the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, a huge pagoda that lies unfinished, thanks to a mysterious prophecy from the 19th century.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Take a relaxing boat cruise down the Irrawaddy River from downtown Mandalay. In just one hour from the city you’ll find yourself drifting up to the Mingun Pahtodawgyi and Hsinbyume Pagoda. Both of these are must-see landmarks, and lucky for you, they are undisturbed by tourism — but we don’t think that will last for long.

Mingun Pahtodawgyi looks straight out of a scene from Indiana Jones. The gigantic earth-tone relic juts out from the desert-like terrain. On the other hand, the bright white Hsinbyume Pagoda is delicate and intricate. This classic pagoda is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Myanmar. Just don’t confuse it with a stupa. (A pagoda is a tower stacked on square layers, whereas a stupa comprises a tower built on a mound on top of square layers. The more you know!)

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

A new take on a relaxing stay in Mandalay

As fun and exciting as Mandalay is, a big, soft bed, and a welcoming place to come home each night brings the entire experience to the next level — the checked-off-the-bucket-list level. Hilton Mandalay provides upscale accommodation in the center of Mandalay. This understated, yet modern hotel faces Mandalay Hill for the perfect starting point on your journey. The location also means epic views from your very own balcony window — of either Mandalay Hill or the Royal Palace.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Begin each day with a sumptuous breakfast at Hilton, which serves up international and local favorites at Café Mandalay. Make sure not to miss the Burmese tea leaf fried rice or Shan noodles – an excellent way to start the day. There’s no better way to prepare for an early morning trip to U Bein Bridge, and judging from the hearty selection of food, we’re certain that you’ll have enough energy for cycling around town.

Take a break from your adventure to lounge by the pool, order refreshing drinks from the poolside bar, and bask in the Myanmar sun. It’s the perfect way to unwind and rejuvenate your mind and body — hey, this is a vacation after all!

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

After a long day of exploring, relax over an intimate dinner at Moat Bar & Grill, aptly named for the views of the Royal Palace moat. Get your feast on with an a-la-carte grill selection, a great wine list, fresh pints of beer on tap, and live music. What’s a celebration without live music, amirite?

Are you ready for Mandalay? There are so many stories in this ancient city waiting to be told. And one of them is yours.

Photo: Phoethar Minkoon / Coconuts Media

Gain a new perspective while you cross Mandalay off your bucket list at Hilton Mandalay. From local dining experiences to eye-opening views, and ancient Buddhist relics, Hilton Mandalay is your ticket to experience all that this city has to offer.

Visit Discover.Hilton.com for more exciting tips about Asia’s hidden gems. You’ll discover destinations from a new point of view, and we’re sure you’ll bring a ton of stories back home with you. Don’t wait for the perfect vacation to arrive at your doorstep – get started today by booking at Hilton, and cross Mandalay off your bucket list.


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