Things to do in Mandalay with kids

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Family Travel Blog - Travelling with Kids

I have to admit, Mandalay wasn’t our favourite place to visit in Myanmar. Mandalay city is quite industrial and lacks a lot of character compared to Yangon. There isn’t a huge amount of family friendly activities however our list of things to do in Mandalay with kids will make your trip a little easier. 

I’m probably being a little harsh on Mandalay but I just didn’t love it, not that I didn’t like it but there are definitely other areas of Myanmar I could have spent those 3 days and got more out of it such as Bagan or Inle Lake.

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We travelled from Bagan to Mandalay on a day drive in a local mini bus that was overcrowded and travelling way to fast for the weather conditions at the time. It was by far our worst bus trip out of the 4 long bus rides we took but we made it safely in the end.

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Click here for Bagan temples with kids  or things to do in Inle Lake with kids post. 

There were a few contributing factors such as it rained a lot, more than anywhere else and consistently during our visit. Our hotel was next to a fish market, I hate seafood and the smell repulses me and it could be smelt from outside the hotel. Regardless of these few things we still found enough to do and there were a few highlights from our stay in Mandalay with kids and I have listed them below.

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Things to do in Mandalay with kids

Day 1 – Mandalay Tour

We hadn’t pre-arranged a tour guide for Mandalay but when we arrived we organised  a Mandalay city tour including sunset at U Bein Bridge. The cost was reasonable for 5 people, we paid 60,000 khat (approx. US$45) and we were out with the tour guide for over 9 hours that day.

However if you would prefer to pre-book your tours I highly recommend a Klook Mandalay City Tour for a competitive price.

Mandalay Royal Palace

We arrived at the Mandalay Royal Palace where security is tight and you will have to leave your passport at the entrance when you purchase your tickets. The ticket, Mandalay Archaeological Zone Fee Card,  will cover the main 5 sights in Mandalay and costs 10,000 kyats (approx. AU$10) per person. Children are sometimes free and sometimes half price it really depends on who you get. It is definitely a great place to visit in Mandalay with kids as it will give you a good idea of how the royal family lived back in the last century.

things to do in Myanmar with kids

Mandalay Palace in Mandalay.

things to do in Myanmar with kids

The kids drying off between showers.

This was the Royal Palace of the last Burmese monarchy. Built between 1857-1859 and founding Mandalay as the new capital city of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Like many other palaces it’s completed in traditional Burmese design with a walled fort surrounded by a moat. The buildings are all single storey however the number of spires on top indicate the importance of the area below.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Map of the grounds of Mandalay Palace.

The palace compound was destroyed during World War II by allied bombing; only the royal mint and the watch tower survived. A replica of the palace was rebuilt in the 1990s with some modern materials. Most of the palace area is now off limits and utilised as an army base, only the citadel is open for the public to view.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Only part of the Palace grounds are open to tourists.

Shwenandaw Monastery (a.k.a Shwe Kyaung Monastery)

Your Mandalay Archaeological Zone Fee Card also includes the Shwenandaw Monastery which has an interesting history. It was built by King Thibaw in 1878 at the royal palace in Amarapura, he believed it became haunted by his father’s spirit, King Mindon, so had it dismantled and rebuilt at its current location in Mandalay just prior to his death.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Teak carvings in the timber frames are so beautiful and intricate.

The Monastery is made of teak and the detail in the carvings is very impressive. It is built in traditional Burmese Buddhist architectural style and is the only remaining major structure of the original Royal Palace. Interestingly, its also called the Golden Palace Monastery, because it used to be completely gilded. Atumashi Monastery is right next to Shwenandaw Monastery and is included in the zone fee card. Atumashi Monastery is an active monastery and you will notice just how much bigger they build them now!

Kuthadaw Pagoda – World’s Largest Book

Kuthadaw Pagoda is a gilded Buddhist stupa measuring 57 meters tall. Surrounding the pagoda are 729 ‘caves’ each containing a single marble slab inscribed on both sides in Burmese script. Together, the 729 slabs are called “the world’s largest book”, each stone slab representing one of its pages. The slabs are inscribed with texts of the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka, the three parts that make up the Tripitaka, the teachings of the Buddha written in ancient Pali language.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Lovely entrance to the Kuthadaw Pagoda. You can purchase gratuities from the entrance to give to the Buddhas inside.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

This stupa is surround by all the temples containing the carved scripts.

Located at the foot of Mandalay Hill, it was built by King Mindon Min at the same time the nearby Mandalay Royal Palace was built.  The British army seized Mandalay in 1885 they vandalised the Kuthodaw complex, stole the gold, jewels and other gems from the hti (the top part of the spire) of the pagoda and removed the gold from the letters on the slabs. Restoration works were mostly funded by donations from Burmese people.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Each of these structures is home to one page of the script carved into the stone.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

One of the carved stone scripts.

I did really enjoy this Pagoda, it was great for taking photos of the perfectly aligned shrines and the marble books were lovely to explore. The view up to Mandalay Hill was nice and the sun was out briefly during our visit.

Mahamuni Pagoda

One of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Burma, home of the Mahamuni Buddha image, the most highly revered Buddha image in Myanmar. Mahamuni buddha image is enshrined in a small chamber topped with a seven tiered Pyatthat Burmese style roof.

things to do in Myanmar with kids

The grounds are smilier in many ways at all the different Pagodas.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Only males are allowed inside & the queue was long. This is how the buddha currently looks with the addition of all the gold leaf.

To pay respect to the Mahamuni Buddha image, male devotees apply gold leaf to the image. Mahamuni Buddha is covered with 15 centimeters of gold leaf, which has distorted the shape of the image even making it hard to recognise. Old photos of the image in the temple show the difference in the outline of the image between about a century ago and now. Caelan was keen to place gold leaf on the Buddha however this one wasn’t as easy to participate like the one at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

things to do in Myanmar with kids

Caelan enjoyed the museum on site that told the story of how the buddha came to Myanmar.

Various workshops

We also stopped at various workshops including a stonemason, gold leaf workshop and a marble carving workshop. We were able to walk around and watch the masters at work utilising tools and brute strength rather than machinery. While all the workshops are interesting, I can’t imagine such physical labour and often dusty conditions being great for longevity.  The attention to detail is definitely amazing though.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Gold leaf workshop.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Stone carving workshop.

U Bein Bridge for sunset

Last but definitely not least for day 1 was my request to visit U Bein Bridge for sunset. Believed to be the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in the world, U Bein Bridge spans the Taungthaman Lake. It stretches 1.2kms and was constructed in 1850. Traditionally used as an important passageway for the local people, it has also become a tourist attraction and therefore a significant source of income for souvenir sellers. There were a lot of young Burmese teens walking the bridge in groups and many tourists when we were there.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

U Bein Bridge sunset – teak bridge, if only there was less cloud.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

It was still pretty nice though!

We walked right across the bridge and found a good spot to watch the sunset. Our great spot turned out to be a families living area! Oops! They were really good about it though and let us stay there and enjoy the sunset. As the sun started to set we noticed a few more people join us in the same area, I was certain we had a pretty good spot. I wasn’t disappointed, the sunset was lovely but definitely not the best I’ve seen in photos but I was definitely happy with my results. We waited until the sun was just about gone then walked back across the bridge to our tour guide. The foot traffic on the bridge was still heavy and the area was very lively with tourists, markets stalls and food stalls.

Day 2 – Mingun Tour

The second day, we organised a tour guide through an Australian couple we met at the roof top bar of our hotel. Ko Htwe from Trip With Me was fabulous and we can’t recommend him more highly. Ko Htwe picked us up from the hotel at 12pm and we headed out to Mingun about a 40min drive from Mandalay. We stopped at Sagaing on the way to Mingun and Mandalay Hill on the return for sunset. Ko Htwe then dropped us at the bus station and we headed to Inle Lake that evening.

If you prefer to be more organised and book prior to departure, I highly recommend this Mingun and Sagaing Tour available for direct booking with Klook which offers a competitive price.

Sagaing – Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda

This wasn’t part of our original booking however Ko Htwe thought we should visit so we did. The drive up is quite windy but once at the top you’ll get a wonderful view across the Irrawaddy River over to Mandalay.  The pagoda is 240m up Sagaing Hill, it has a covered stairway where you can walk up and there are some great photo opportunities especially at Umin Thonze Pagoda and its curved row of buddha’s.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Love the curved look, inside were a number of buddha statues. Bonus having it all to ourselves.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Inside, the curve makes for a good photo.

On the way down Sagaing Hill, stop at the timber monastery, we stopped and had a look around and there were offerings for the spirits and a few monks were going up when we were leaving.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Lovely views from the top, take some water though!

Mya Then Tan Pagoda

This Pagoda was my main reason for wanting to visit Mingun.  We arrived on a beautiful, hot, sunny day and the sky was a bright blue. The white Pagoda against the blue sky looked absolutely spectacular. We were lucky to be there on a quiet day, there were very few people around and even fewer tourists.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Ahhhh just perfect!

We climbed to the top and took in the views. Ko Htwe bought his drone and we had some fun playing with it and with the kids posing on the Pagoda. We didn’t bring our drone as we were uncertain if we would get it through customs so were very happy be able to use our tour guides.

Things to do in Mandalay with kids

Love this photo, it was a really hot day and the kids were a bit exhausted.

Mingun Pahtodawgyi

Construction commenced in 1790 by King Bodawpaya, standing 50m high it is only one third of its intended height. An earthquake on 23 March 1839 caused huge cracks to appear on the face of the structure. A small shrine containing a buddha is still utilised today as a place of worship by the people of Mingun.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

This is only one third of its intended size!

Mingun Bell

King Bodawpaya had a gigantic bell cast to go with his huge stupa. The Mingun Bell, weighing at 90 tons, is today the second largest ringing bell in the world. The kids went underneath the bell and listened to the tone when rung from outside. We all had a go of ringing the bell.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

The Mingun Bell.

Mandalay Hill

Overlooking Mandalay at a height of 240m, the hill top Sutaungpyei Pagoda is a popular sunset viewing spot. Mandalay Hill is known for its abundance of pagodas and monasteries, and has been a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists for nearly two centuries. You can walk up 4 sets of stairs to the top or like us you can take the elevator and and be up there in 15 seconds.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

View from Mandalay Hill, you are able to walk up though these stupa, we chose to take the elevator.

things to do in Mandalay with kids

Looking back across Mandalay to the Ayerwaddy River.

Sutaungpyei Pagoda has 360 degree viewing platforms, the views across Mandalay are breathtaking and whether its going to be a great sunset or an average one, its definitely worth heading up just for the views across the city.

Visa requirements

You will need a visa to visit Myanmar if you are Australian. We applied for an e-visa and it was easy and straightforward. I get all my visa information from the Smarttraveller website and it directed me to the Embassy of Myanmar website located in the Canberra.

All other nationalities I suggest you go through the Myanmar Online Visa website and follow the bouncing ball and pay at the end.

The online e-visa process cost us AU$60 per person.

Best hotels in Mandalay

There are many hotels and guesthouses in Mandalay and options that are suitable for every budget. As I stated above I wasn’t a fan of our hotel so I won’t be recommending that.  The more expensive hotels are located around the Mandalay Palace in central Mandalay. Below I have listed the best hotels in Mandalay to suit each budget:

  • Budget – Smart Hotel – clean but small rooms, good value for money. Ask for a balcony upper room and you’ll have distant views of Mandalay Hill and Mandalay Palace.
  • Mid range – Kyi Tin Hotel – Burma colonial style balcony fronted bungalows on spacious land with manicured gardens. Traditional style furniture with black lacquered floors.
  • Luxury – Hilton Mandalay – top of the range and recently refurbished. This hotel is located directly across the road from the Mandalay Palace.

Where to eat in Mandalay

I tend to steer clear of street food when travelling with the kids and I’m happy to pay that bit extra to ensure no one gets sick. Especially when you are moving every couple of nights like we were on this trip. We were recommended restaurants by our tour guides and they turned our to be great recommendations.

  • Tom Yam Koong Restaurant – Thai cuisine and absolutely delicious, restaurant is clean and air conditioned. The food come out fast and hot and the kids loved it, meals were reasonably priced.
  • Mingalabar Restaurant – Burmese cuisine, the restaurant is a double storey complex and the food was quick and delivered hot. The restaurant was very busy with both local groups and tourists. Burmese food is a cross between Chinese and Indian and the meals were tasty and well priced.
things to do in Mandalay with kids

This is the outside of Tom Yam Koong Restaurant

things to do in Mandalay with kids

I always forget to take a photos before hand so we must have enjoyed Mingalabar as we polished it off well and truly.

Getting to and from Mandalay

  • Fly – flights are available to Mandalay International Airport from most airports across Myanmar and international flights from across Asia, you can book direct or with travel agents on arrival in each city. Flights are generally between US$50-$100 each way for local flights;
  • Bus – we travelled all around Myanmar by bus, day and overnight buses are available. There are various levels of comfort from local mini buses to VIP luxury buses.  You will be provided with a meal, blanket and pillow but be warned there are no toilets on board. You will need to wait until the bus stops which is does a few times each trip. The bus is very cost effective, we paid between US$7-$12 per person per trip;
  • Boat – travel between Mandalay and Bagan depending on water levels, it is however a very slow trip taking at the very least 10hours (bus between Mandalay and Bagan is 6 hours). I have been told if the water level is low the river bank is too high to see over which then makes it a very boring trip with nothing to look at. You can book your boat tickets here;
  • Train – the train to Mandalay takes about 15 hours Yangon, expect to pay AU$25 for a seat and AU$35 for a sleeper. There are mixed reviews online regarding the reliability quality of the service. It’s also a very bumpy ride as the tracks are not frequently maintained. Give it a go if you’re game though.

What to pack for Mandalay

When travelling in Myanmar always dress respectfully when planning to visit any temples. Shoulders should be covered as with your knees. I had a skirt that fell to just below my knees and that was fine at nearly all the temples we visited. I had one request I wear a longhi (wrap around skirt) which was provided for a small fee.

I also suggest you carry a shawl, I had a pashmina wrap with me at all times. I was requested to wear it once when I had a t-shirt with a cross over back on, it actually just slipped my mind when I put that particular top on but the shawl was just fine. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with kids, however our 13 yr old daughter was asked to wear a longhi over her shorts a couple of times.

Budget for visiting Mandalay

Like all South East Asian countries you can get away with spending as little as US$20 per day if you wanted to. However with us being a family of 5 and we were closer to US$80 per day, including accommodation, food and tours.  We could have done this a lot cheaper had we not eaten at the hotel, on a good note all hotels in Myanmar come with breakfast included. Overall Myanmar is a very budget friendly destination however I’m not the best person for making or sticking to budgets!

Mandalay with kids, my thoughts!

As stated above Mandalay with kids wasn’t my favourite place in Myanmar. Looking back now, we did actually see quite a lot when we were there. The city felt very industrial and it just didn’t have the character and charm that Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagan had. I think the fact that it rained a lot didn’t help all that much either.

I really enjoyed U Bein Bridge and Mingun but I could easily have spent an extra day or two in Bagan or Inle Lake and be just as happy. The underwhelming hotel choice didn’t help either. My advice would be to fly into Yangon, visit Bagan and Inle Lake then travel on to Mandalay for a night and fly out from there. I think I would have been much more content with that and it would have been less time in overnight buses.

The kids were very much over temples at this stage, I’m proud of them as they took it in their stride and ponied up and did it for us. I definitely recommend a visit to U Bein Bridge, it was worth it, just for that!

Safe travels,

Sal, Craig & Our3kids.

8 Comments on “Things to do in Mandalay with kids

  1. This looks like an amazing journey. I must admit that I can’t help but grumble a bit when I read: only males are allowed inside! It’s a culture thing, right? Great share!

    • Hi Inge,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes I have to agree, I might have done some eye rolling round about then! It is a cultural thing.

      Thanks
      Sally & Co.

  2. I absolutely loved visiting Mandalay, there are just so many things to do, for young and old. Amazing post, thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Odette,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I was definitely underwhelmed at Mandalay but looking back we really did cover some great great places and the highlight was definitely U Bein Bridge as I’m a sucker for sunsets.

      Thanks Sal & Co.

  3. What a thorough guide about Mandalay! Everything you need to know. I have to check info about visas for Americans. And that temple looks exquisite. All those pagodas and wonderful architecture.

    • Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for the comment, I believe the Myanmar Visa fee in the same us Australian and that’s $50USD for the e-visa which you apply for online. Hope you have a wonderful visit to the land of the friendliest people.

      Thanks
      Sal & Co.

  4. I decided to skip Mandalay when I visited Myanmar, due to time constraints, and it looks like this was probably the right decision for us. As you say, Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagan are pretty magical. I’ll definitely try to come back for another visit though, I think sunset at U Bein Bridge will be top of my list! I’d also love to float down the river on the boat from Mandalay to Bagan.

    • Hi Claire,

      Thanks for the comment, hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I had my time over again I would definitely change our route and fly in Yangon and out of Mandalay. We spent more time on overnight buses than we really needed to.

      Thanks
      Sal & Co.

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