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Mandalay

“For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple-bells they say: Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay.” The Road to Mandalay, Rudyard Kipling.

From Kipling’s poem, the very name ‘Mandalay’ conjures up alluring ideas of a serene and peaceful place, being timeless and quintessentially Asian. It colourfully illustrates the nostalgia of Asia’s exoticism, and evokes images of a Burma (Myanmar) from years gone by. But the 21st century Mandalay offers a very different picture. As the economic centre of Upper Burma, it is a rapidly growing, slightly scruffy city, with wide avenues, concrete buildings, traffic and a fast-paced way of life; modern Mandalay represents 'new Burma' along the lines of a modern Chinese city. Fortunately, there are more than enough attractions in and around this former royal capital to make a visit well worthwhile.

The city was founded in 1857 and built along the banks of the Irrawaddy River at the foot of Mandalay Hill. King Mindon founded the city as the last royal capital of the Burmese Kingdom, moving it from nearby Amarapura, and constructing the new capital and the staggering Mandalay Palace. The Palace is the last royal palace of the last Burmese monarchy. The most striking characteristic of King Mindon’s project, is the sheer vastness of Mandalay Palace and its grounds; a sight of pure ambition and power. This symmetrical four-sided walled citadel is surrounded by a moat and certainly looks impressive from the outside. Unfortunately, along with much of Mandalay, it was heavily bombed during World War II. Today it is home to a huge army camp and a reconstruction of the original Palace which gives and interesting insight into how it used to be. In contrast to the ‘shiny’ new reconstruction of the Palace, Shwenandaw Kyaung is the perfectly preserved monastery, which was built as the royal apartment in which King Mindon died. The structure has now been converted into a monastery and is made entirely out of teak, it is adorned with beautifully intricate carvings.

The former capital, Amarapura is located just outside the city centre and is home to the unique U Bein Bridge. The structure is over one kilometre long and made entirely from teak, it is said that it is the longest of its type in the world. The draw is not simply its beauty, but it remains an integral part of the local community, with hundreds of locals, from saffron-robed monks walking their bicycles home to fishermen going about their daily duties. The best time to visit is at sunset for some unbeatable photo opportunities. From Mandalay, one can also do a day trip to the ancient city of Inwa and Mingun, a small town on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. 

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I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.
Bill Bryson

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