Mandalay has been described as underwhelming, charmless and disappointing. When you arrive, the only thing you ought to do is take your flight out of Myanmar or your bus down to Bagan.
Some people skip it altogether, instead flying back to Yangon to return home.
What low self esteem the much unloved Mandalay must have. And it shows. Like a One Direction song, Mandalay doesn’t know it’s beautiful. That’s what makes it beautiful.
I will start by saying I did nothing at all in Mandalay. I didn’t see the Royal Palace, I didn’t climb Mandalay Hill for the sunset, I didn’t even arrive on a boat along the Ayawaddy River. If there’s a Mandalay bucket list, my tally of “done things” would sit at zero.
What I did, however, was walk twenty one kilometres around the town. In doing that, Mandalay revealed her beauty and kindness.
I walked past the colourful Miami art deco buildings and the suffocating smells of burning tar as the roads were resurfaced. The pollution in Myanmar had by this point made me sick enough to be googling “are flu-like symptoms always malaria?” and I began looking at prices for the ubiquitous masks.
I walked into a shopping mall which sold almost nothing, then back northwards to take streetside coffee and cigarettes.
Like most South East Asian cities, there’s a big outdoor exercise scene, and if you have a few calories going spare, the outdoor gyms dotted around the palace moat are the place to burn them. You may even make a friend!
In fact strolling around the perimeter of the royal palace moat offers a lot of opportunity to meet new people and watch Mandalay life go by.
You may indeed make many friends!
You can meet kind monks up by Mandalay hill. If you’re cynical about helpful people who later ask for money, fear not. They’re genuinely just friendly.
And then when the sun starts to set, marvel in just how charmless this city is.
As it gets dark you can head East of the train station, where the street stalls fill the streets around the mosques and you can find great halal Burmese and Indian food for extremely cheap prices.
If your feet are tired, head to bed and think about how much Mandalay lacks appeal – in your hotel with fantastic service and an electronic Do Not Disturb sign.
Yeah. Why go to Mandalay?