Midrange places dominate the Mandalay accommodation scene, although there are a few hostels and budget options, as well as some posh choices. Unless otherwise stated, rates include breakfast. Many hotels offer large discounts if you book direct on their own websites or through a third-party engine.
You can find many affordable hotels in a three-block area around the Central Railway Station. These are ordinary-looking streets where several cheaper hotels are licensed for foreigners. You might need to book ahead to get the hotel you want, especially November to January when prices can rise considerably.
There is also a growing range of high-rise midrange hotels between 79th Street and 84th Street that offer clean, comfortable, similar rooms aimed at travelling businesspeople and backpackers who don't feel like staring at cigarette burns on the walls.
There is no main restaurant area; many better choices require cycling down dark roads, such as 27th Street, south of the moat. But if you persist for a few minutes in any direction you're likely to find good street food. For inexpensive barbecue snacks and K800 draught beers, visit one of the countless beer stations. Many restaurants will close early if business is slow, or stay open later if they're busy.
Along with beer-station barbecues, the best-value dining is usually at street stalls, many of which plonk down their plastic stools for only a few hours a day. Certain corners or street sections have culinary specialties, but knowing which takes some insider info.
Try Mohinga (fish noodle soup) for your breakfast at the three-wheeled street-trolley stall at the corner of 32nd Street and 81st Street, from 6.30am to 9.30am. There is another fantastic mohinga station with similar hours just to the left as you pass the entrance gate to Mahamuni Paya. In the daytime, point-and-pick multicurries – several inexpensive family snack outlets are dotted along an unnamed lane between 74th and 75th Streets. Chinese food stalls are available during night-time only at the corner of 34th Street and 76th Street, with a night market (vegetables) stretching along 34th Street.
Drinking & Nightlife
The drinking scene in Mandalay is roughly divided into three camps: high-end bars for the city's young elites, loud, bare-bones beer stations serving cheap frosty brews for the working man (and it is mostly men), and drinks at more upscale Western-fusion-style restaurants.
Mandalay has no real nightclubs. You'll find a couple of fun amateur-hour-like karaoke shows at the beer garden. Foreigners are treated with bemused hospitality, although women may get heavy attention. Several more places, plus cafes and restaurants, form an alternative entertainment district that's strung out along Kandawgyi Pat Road, the causeway road across the northern side of Kandawgyi Lake.
A-nyeint is a form of vaudeville folk opera with dance, music, jokes and silly walks. Typically it is performed on temporary street stages during local community festivals (especially November and December).
Dance, Music & Puppet Shows
Evening shows, professionally performed, have helped rekindle interest in traditional dance and puppetry. The most authentic performances are set to a six-piece ‘orchestra’ led by a distinctively wailing hneh (an oboe-like instrument). The other musicians are percussionists notably playing gamelan-style arrangements on gongs and tuned circles of mini-drums known as hsaing-waing. You can see a selection of performances during dinner shows at several upmarket hotels.
Yoke thé, or Burmese marionette puppetry, has been a performing art since at least the late 18th century. The skill of yoke thé masters, and the beauty of their handcrafted puppets, is the stuff of folklore. Characters ranging from nagas to princes, and from ogres to magicians caper dance on a raised stage. The entire affair is buoyed by an energetic orchestra (hsaing-waing) that adds clashing cymbals, tinkly percussion, and plenty of good-natured back and forth banter with the puppet handlers. To enjoy a show try Mandalay Marionettes.
Several of Mandalay's top attractions are covered by a K10,000 Archaeological Zone ('combo') ticket valid for one week from first purchase. Currently the ticket is checked (and sold) at Mandalay Palace and Shwenandaw Kyaung. It is also sold in Inwa.
Festivals & Events
Traditional festivals, big and small, happen often, blocking streets or jazzing up pagoda precincts with all-night music and lively street stalls. Cycle around enough and you'll likely stumble into one.
Mandalay is a major arts-and-crafts centre. It's probably the best place in Myanmar for traditional puppets and hand-woven tapestries. Items may be deliberately scuffed or weathered to look older than they are. Handicraft places generally have to pay commissions to drivers or guides, so prices may prove better if you visit alone.
There are numerous silk workshops and handicraft emporia along the main Sagaing road in Amarapura. Good-value souvenirs can be found in the approach passages to Mahamuni Paya and from peddlers around Inwa. Mingun has numerous 'art' galleries, mostly inexpensive.
Mandalay in Detail : Orientation, Sleeping, Shopping, Entertainment & Nightlife
Mandalay is the economic centre of Upper Burma and considered the centre of Burmese culture. A continuing influx of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Yunnan, in the past twenty years, has reshaped the city's ethnic makeup and increased commerce with China. Despite Naypyidaw's recent rise, Mandalay remains Upper Burma's main commercial, educational and health center.
Orientation of Mandalay City
Central Mandalay city streets are laid out on a grid system. East–west streets are numbered from 1st to 49th, with 12th/26th the northern/southern edges of the fortress moat. North–south streets are numbered above 50th, starting from the main Pyin Oo Lwin road in the east but becoming slightly confused west of diagonal 86th, where some roads are more crooked and unnumbered.
A street address that reads 66th, 26/27, means a location on 66th Street between 26th and 27th Streets. Corner addresses are given in the form of 26th at 82nd. The ‘downtown’ area runs roughly from 21st Street to 35th Street, between 80th and 88th Streets. Across the railway tracks, 78th Street, 33/34, has the main new shopping malls, while 30th, 35th and 73rd Streets are all developing as busy commercial streets.