Mandalay is described as a fairly grubby, dusty working town that a lot of people feel indifferent about. These were some of the reasons that we liked it so much. It definitely felt ‘real’, nothing has been made especially easy for visitors; roads rarely have pavements and the things that might be interesting to visit in the city are far apart. People are going about their business in the bustling busyness of it all and don’t particularly bend to tourism. This is always something that we really like, as we always feel it gives us a chance to see how countries and people function together, rather than a manufactured tourist version.
It helped that we were both starting to feel better, Soph ate a full meal for the first time since the flight (although we were definitely still wary about what we were eating) and we both got some decent sleep. Also, The Glass Palace novel, one of the best books we’ve read this year, starts in Mandalay (at the Grand Palace), when it was the home of the last king of Burma, King Thebaw, before he was exiled to India by the British. So we felt pretty excited to be able to visit and visualise this setting.
A lot of people actually don’t go to the palace when they visit Mandalay, because it requires a $10 Mandalay Zone ticket. Pretty steep, but then most tickets in Myanmar are not cheap. Anyway, this ticket also allowed access to some of the surrounding ancient cities that we wanted to go to. Multiple venue tickets are also common in Myanmar.
I think that if you hadn’t read this book, or have some other significant interest in Burmese monarchy it would perhaps be a bit of a disappointment. It’s a huge site, with impressive imposing walls and a moat surrounding it. Inside there is a big military presence and tourists must stick to the allocated areas. The palace buildings are replicas, because the original was wood and hasn’t survived, but they’ve been done pretty well and give a sense of what it must have been like to visit this revered place in its heyday. They have a statue of King Thibaw and his wife Queen Supayat, which basically summed up how they were portrayed in the book.
Then there was a whole room of genuine paraphernalia from the palace, including King Thibaw’s glass bed, one of the reasons for the palace’s nickname.