Glimpses into What Once Was Myanmar

 

Exploring Past Kingdoms at the Mandalay Royal Palace and the Shwenandaw Monastery

 

Both the Mandalay Royal Palace and the Shwenandaw Monastery (which is also called the Golden Palace Monastery) offer visitors a sense of what Mandalay was like back before the British invasion, when the country was ruled by the monarchy.

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Visiting these sites is a way to relive those days and something that should be a part of any first-time tourists’ experience in Mandalay. A visit to these sites is sort of a melancholy experience as you are able to see the beauty and cultural significance that the monarchy once played in the rich history of Myanmar.

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Visiting the Mandalay Royal Palace

Surrounding the reconstructed palace is an army installation, which is off-limits to tourists. There are three gates, one in each of three surrounding walls. To reach the palace reconstruction, tourists have to enter the palace grounds using the East Gate only.

The Mandalay Royal Palace
The Entrance to the Great Audience Hall.

You might see people going in and out of the other gates, but tourists must use the East Gate and walk through the army base to reach the palace. It’s a fairly long walk, as you also have to cross the 64-meter wide moat surrounding the palace walls.

Things to See in the Palace

Once you’ve climbed the stairs leading to the palace’s Great Audience Hall, you’re greeted by statues of King Thibaw and Queen Suphalayat in the tall, graceful, pagoda-like structure of the Central Hall. The two larger halls flanking it together comprise the Great Audience Hall and were once used to accommodate the King’s audience. The small, but ornately carved bed that King Thibaw once slept in is also on display.

The Mandalay Royal Palace
Queen Suphayat and King Thibaw greet visitors.

The Hluttaw is the largest reconstructed building in the palace and served as the Supreme Court during the reigns of King Thibaw Min and King Mindon Min, the King whose rule preceded King Thibaw’s. This was the seat of power in Myanmar from the time of its construction in 1859, until the British invasion in 1885.

The Hluttaw used to house the Lion Throne Room, which served as the main throne room in the palace. A beautiful and meticulously detailed replica of the Lion Throne Room is on display.

Mandalay Royal Palace
The view from the top of the Watch Tower.

The Watch Tower is also a must-see for any tourist visiting the palace. The 24-meter high tower provides visitors with a panoramic view of the palace grounds and the surrounding city of Mandalay.

Visiting the Golden Palace Monastery

The Golden Palace Monastery is also called the Shwenandaw monastery and it is an absolutely worthwhile sight to put on your list of things to see in Mandalay. The Monastery is located on 62nd Street, just outside the Mandalay Royal Palace grounds and near Mandalay hill.

The Monastery is the only remaining original structure from the original Royal Palace in Amarapura and one of the few original structures in Mandalay to survive the bombings of World War II.

Shwenandaw Monastery
The Shwenandaw Monastery is entirely made of teak.

An Intricate Example of Traditional Burmese Architecture

The Monastery is a stunning example of traditional Burmese architecture. The structure is built entirely out of teak. It once was completely covered with gold-plating and glass mosaics. It’s still just as impressive today.

Shwenandaw Monastery
Intricate carving of Buddhist myths and legends cover the walls and ceilings.

The walls and ceilings, both inside and out, have been intricately carved into depictions of Buddhist myths and legends. The interior walls and ceilings contain some of the least damaged carvings, as they were protected from the sun, wind and rain that have taken a toll on the exterior of the structure over the centuries. Some of the exterior panels have been replaced because of the weather damage.

Shwenandaw Monastery
The center of the main room contains a Buddhist image.

The interior consists of a large main room. In the center of the room is an image of Buddha which sits on a raised pedestal. Only males are permitted to enter the main room and pray to the Buddha image.

The History of the Golden Palace Monastery

The Shwenandaw Monastery used to be located at the Royal Palace in Amarapura. It served as the residence of King Mindon Min after his son, King Thibaw Min ascended the throne.

Shwenandaw Monastery
The Monastery was relocated to its present site from the Royal Palace in Amarapura.

In 1878, after the death of his father, King Thibaw Min had the Monastery dismantled and moved to its present location. It took five years for craftsmen to painstakingly reconstruct the monastery.

Practicalities for Visiting Both Sites

Both sites accept the Archeological Zone Pass for the entrance fee. The Mandalay Royal Palace is open from 7:30 AM to 5 PM. The Shwenandaw Monastery is open from 8 AM until 8 PM.

The Mandalay Royal Palace
Tourists must buy an Archeological Zone pass which provides access to numerous sites around Mandalay.

Both sites should be visited in the morning hours to avoid the crowds and heat. Be sure to carry some water, wear light, comfortable clothes and shoes that are suitable for walking.

 
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