Yangon or Mandalay – which one to choose

Yangon or Mandalay? That’s not an easy question to answer. The good news is that I’m here to help you take the best decision! I’ve been to both cities during my one month backpacking trip to Myanmar and I loved them.

Yangon Circular Train - Yangon or Mandalay

Children playing in Yangon

Although they are both beautiful cities with a rich culture and history, they are quite different in terms of what they have to offer. This is why I’m going to contrast and compare Yangon and Mandalay based on the following criteria: transport, prices, tourist attractions, accommodation and general feel.

No matter which one you’ll end up choosing, both cities are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Myanmar along with other places such as Bagan, Inle Lake or Hpa An.

For my full Mandalay guide, click here.

For my full Yangon guide, click here

Let’s start!

1. Transport

Both Mandalay and Yangon are easy to reach by airplane. The cheapest way to get to Mandalay or Yangon is from Thailand but you can also find flights from Malaysia, Singapore or China. To check out flights availability, click here.

Both cities have excellent connections with other tourist attractions around Myanmar such as Bagan or Inle Lake. However, if you only have a few days to spend in Myanmar, I would recommend choosing Mandalay. Bagan and Inle Lake are much closer to Mandalay than Yangon.

Yangon city traffic - Yangon vs Mandalay

Traffic in Yangon

To get around Yangon and Mandalay, you can use the Grab App. Grab is the Asian version of Uber and works exactly the same. It’s easy to use, convenient and affordable.

In general, transport in Myanmar is very affordable and comfortable, especially if you choose to travel by bus. There are bus companies operating between all the major tourist attractions in the country.

2. Prices

The prices are the same around the country. If you are on a budget, you can definitely travel for as little as $25 per person per day. However, if you feel like splurging, you can find luxury hotels and top restaurants in both Yangon and Mandalay.

I’ll share with you some of the costs in Myanmar to give you an idea about prices around the country (for accommodation prices check the “Accommodation” section below):

  • Bus: $10 for an 8-hour journey
  • 1 meal: $2
  • 1 day tour (for 2 people): $12 (Inle Lake), $20 (Hpa An)
  • Shwedagon Pagoda entrance fee: $8
  • Other temples entrance fee: $1
  • Bagan entrance fee (for 3 days): $15
  • Inle Lake entrance fee (for 3 days): $8

You can check my Myanmar backpacking guide here.

3. Tourist attractions

When it comes to comparing Yangon vs Mandalay, the real differences are regarding the tourist attractions they have to offer. I will share with you each city’s top attractions.

Yangon

This colonial city, the former capital of Myanmar, is full of administrative buildings left in decay. Walking through the narrow streets is a journey itself as you will pass by tall, crowded apartment buildings. On the streets you’ll find local merchants, street food and tea. You have to try the Burmese tea!

Girl at Shwedagon Pagoda

Swedagon Pagoda, Yangon

I wouldn’t say that Yangon is beautiful but it’s definitely fascinating. Here you’ll find some of the most important tourist attractions in Myanmar. Below are just a few of them:

  • Shwedagon Pagoda – this 99 meter-tall, gold plated stupa is the main Buddhist temple in Myanmar. The pagoda is decorated with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies and right on top of it there is a 76 karat (15 grams) diamond. Quite impressive, right?
  • Yangon Circular Train –  embark on a 3 and a half hour journey around Yangon. Ride the Yangon circular train together with the locals and make your way through small villages, local markets and local neighborhoods.
  • Sule Pagoda – this beautiful pagoda is a must see when in Yangon. Take a walk inside and admire its beauty.
  • Bogyoke Aung San Market – you can’t leave Yangon without visiting a local market. Visiting Bogyoke Aung San Market is a great opportunity to shop for souvenirs and discover Myanmar’s crafts.

Mandalay

Mandalay is a little bit more laid back than Yangon. The vegetation is denser, the traffic is better and there are tons of places to explore. If you are looking for a more relaxed city, you should definitely choose Mandalay.

Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun, Mandalay

Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun, Mandalay

Below are the most important tourist attractions in Mandalay:

  • U Bein Bridge – considered to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world, U Bein Bridge is one of the hot spots in Mandalay. People flock here to watch the sunset and the bridge’s reflection in the lake. It’s beautiful indeed!
  • Hsinbyume Pagoda – take a half day trip to Mingun and visit this incredible white, round-shaped pagoda. It’s one of the most beautiful in the country!
  • Mandalay Hill – offering one of the best views in the city, the Mandalay Hill is definitely worth visiting.
  • Kuthodaw Pagoda – holding the record for the “world’s biggest book”, Kuthodaw Pagoda is home to 730 tablets inscribed on both sides with Buddhist teachings.

When it comes to tourist attractions, both cities have a lot to offer.

If your focus is on visiting temples, you should definitely visit Mandalay. However, if you are looking for other activities and attractions such as local markets, cultural experiences then you should visit Yangon.

4. Accommodation

You can find excellent accommodation in both cities. However, when it comes to luxury hotels Yangon is definitely the winner. With many options to choose from, the former capital city of Myanmar is definitely the perfect choice for those who are searching for luxury at an affordable price.

Pan Pacific Yangon Hotel

I’ll list below the best accommodation available in each city:

Yangon

  • Low BudgetBackpacker Hostel –  excellent location, clean, good breakfast included
  • Mid Budget Hotel G Yangon – modern, excellent location, spacious room, beautiful decor
  • LuxuryPan Pacific Yangon – beautiful infinity pool, excellent views, excellent location, friendly staff

Mandalay

  • Low BudgetHotel Aurora – clean and comfortable rooms, good location, good breakfast
  • Mid Budget  Royal Naung Yoe Hotel – central location, friendly staff, clean rooms
  • LuxuryNwe Waddy Hotel – beautiful pool, good location, spacious rooms

5. General feel

Yangon is a developing city, with both decaying, colonial buildings and luxury stores. As you will enter Yangon, you feel the hustle and bustle all around you. The tall apartment buildings with little space between them will make you feel like walking inside a concrete jungle.

Mandalay feels more like a small village. There are only a few tall buildings in the city and there are many parks and trees. The city is more laid back and exploring it can be relaxing.

6. Conclusion

If you want my opinion I’ll tell you that I liked Yangon more but this doesn’t mean that you should pick the same city. It really depends on what you’re interested in. Choosing between Yangon and Mandalay is not easy but I’ll sum the things up for you:

For temples and proximity to Bagan and Inle Lake, choose Mandalay.

For a bustling city, with countless markets, beautiful colonial architecture and a few temples, choose Yangon.

So which one do you choose? Mandalay or Yangon?

May the travel bug bite you!

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4 Comments

  1. Dray
    April 3, 2019 / 5:08 am

    Could i share on my facebook page?

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      April 18, 2019 / 9:22 am

      Sure! Feel free to share this article!

  2. Bob Kopki
    May 1, 2019 / 2:05 pm

    I am planning to spend 2 weeks in Burma next Winter.
    about 30% Yangon/30% Mandalay & 40% Bagan.

    My wife will be traveling with me. She has a bad back & would do
    best if we can get a comfortable vehicle in the above 3 places.
    Recommendations?

    I am an Asian Art Collector and am looking to buy a standing wooden Buddha
    statue about 4 ft tall. Can you suggest good places to shop for this?

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      May 6, 2019 / 8:10 am

      I totally recommend the buses in Myanmar! They are way more comfortable than in Europe. Plenty of leg room, comfortable chairs and blankets are provided. Unfortunately, I don’t have any recommendations about the Buddha statue.

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