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royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

The last king of Burma

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

The Royal Palace, Mandalay

The year was 1885 and the last Burmese king was standing strong. The British forces were marching into Mandalay with very little opposition. Their plan to take over the country was succeeding – but capturing the Royal Palace in the centre of the city, was going to be an important symbolic victory.

As it turned out, overtaking the palace – and King Thibaw Min – was even easier than predicted. The British demanded unconditional surrender and that’s what they got. The king and queen were put on a bullock cart and taken down to the river to be sent into exile in India. The story goes that when the British soldiers pulled out their guns, the king dropped down to his knees and begged for his life to be spared. His queen, however, walked own defiantly towards the steamer on the mighty Irrawaddy.

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

After the British invasion, the palace was used by the colonialists as a base for troops in Mandalay and many of the royal treasures were looted and sent back to London (many are still on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum). But it would eventually fall out of British hands again.

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

Every global aggressor eventually must face a rising challenger. And so it was that during the Second World War, Japanese forces captured the Royal Palace in Mandalay and used it as a supply depot for their expansions in the region. In retaliation, the Allies bombed the compound and most of it was burnt to the ground.

Only one major wooden building survived – the Shwenandaw Monastery, which is built completely of teak and is decorated throughout with detailed and ornate carvings. The watch tower and royal mint were also undamaged. The rest of the Royal Palace has been rebuilt from scratch.

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

Visiting Mandalay’s Royal Palace

So, almost everything you walk through from the entrance hall all the way past the throne room and to the residences was constructed in the early 1990s. Although it is faithful to the original design and some traditional construction techniques were used, modern materials like concrete and corrugated iron were incorporated into the reconstructions.

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

It doesn’t take away from the experience, though, and the authorities have done a very good job at creating a sense of what the palace would once have been like. The modern construction materials aren’t obvious and you can easily believe you are in the original buildings. Just a shinier version of what they would have been like if nature had not been usurped by war.

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

It doesn’t take too long to walk through the palace but it can take a long time to get in to it. The palace grounds are massive and dominate the cityscape. They are a huge square of about two kilometres on each side, surrounded by a 64 metre-wide moat. Only one entrance can be used by tourists – the eastern – and it can take a long time to get to it if you happen to be on the other side (where most of the hotels are).

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

The reason for the inconvenience is because the actual restored palace takes up only a small space in the centre of the grounds. The rest of the area is used now as a military base and big signs (and guards) remind you that it’s a restricted zone. All you can do is walk down the pathway and straight into the palace area. No wandering!

royal palace, mandalay, myanmar, things to see in mandalay, visiting royal palace

At least it is back in the hands of the local people again, whatever the international view of the Myanmar military is. After the British control and then the Japanese it seems there is now plenty of protection for this important symbol of Mandalay and Myanmar. Nobody will march unopposed through these gates again.

Are you interested in finding out more about Myanmar? Then you can check out my free Myanmar Travel Guide!

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20 Comments
  • Jennifer | Feb 15, 2013 at 3:21 am

    The more I see of your time in Myanmar, the more I want to visit. This palace looks gorgeous!
    Jennifer recently posted..Dining Under the Sea at Anantara Kihavah Sea RestaurantMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 16, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      Although tourism is increasing, it’s still quite an undiscovered country. I’ve learnt a lot here that I never knew before… whereas other countries are great but quite predictable. I think that’s one of the best reasons to head to Myanmar sooner rather than later.

  • Bama | Feb 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    I’ve learned that Mandalay was the Burmese capital prior to its annexation by the British. But I’d never imagined the palace complex would look so regal and elegant! Your photos really make me think twice of skipping Mandalay on my next visit to Myanmar. Glad you shared them!
    Bama recently posted..Grand Palaces of the OttomansMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 21, 2013 at 1:43 am

      Mandalay is definitely worth going to. It hasn’t been my highlight, but there’s a lot to see and it’s such an important part of Myanmar.

  • thetravelfool | Feb 19, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Looks like a fabulous place, plus not too many tourists from what I hear.
    thetravelfool recently posted..Fried BallsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 21, 2013 at 1:53 am

      No, it was pretty quiet when I was there. Mandalay has probably been the busiest place but that was just because of the buses of package tour people coming through. If you don’t get there the same time as then, you’ll have the place almost to yourself.

  • Natasha von Geldern | Feb 19, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Love the look of that carved teak! Very interesting post, thanks :)

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 21, 2013 at 1:55 am

      I can only imagine what the whole place would have looked like if it had survived. The teak is so detailed and it just makes it jump out at you!

  • Fahmi | Feb 22, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Mandalay is one of my dream destination…. wha a beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing. Very inspiring & hardly can’t wait to go there :)
    Fahmi recently posted..Cerita Dari Selatan IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 23, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      There’s a kind of romanticism to the idea of Mandalay, isn’t there? The good news is that the sights live up to that idea. The bad news is that much of the ‘ordinary’ city is just dirty, busy and uninspiring.

  • Weekly EcoBurma Roundup #30 « Blog « EcoBurma – travel to Burma / Myanmar | Feb 28, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    [...] “The last king of Burma” [...]

  • Jason's Travels | Mar 19, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Wow. Gorgeous!

    • Michael Turtle | Mar 26, 2013 at 3:59 am

      Yeah, it’s quite a stunning palace. Thanks, Jason!

  • s.jagadeesan | Apr 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    still i am not visit in myanmar but when i see by this websit i love this palace and its tradional.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      I hope you get a chance to visit sometime. It’s a beautiful place and hasn’t lost its traditions at all.

  • PO Nguyen | Aug 19, 2013 at 4:47 am

    Do you know what is original metarial used to build the roof of Mandalay Palace? The roof of Shwenandaw also uses corrugated iron :(

    I find a picture taken Glass Palace on 1903 (see in field Website), before it was burnt to the ground by Allied bombing. It’s too difficult to know which metarial used build the roof, metal or teak wood?

  • Myanmartravel | Sep 11, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Your writing about Mandalay is very interesting. Thank you to promoting Myanmar !
    Myanmartravel recently posted..Myanmar ToursMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Sep 13, 2013 at 3:33 am

      Thank you. It is such a beautiful country, it is my pleasure to tell people more about it!

  • thang@noodlies | Jan 18, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Hey Michael,

    What a great post.. was just there a few weeks ago and your post brought back all the fond memories of Myanmar/Burma!

    Will be subscribing to your posts!

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