I love abandoned places. I especially love abandoned airports. So when I saw on the map that there’s one right in the city core of Mandalay, I knew I needed to visit Mandalay’s abandoned airport. It’s called Mandalay Chanmyathazi Airport (VBC), named after the township it’s located in.
Spotting it on the Map
When Googling “Mandalay Airport” there’s no mistake where you need to go to or will arrive at. Mandalay International Airport (MDL) is located a whopping 38 kilometers outside of the city. But passengers didn’t always need to travel that far to fly away from Mandalay.
When scrolling the city map on Open Street Maps, I encountered one of those quirky notes of someone who doesn’t know yet how to edit the map. It read “Old City Airport! No Flights!” mapped as a monument on what’s clearly a runway. Curious!
I went over to Google Maps at “Mandalay Chanmyathazi Airport” (မန္တလေး ချမ်းမြသာစည် လေဆိပ်) to read reviews of this place that must have some frustrated visitors and many one-star reviews. Besides many accidentally reviewing the abandoned airport as if it’s the functional airport – adding to the confusion of the algorithm – there are also many incredibly random pictures that have nothing to do with airports or airplanes. And then there’s the occasional troll review, of course. It’s a joy to look at.
And then I found one:
I am sorry this happened to this person. They probably missed their flight! It really doesn’t help that on face value this airport looks like it’s the real deal.
A Little Urban Exploring at Mandalay Abandoned Airport
After visiting the U-Bein bridge, we still had some energy left to visit another place. So we took a Grab all the way to the abandoned airport. We hadn’t read anything on the internet about other people visiting the abandoned airport. Therefore we didn’t know where the access roads would be. I placed a bet on the east side of the north-south oriented runway. We arranged a Grab to a mall named ‘Ocean’ that was nearby. We hid there until the rain stopped and then walked to the back of the mall where the airport began on my map app.
My map showed the fence around the airport, but it did not feature the moat that surrounds it. Fences around abandoned objects usually have plenty of gaps, but moats I can’t do. We walked southward next to the moat until one of Myanmar’s classic wooden car bridges connected the asphalted roads to the ‘backdoor’ of Chanmyathazi airport. There it was, locked away by a simple metal barrier and a rusty chain with a shiny padlock… Mandalay’s abandoned airport.
The gap between the barriers was wide enough to fit me through it without the need for climbing. There was an attempt. On the runway, there were some guys on a motorbike headed southward at great speeds. We waited for a little to see what would happen; this was literally Day 3 for us in Myanmar; we had no idea how much we could ‘push’ the rules and the authorities. Jonas was quite nervous about this and decided to not trespass the lock. I squeezed through to take a closer look at the building next to our entrance and the rest of the airport. That’s also when I figured that we’re on the wrong side of the airport to visit the abandoned terminal buildings.
I walk out a little onto the runway to see that someone used an empty hangar as a giant carport. In another car, there were some people practicing their driving skills. One boy on a bicycle had places to go. To the north was just a vast emptiness with the exception of a weather vane and some construction materials.
Even though I’m pretty sure it’s fine for us to walk here, Jonas doesn’t want to cross to the other side where the abandoned terminal buildings are at. That’s also understandable. I don’t stray too far and eventually return to observe the closest decaying structure. I can’t really tell what this building’s purpose was. The windows have metal flaps and one of them has been decorated with bullet holes. I open a flap to look inside and it’s just empty. The other side has an open door, so I begin walking there when some guy on a motorbike drives towards us from the other side of the airport.
Chickened, I squeeze back through the fence and we wait. As the guy comes closer, we can clearly see he’s just a random dude and not someone in a uniform. He shows up at the same time as a woman on a scooter who pulled up from our side of the airport. She has a key to the padlock and opens it up. The man goes through, then she goes through and locks it behind her. Huh.
None of the online sources about the airport say that Chanmyathazi airport is out of use, though one article mentions it’s abandoned in passing when it got used as a Buddhist event space. Technically there isn’t a whole lot wrong with the airport, but it hasn’t been any scheduled flights for civilians in many years. The relevant authorities haven’t yet given up on the airport, it appears. Perhaps in time, they’ll repurpose the massive 0.607 km² in the middle of Mandalay for something more useful, like housing. Perhaps that will come. For now, it’s a gash in the urban landscape.
How to Visit Mandalay’s Abandoned Airport?
First of all, make sure you have a Myanma SIM card. Click here to read about how to get a SIM card in Myanmar and which provider is the best for travelers. Book a Grab tuk-tuk to the Ocean Mall for the east side and then walk around the building to get to the backside. I can’t tell you where to enter from the west side. Alternatively, show a taxi driver this:
မန္တလေး ချမ်းမြသာစည် လေဆိပ်
Your driver will probably know where to go then. Use the map down below to find the right location of the gate to the airport or copy these coordinates into your phone map:
Though you need to be careful, you can probably hop the fence to visit the vast area of nothingness. Sometimes locals will use the space to shortcut. If anyone bothers you, tell them you need to be on the other side and took the short way. If words are difficult, just point across the tarmac and gesture that you’re tired of walking.
Here’s a map of all the locations mentioned in this article. It also helps to get an idea of the size of the airport in the middle of the city. If you visit and find out some new things, I’d love it if you could share your findings in the comments below!