Kuthodaw Pagoda, Mandalay © Paul Arps
Mandalay is Myanmar's second-largest city and the former royal capital of the Burmese kingdom. A good place to start a visit is to hike up the 780-foot (240m) stairwell to the top of Mandalay Hill, a holy site with an ornately decorated temple with a Buddha statue overlooking the former capital city and far-reaching flatlands. Dominating the city's centre are the 150-year-old palace grounds of King Mindon and King Thibaw, with an adjacent temple and surrounding moat. For local travellers the Mahamuni Buddha is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in Myanmar.
Aside from sightseeing, shopping is Mandalay's major pastime. A jewel market, where visitors can watch craftsmen shape gems, is worth a visit. Crafts such as monk's umbrellas, gold leaf, ornate furniture, and lacquer-ware are made and sold within the city. Motorbike taxis are available, as are trishaws, which are traditionally used in rural Myanmar.