Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city on the left bank of the Ayeyarwady River, was founded in the 1850s by King Mindon of the Konbaung Dynasty, whose palace complex at the foot of Mandalay Hill was the most resplendent in Asia before it was destroyed by Allied bombs in World War II. Only a few fragments of the original royal enclave still stand, but enough vestiges of Konbaung glory survive to make a stopover here obligatory, while the region around the city holds spectacular remnants of older Burmese capitals dating back 700 years or more.
After marvelling at the carved teak and richly gilded surfaces of the Shwenandaw Kyaung (the only surviving building of King Mindon’s original palace), climb the covered walkways winding up nearby Mandalay Hill for a matchless view of the city and its mountainous hinterland – a vista at its most ethereal around sunset time. Early the following morning, get up at dawn to watch Buddhist monks filing through the streets in long lines to beg for alms, and afterwards mingle with the colourfully dressed worshippers at the Mahamuni Temple, home to Myanmar’s most revered Buddha.
The covered bazaars leading to the shrine are a storehouse of traditional religious art and crafts, many of them made in the busy workshops lining the streets outside, where large marble and brass Buddhas are still carved and polished by hand. In the evening, sample Mandalay’s easy-going nightlife with a visit to a Chinese-style beer station, followed by a performance of Classical Burmese music, dance or puppetry at one of several theatres in the city dedicated to traditional performing arts.