Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, is located 668 km north of Yangon. Established as the royal capital 1857 by King Mindon it remained the site of the nationâ€™s court only until 1885 when the colonizing British exiled the last royal ruler of Myanmar, King Thibaw, to India. Now a city of some 600,000 people, Mandalay remains the center of Myanmar culture and traditional arts and crafts. Here, Theravada Buddhism shines brightest, with the approximately &&& monks dwelling here, studying Buddhist scriptures, hosting meditation centers and teaching international visitors. Numerous revered pagodas and significant monasteries are found in the city which is also an important trade center, easily accessible by rail, road, river and air. Goods from China, Shan, Chin and Kachin states converge at the central Zeygo market. Overlooking the city is the famous Mandalay Hill, a climb of 236 meters, but unless you wish to perform a pilgrimage on foot, which many do by climbing more than 700 steps, you can reach the top and enjoy the spectacular view in air conditioned comfort. You will see the distant dark hills of Shan State, the countless islands of the wide Ayyarwaddyriver, the site of the Royal Palace, moat and wall, as well as the layout of the city itself. Just near the foot of the hill Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image â€“ commissioned from a single block of marble mined nearby in the 19th century , this huge image required thousands of strong men and 13 days to transport it from the river to its present site. A more revered pagoda is found closer to the airport in the southern part of the city â€“ the Mahamuni Pagoda which houses a tall Buddha image encrusted with a two inch thick layer of gold. A visit to the Royal Palace will convey a strong sense of the lifestyle of the last kings of Myanmar. Unfortunately the original palace was destroyed by bombing in World War II and the current life size complex of highly decorated buildings is a replica. The entire old city was contained within the thick walls and moat that surround the palace site. It is still possible to locate the burial site of King Mindon. Monasteries are the lifeblood of the city and three at least are worth a visit. Golden Palace Monastery, Atumashi Monastery and Shwenandaw Monastery. Mandalay is the centre of Myanmarâ€™s traditional arts of teak carving, intricate brass ornamentation, the making of gold leaf, marble sculpting, silk production and luxurious fabric weaving, as well as silver smiting, puppet making and tapestry. Its many artisan workshops are a fascinating attraction. Be prepared to fall in love with exquisite and unique artifacts. Two nights in Mandalay will allow time to enjoy the all major sights. Cruises from Mandalay to Bagan on the Ayeyarwaddy River offer a leisurely but engaging journey through picturesque scenery, past water villages and the sight of many golden stupas glinting in the sun on the nearby hills. WHERE TO GOâ€”SIGHTSEEING IN MANDALAY & ITS ENVIRONS Mandalay Hill Mandalay Hill, 230 meters in elevation, gives a magnificent view of the city and surrounding countryside. The legend has it that the Buddha, on his visit, had made a prophecy that a great city would be founded at the foot of this hill. Mandalay Palace The whole palace complex was destroyed by fire during the War. The palace walls, the four gates and the moat still stand today as evidence of the majestic Palace City. A number of palace buildings have been reconstructed within the premises. Shwenandaw Monastery This beautifully built monastery was originally inside the palace compound. King Thibaw had it moved to its present site east of the palace in 1879 after his fatherâ€™s death.