As well as being Myanmar’s last royal capital, Mandalay is the biggest commercial and cultural centre in upper Myanmar. It also a city of temples and has some of the biggest monasteries in Myanmar.
The formal royal palace and its impressive moat are near the foot of Mandalay Hill, a famous attraction in its own right offering scenic views of the city and the Ayeyarwady River.
Myanmar is an important centre for handicrafts production, known especially for its wood carvings, marble sculptures, embroidered tapestries, gold-leaf factories and cheroot rolling businesses.
Within easy travelling distance from Mandalay are the former colonial hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin (known to the British as Maymyo) and the ancient royal capitals of Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing.
About 20 kilometres southwest of Mandalay on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwady River, Sagaing is an important religious and monastic centre, with many Buddhist monasteries.
Sagaing was the capital of the Sagaing Kingdom (1315–1364) after the fall of Bagan and briefly became the royal capital again between 1760 and 1764.
Amarapura, the City of Immortality, was the capital of Myanmar for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries before finally being supplanted by Mandalay in 1857.
It is a popular tourist day-trip destination from Mandalay, which is only 11 kilometres to the north. Attractions at Amarapura include the 150-year-old Mahagandayon Monastery, a famous Buddhist learning centre which is home to about 1,000 monks and the famous 1,200-metre-long U Bein bridge, which was built more than 150 years ago and is the longest teak bridge in the world.
Amarapura is also known for its traditional silk and cotton weaving and its bronze casting.
Ava, on a small island between the Ayeyarwady and Myittha rivers, was founded as a capital by King Thado Minbya in 1364 CE. It was damaged by a powerful earthquake in 1838, but the ruins of the palace and its massive fort walls and moat can still be seen.
Attractions at Ava include the 27-metre-high Nanmyin Watch Tower, known as the leaning tower of Myanmar; the Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery, a brick-and-stucco monastery built by the Chief Queen of King Bagyidaw in 1818; and the Bagayar Monastery, famous for its ornate woodcarvings and teak pillars.
About 11 kilometres upstream from Mandalay on the western bank of the Ayeyarwady River, Mingun is famous for the massive 50-metre-high bulk of the uncompleted Pahtodawgyi Pagoda; and the world’s biggest ringing bell, the 90-ton Mingun Bell, cast in 1170 by King Bodawpaya.
Pyin Oo Lwin is a scenic hill station dating to the early 20th century when it was established during the British colonial period. About 69 kilometres east of Mandalay and at an elevation of 1,050 metres in the central Shan hills, its main street is also part of the famous Burma Road, an important route which leading north to the trading town of Lashio on the border with China.
A pleasant way to enjoy the sights of the town is a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. A feature of Pyin Oo Lwin is its variety of architectural styles and features, including iron grillwork, balconies, chimneys and attractive decorations carved from wood.
Close to Pyin Oo Lwin are several natural attractions, including waterfalls and caves. They include the Daw Taw Gyaint waterfall and the B.E. waterfall (Pwe Kauk), the Peik Chin Myaing cave, which houses many Buddha images and the attractive grounds of the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens. The hills around Pyin Oo Lwin have orange orchards and coffee plantations, some of which are open to tourists.
Monywa is on the Chindwin River, 140 kilometres northwest of Mandalay.
The main tourist attraction in Monywa is the Mohnyin Thambuddhei temple which dates to 1303 and has a huge stupa resembling Borobudur in Indonesia. Another attraction is the Phowintaung cave complex across the Chindwin River about 25 kilometres west of Monywa.