The cultural heartbeat of Myanmar runs through Mandalay, the last royal capital of ancient Burmese kings. As Myanmar’s second-largest city, Mandalay boasts some of the country’s most storied landmarks, including Mandalay Hill and the Mahamuni Pagoda, believed to be one of three likenesses of the Buddha made during his lifetime. It’s also a vital hub for commerce and agriculture, creating a fascinating mix of cultures from around the region.

What to do there? Take a boat ride underneath the iconic Amarupura Bridge, or walk the palace grounds of Burma’s last king. The surrounding countryside is also worth exploring: Some of the country’s best waterfalls are just an hour’s drive by motorbike outside the city. Myanmar’s top dance academy and comedy groups are based in Mandalay as well, and river tours to old British colonial outposts can be booked through tour companies.
Mandalay also serves as a useful base for trips into upper Myanmar and throughout the dry zone. Bagan, Inle Lake, Nay Pyi Taw and Sagaing are all reachable within a few hours’ drive.