Mandalay  is the second largest city (after Yangon), and a former capital of Myanmar. The city is the economic and religious hub of upper Myanmar. The city is centred around the Royal Palace, and has wide lanes filled with bicycles and motorcycles. Mandalay is known for its millionaires, its monks (half of the country's monks reside in Mandalay and surrounding areas), and its cultural diversity.
Mandalay, the very name evokes the splendors of the Burma of old! But, most people will be surprised to learn that Mandalay is not an old city, not even a medieval one, but rather a new city that was created by King Mingdon Min of Burma in 1857 as the new capital of the kingdom of Ava. Only two Burmese kings ruled from there, King Mingdon and King Thibaw, before the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885. History records it as a city of splendor between 1858 and 1885 but most of the magnificence is gone, destroyed by the fire that consumes wooden structures, by the cavalier attitudes of its colonial rulers, and by intensive bombing by the allies during the reconquest of Burma in the Second World War. The city, neatly planned with its lettered roads and numbered streets, is a British creation. The once magnificent Royal Palace and the great Atumashi (incomparable) pagoda, King Mingdon Min's finest creations, are modern reconstructions supervised by the ruling Military junta with the help of forced labor. Today, Mandalay lies at the end of the Lashio Road and it is, by Burmese standards, relatively prosperous as a centre for trade with China and as a center for the growing trade with India. Despite the capital having been shifted to Naypyidaw, Mandalay remains by far the main commerical centre of Upper Myanmar.
Mandalay is ethnically diverse, with the Bamar (Burmans) forming a slight majority. In recent years, there has been a major influx of Chinese from Mainland China, and the Chinese (both recent migrants and colonial-era immigrants) form 30 to 40% of the population. Their influence is seen in the China-style glass buildings throughout the city, while the Yunnan dialect of Mandarin is often spoken among the ethnic Chinese community. Other prevalent ethnic groups include the Shan, who are ethnically and linguistically related to the Thais and Laotians, and the Karen (Kayin). There is a sizable ethnic Indian population, including Nepalis and Sikhs.
Mandalay has a semi-tropical climate. Winter (which is dry and cold) lasts from November to February, and summer lasts from March to May. Because Mandalay is in the central dry zone, it receives far less rain than the more tropical south.
Mandalay International Airport, a gleaming modern facility, serves the area with flights to most places in Myanmar and some international flights. Air Mandalay used to provide a service, twice a week, flying from Chiang Mai, Thailand, however, it was suspended in 2008 and, whilst rumours persist, the service has not yet restarted. There are also 3 flights weekly to and from Kunming on MU2029 for about RMB2000 one way. The airport is far from the city, 45km on a modern highway (with a few hiccups). Expect to pay US$8 to central Mandalay, US$6 from central Mandalay, and US$30 to/from Pyin U Lwin.
From Yangon There are several trains daily from Yangon. While the tracks are old and, in some cases, the carriages may be old, the fifteen hour journey is quite pleasant. Note that in Fall of 2006 all trains were rescheduled to travel during the day (so that trains do not cross Pyinmana in the dark) but at least one train (the privately managed Dagon Mann Express) now runs overnight. Fares range from about US$15 (ordinary class/hard seat) to US$50 (Air Conditioned Sleeper on the Dagon Mann Express).
From Lashio, Hsipaw, and Pwin U Lwin There are two trains daily from Pyin U Lwin (US$4/$2) and one from Lashio via Hsipaw and Pwin U Lwin (US$9/3 from Hsipaw). These trains are slow, crowded, but fascinating. The Pyin U Lwin - Hsipaw section includes the famous Gokteik Viaduct, a feat of Raj ingenuity (and American construction!).
From Myitkyina This twenty-four hour journey is on old rolling stock and even older tracks so expect it to be bumpy!
From Yangon There is a night bus with air-con (there are 4 options, 5PM, 6PM, 7PM, and 9PM departure, 10400k, 12-15 hours) running into Mandalay. Almost certainly the cheapest option for getting between the two main cities in Myanmar.
From Inle Lake, Kalaw or Mid-Eastern Towns There are buses available along this route, either a day minibus (5AM departure, 9000k, 9 hours) or a night bus with air-con (6PM departure). The minibus in the day takes a slightly shorter route than the larger (and some say more comfortable) full-sized night bus. Expect windy and bumpy roads, stops for picking up and putting down passengers, and, if you are lucky, a search of the bus by un-uniformed and just-bribed police officers.
From the Highway Bus Station you can either take a taxi or pick-up into town. Taxis are overly expensive (quoting prices as high as 2000k per person or 6000k for the car), and often bargain in a mob fashion (except they all offer the same price and try and gang-up on you). A far cheaper option is to simply walk out of the bus station yards to the West, and find one of the pick-ups which just ran a load of people to the station from town (500k per person) - they are normally more than happy to help and there is no commission issues to worry about.
Taxis are relatively inexpensive and are excellent for travelling around Mandalay, though they do not have Aircon.
Many sights are centered around Mandalay Hill, which makes foot-walking feasible in that area.
The best and cheapest way to see the city is by bicycle, as traffic isn't as heavy as in other Asian cities.
Renting a motorcycle can be a very dangerous exercise since the driving can be very hectic in Mandalay. Some hotels on 25th street(near zeycho) and an American expat in downtown are renting motorbikes that can be delivered to your hotel (09-2014265)
Trishaws(cycle rickshaws)are a convenient way of getting around in Mandalay, and if you find a driver who speaks good English you can have a tour guide and transport together for a reasonable price with a little bargaining. They only hold one or two(back to back) people though.
'Mahamuni Paya' Visit at around 4.30-5.00a.m for the amazing ceremony of washing the buddha's face, which occurs every day and is attended by hundreds of people.
Mandalay, both due to its history as a former capital of Myanmar, and its position as a major trading centre between Myanmar and it's neighbours in China, India and Bangladesh has a notable array of specialties both from various regions within Myanmar as well as from other countries. Cuisine from the Shan State (usually including fermented pastes, vegetables, and meats) is popular in Mandalay which has a notable Shan minority. Muslim Chinese noodles, pronounced pan-THEI-kao-sweh (flat thin noodles mixed with an array of spices, chili, and chicken), are also famous in Mandalay and the surrounding hills. Regardless of where you eat, try and leave space for Htou moun(to-moh), a traditional Burmese dessert sold only in Mandalay. Beware, it contains a lot of oil and is extremely sweet.
Mandalay has several tourist-friendly accommodations. Many hotels face the Royal Palace.
Most budget guesthouses are located around 25th Street, between 81st and 84th Streets. There are many more than those listed here, so if you find somewhere nice (or nasty), share it here.
Mandalay is a haven for drug kingpins and is a main trading centre of illicit drugs. In 2005, an explosion occurred at Zegyo Market. That being said, Mandalay is generally a very safe city.