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 nation’s court only until 1885 when the colonizing British exiled the last royal ruler of Myanmar, King Thibaw, to India. Mandalay remains the center of Myanmar culture and traditional arts and crafts. 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. Just near the foot of the hill Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image – commissioned from a single block of marble mined nearby in the 19th century. A more revered pagoda – 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. 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 center of Myanmar’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.