Mandalay (မႏၱေလး) will never win any beauty contests. Myanmar's second city is a relatively new creation, founded at the foot of Mandalay Hill in 1857 by King Mindon as his royal capital. The hill, its slopes studded with pagodas, still looms over the city. But Mandalay was bombed flat in WWII and the palace disappeared, along with much else. The palace was rebuilt in the 1990s, and since then Mandalay has undergone a haphazard construction boom that was never about aesthetics. An ever-growing number of motorbikes and cars clog the roads, too, making for a sometimes smoggy city.
But if you can shut out all the honking, Mandalay has its own charm. There are splendid markets, many monasteries, Indian temples, mosques, gold workshops and a bustling, working riverside to explore, as well as a thriving teahouse culture that offers visitors the chance to mingle with the exceptionally friendly locals.