The Mandalay region is the major population centre of upper Burma and the cradle of Burmese arts, culture and civilisation. Whereas Yangon is a diverse microcosm of the nation, Mandalay – for all its traffic and construction – remains an urban expression of Burmese ethnic identity. The city's local dance shows, puppetry and craft shops are only the beginning of its considerable cultural capital, and numerous historical and religious sites are just nearby. Places such as Inwa and Sagaing offer a green, rural escape from urban congestion, plus access to some of the nation's most evocative religious sites and archaeological ruins.
And one of the world’s biggest bells, its longest teak footbridge and an enormous, failed monument to royal hubris are just around the corner. Throw in Upper Burmese cuisine, friendly locals and sunsets over the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, and you have a region worthy of careful exploration.