I can't decide if it's this way because it's been occupied by both the British and the Japanese-- like perhaps it has a grid design because it survived some awful bombings (which is why the grand palace is nothing to look at now since the Allies razed it since it was a Japanese stronghold during WWII).
So how much time do you need here?
That totally depends on if you 1) find a good guide/english-speaking taxi driver, 2) What you're interested in, and 3) where you're located.
This city is expensive in terms of acommodation and transport. Hotels will pretty much only direct you to car taxis (not metered, and expensive in comparison to Vietnam-- 5000 kyat for 1-way trip of like 15 blocks). If your hotel has bikes, that's probably a better way to get around since the city is pretty flat and there are at least some traffic lights. Traffic overall was much better than Yangon (at least it flowed in rush hour).
Also, low season + random cyclone that we happened to get stuck in = not fun. Mandalay has 1 of 2 modes (confirmed this with a local): Dry and dusty, or wet and muddy. (I'm sure that's true for Bagan as well.) Some tour companies won't be able to run their usual tours when it pours. Initially had planned to go on the cycling tour of the old capitals surrounding Mandalay but it was too wet to do so! (Our guide who ran the foodie tour we had to take instead told us that the paths had a lot of mud and if you rode on the trails they typically took, you'd be up to your hips in water.)
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Must Sees in Mandalay:
Marble Carving Street
So... Diamond Plaza might be "the place to go to buy things in smaller quantities than at the Zecho/Zegyo market" but it's incredibly frustrating to get into. There seemed to be only one entrance in (the other entrance goes to a different part of the mall that is more or less deserted after 7:30pm and the floors above the 3rd floor were dark and shop-less), and it's an incredibly large space. I will say that the market in the basement had a good selection of Myanmar music, food, and random goods, like fuzzy flip flops. It was sort of a very compact Walmart.
Great food, wasn't concerned about sanitation (the food was kept in an enclosed space). Even though we sat in the downstairs non-airconditioned part, it was still quite pleasant. (Yes, air conditioning exists upstairs.)