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Mingun nestled on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River, 11 kilometers away from Mandalay. It is easily accessible by ferry from Myan Gyan Jetty located at the western end of 26th street (this is the only port that goes to Mingun). The ticket can be purchased down at the dock, there were already a few tourists queuing up for the once a day ferry when we get there. The person in-charge asked for our passport and instructed us to sign in their logbook with the name of the hotel we’re staying and our passport number. So make sure you have them ready for a hassle free transaction. The ticket cost 5000 kyats return. We waited around 30 minutes before we were called to board – 9am sharp. In less than 5 minutes we started our journey. It’s a free seating, you can stay on the upper deck if you want to have a good view of the river but the sun can be unforgiving. We opted to stay at the lower deck to avoid the sun.
The ferry sailed upstream of the Ayeyarwaddy River, passing by fishing boats and transports loaded with all sorts of cargo. I am quite amused to see the other foreign tourists being so intrigued by people living on or beside the river; they get so exhilarated seeing the local people bathing or doing laundry by the river! It may not be that unique to me as it can also be observed in the Philippines back in the old days. But seeing it at this modern age made it quite special. So, I just sit back, relax and enjoy the river breeze while I watch the people do their daily routine like a movie scene.
After sailing for an hour, we eventually reached Mingun, we walked the plank to shore. From the pier, you can either walk to the village or take an ox cart marked as “taxi”. They are everywhere waiting for every opportunity to get a passenger. But unlike in other villages they are not that pushy, if you say no to them, they will simply go, no fuss. The rent is cheap enough, but given the whole area is less than a kilometer long, hiring an ox cart is completely unnecessary. But if you want to try just to have a feel of it then by any means go ahead and experience it.
As we walk towards the main entrance, we were stopped by a young man and asked us to buy the admission ticket. Apparently, the village is set up for tourists with a foreigner fee station at the entrance. We were required to buy the 3000 Kyats’ admission ticket. Upon paying, we were given a ticket and a sticker that you need to put on your shirt as you stroll around the community.
Here’s the three main attractions in Mingun:
This structure could have been the world’s largest pagoda, with the original plans to build it at 150m high – roughly the same height at the Great Pyramid in Giza. But it was prophesized that the king would die on the completion of the structure, so Bodawpaya rapidly lost much of his enthusiasm for the project. The king died no longer after, so construction was stopped whilst the building was only 50m high, just a third of its intended height.
An earthquake in 1839 caused huge cracks to appear all over the structure, making it look like it could fall at any time. Amazing to see! And although there are signs telling you not to climb the stairs due to the damage and cracks, locals rarely stop visitors doing so and sometimes encourage it; as with all pagodas, shoes must be removed and children will sometimes offer leaves to step on in order to protect your feet from the intense heat.
In front of the pagoda facing the river were the remains of two giant Chinthe lions guarding the temple. During the 1838 earthquake the heads of the giant Chinthes broke off and rolled into the Irrawaddy river, so all that remains are vestiges of the lions haunches.
King Bodawpaya’s ambitions didn’t stop at building the largest stupa in the world. He also commissioned an enormous bell to be installed on top of it. Today it is the largest ringing bell in the world at almost 5 meters (over 16 ft.) in diameter and 55,555 viss, a Burmese measurement equivalent to 90,718 kg (90 tones / 199,999 pounds). Despite being knocked down by that same 1838 earthquake and later restored, it still rings and is in great condition with no cracks.
It seems a hugely popular attraction with the Burmese visitors – far more so than any of the other sites in Mingun. I was told that when one does a good deed, Buddhist in the know will strike the bell to call on others to share the merit.
Just a couple of hundred yards from the great Mingun Paya and Mingun bell lies the beautiful white Hsinbyume Pagoda that is quite different in design and style from most pagodas in Myanmar. It nestled on the banks of the Irrawaddy river just north of Mandalay. This temple was dedicated to his first wife, Princess Hsinbyume, which literally translates to White Elephant Princess, who died during child birth. The pagoda, like the Taj Mahal in India, was built to honor lost love. During the large earthquake of 1838 the Hsinbyume Pagoda was severely damaged. It was restored by of a successor King.
The temple complex is completely walled with a large gate providing access to the grounds. Local Buddhist people come to the Hsinbyume pagoda to pay homage, make offerings and light incense sticks. At the top is a gold spire enshrines a Buddha image. The seven-tiered concentric base shaped like waves contains niches, some of which contain small statues of mythological figures. It is possible to climb the stairway to the top of the structure. From the top, you will have great views of the Irrawaddy river and the nearby Mingun Pagoda.
There were other stupas and pagodas in the area, the green hills were dotted with them, and one pagoda with steep stairs provided nice views of the countryside. There were some interesting huge boulders with inscriptions on the riverfront with stairs lined with Buddhas leading to them from right off the beach.
Along the way there isn’t anything much else except hordes of tourist-preying peddlers and souvenir shops. We grabbed a quick snacks of coconut juice on our way back, and went to the ferry to wait for departure at 1 pm.