The busy scene on the banks of Ayeyarwady River was soon forgotten when we boarded the boat to Mingun. Chill and cool wind from the river, which reminded me of Inle Lake, pushed me into a wicker desk chair and lulled me to snooze part of the trip.
Located just an hour’s boat ride away from Mandalay, Mingun has fascinated tourists and locals alike with its history and attractions. Awoken by a fellow passenger’s cry of excitement, I looked out of the boat’s window and saw a massive pile of ruins.
Upon arrival, guides and horse/cow “taxi” drivers popped up to offer us transport. However, the site wasn’t that far, roughly 500 meters away from the shore, so we decided to walk. However, for those wanting to try something new, the offer was cheap enough and could definitely help out the locals in a small way.
Mingun Pahtodawgyi ( Mingun Paya )
Ruined by a prophecy – now the world’s biggest pile of bricks.
Started by King Bodawpaya in 1790, this was supposed to be the world’s biggest stupa and intended to reach a height of 152m high – similar to the height of the Great Pyramid in Giza. The king had thousands of prisoners of war and slaves work on the construction. However, the heavy burden of building this massive pagoda took a toll on the people. There came a prophecy that the king would die upon completion of the structure. This prophecy quelled the king’s enthusiasm and slowed progress on his ambitious project. Not long after, the king died and only a third of the structure was completed. Then an earthquake in 1839 caused huge cracks on the structure.
Walking around it was spectacular. Although I didn’t do it, it is possible to climb barefoot to the top and see a magnificent view of the Ayeyarwady River and as far as Mandalay.
The largest working bell in the world until 2000.
The Mingun Bell is a popular attraction with the Burmese visitors. It weighs more than 90,000kg as inscribed by the number 55555 in Burmese script, which is the weight in Viss (a Burmese unit of weight). It was cast in bronze and once it was completed, it was said that Bodaypaya had the master craftsman executed in order to stop him making anything similar. (That prophecy really had some root)
Visitors usually go under the bell. Without fail some children will start banging it which makes for a funny albeit noisy activity.
The abode of Lord Brahma and the Demi-Gods.
From afar, this unusual all white structure is quite striking. Built by King Bagyidaw for his favorite wife, this structure was based on the Sulamani Pagoda on Mount Meru – the center of the universe in Buddhist – Hindu cosmology.
The exterior boasts some of the most exciting architectural feats you’ll see in the area. Adorned with ogres, mythical monsters and sculptures, this structure was fun to walk up to. This is in stark contrast to the interior of the building which is barren and offers nothing to the passing traveler.
Walking around this little town was really interesting with the abundance of fascinating architecture and interesting history to learn. However, I was more interested with the people. There were many sellers and bullock cart drivers hanging around the area. Mingun is small and the simple rhythm of life was also relaxing. I saw a small shop which looked like a movie theater (I would have loved to experience watching a movie there), children were smiling and the small shops reminded me of my hometown. There might be huge ruins and structures in the area, but the best attraction is the simple way the locals go about life in their small town.
The restaurants and café outside Mingun Paya are cheap and friendly.
There’s a fee of $3 for each visitor which you need to pay at the Sagaing-Mingun Fee counter.
You don’t need the cow cart but you can help the local drivers if you take it.
Look out for Ayeyarwady dolphins during the boat ride.
Check out more photos taken at Mingun on our Facebook page.