A popular half-day excursion
The fourth of Mandalay’s surrounding ancient capitals, Mingun offers some great temples, plus a delightful Ayeyarwaddy boat trip to reach them. It isn’t generally included on the organised ancient capitals tour that takes in Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing, but it is the easiest, and cheapest, to do on your own.
A scheduled boat leaves from the Mingun jetty on Strand Road every morning at 09:00, taking a little under an hour to do the 11 kilometre upstream journey to Mingun, costing 5,000 kyat per person. The boat deposits you by a pair of ruined giant Chinthe lions which formed the original entrance to the Pahtodawgyi Pagoda, Mingun’s most famous sight. Here you’ll find the ticket booth (a 5,000 kyat entrance fee valid for Sagaing too), and local-style taxis plus tea shops and noodle cafes in front of the giant pagoda. Local taxis are bullock carts with rattan roofs and though they travel slower than you can walk and there’s no great distance involved anyway, they are a fun idea by the enterprising locals. They cost 6,000 kyat and seat three.
Mingun was established at the end of the 18th century as King Bodawpaya decided to go off piste somewhat so, eschewing the usual suspects of Sagaing and Inwa, commissioned a new capital upriver. He had big ideas and set about building what would have been the world’s largest chedi, had it ever been completed. Now also known as the world's largest pile of bricks, work on Mingun Pahtodawgyi Pagoda began in 1790 with Bodawpaya intending to put himself on the map by collecting the most number of Buddhist brownie points. Only a third of the pagoda was completed by thousands of prisoners of war before a prophecy that the completion of the pagoda would result in the destruction of the country put a dampener on construction. Bodawpaya died in 1819, and an 1839 earthquake helped to quash any possibility it might ever be completed. Today the 50-metre-tall brick ruin makes a spectacular attraction and a staircase has been recently built to allow visitors to appreciate the view from the summit.
What King Bodawpaya did complete, in 1808, is the world's largest intact (non-cracked) bell. Close to four metres tall and five metres across, the bronze-caste Mingun Bell weighs a whopping 90 tonnes. Local lore tells of the appreciative king ordering the execution of the master craftsman in charge, so that nothing similar would ever be made, though rumour has it that a new Chinese one is larger. The bell is around 200 metres north of Mingun chedi.
Mingun’s third main site, around 300 metres further on, is Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Paya . This was commissioned in 1816 by the more creative grandson of King Bodawpaya, King Bagyidaw. Founded to honour his favourite wife, the unusual architecture of Hsinbyume Pagoda was inspired by legends of Mount Meru—home of the gods in Hindu mythology—and also incidentally the inspiration for many temples at Angkor. The seven-mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru are represented by seven levels of small shrines around the principal chedi, housing more typically Burmese images such as various nat spirits and ogres.
Although it was also damaged by the 1839 earthquake, good old King Mindon restored the eccentric pagoda in 1874 and today it makes a spectacular, and as Burmese temples go, highly unusual, sight. It is best viewed by walking up the lane to the south rather than entering by the main entrance and indeed following the path to the rear back you’ll get less crowded views of Mingun chedi too.
The scheduled boat returns to Mandalay at 12:30. Nearly three hours may be slightly excessive for visiting the area, but there will always be a few other tourists around to split the $25 cost of a private boat hire if you prefer to leave earlier. Alternatively, grab some early lunch at one of the good car-park cafes.
The public boat leaves Mingun jetty on Strand Road at the end of 26th Street at 09:00 and returns at 12:30. Price is 5,000 kyat per person, with a ticket booth on arrival. It can get crowded during high season but the large-sized boats can be had as a private hire for a reasonable $25. If the boats are not too full, or you’ve hired your own, you will be allowed to take bicycles.
Mingun can also be reached in around 20 or 30 minutes by a sealed and pretty lane from Sagaing.
Coordinates (for GPS): 96º1'4.78" E, 22º3'8.87" N
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Admission: Combined Sagaing and Mingun tickets are 5,000 kyat. They are sold and checked on the boat.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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