The third part of my basic Mandalay itinerary – read about Mandalay (and how to plan your visit) here and about a day trip to the ancient capitals of Sagaing, Inwa, and Amarapura here – takes us up the Irrawaddy River to Mingun. The dusty little village boasts some of the most impressive pagodas in Myanmar. And what’s more: the whole trip, including the boat and entrance, will cost you just $10.
The public half-day trip to Mingun from Mandalay is a well-oiled machine.
Get to the Mayan Chan Jetty at about 8:30 am, buy your ticket – it’s 5,000 Kyat ($5) return fare – and get on board. Once you’re in Mingun, you’ll have to pay another 5,000 Kyat as an entrance fee to the sites around the village.
Boats leave every day at 9 am from Mandalay. The journey North takes about 1.5 hours and ends in front of what turns out to be the remains of two giant guard lions that are typical for Myanmar temples. But these lions must have once measured 20 m in height. Earthquakes in the past 200 years have let the lions crumble but exploring the piles you can still discover features.
Walking up the sandy path, past vendors selling the usual tourist tant you’ll see what the lions were meant to guard. The Mingun Pagoda (also Mingun Pahtodawgyi or Mingun Paya), had it been finished, would have measured a whopping 150 m. This height would have made it the largest pagoda in the world. But after construction began in 1790, astronomers foretold King Bodawpaya that the kingdom would end if it were ever completed. So construction was abandoned when the project had reached a third of the intended size. Some say, this, at least, secures Mingun Paya the title of “largest pile of bricks in the World.”
You can climb the massive staircase to a small altar room with a friendly smiling guard. But remember to take off your shoes.
Walking around the ruin, you will discover cracks that earthquakes have left behind.
Go back down towards the river to the main road and turn left (North).
After about 100 m you will see the bell that King Bodawpaya had cast for his magnificent stupa. The Mingun Bell weighs 90 tons and for a long time was the largest suspended bell in the World (the “Bell of Good Luck” in Henan, China, surpassed it in 2000). Go ahead and strike the bell three times for luck.
A little further up the road is one of the most beautiful temples in Myanmar. Bodawpaya’s grandson built the Hsinbyume or Myatheindan (Mya Thein Tan) Pagoda after the death of his favorite consort, Hsinbyume (Lady of the White Elephant), in childbirth.The crisp white waves leading up to a platform were modeled after mythical Mount Meru.
If you have time, use your stroll back to the boat for a visit to the numerous galleries lining the road or have an early lunch in one of the restaurants.
The boat leaves for Mandalay at noon.
If you would like to stay longer and explore the hills surrounding Mingun, either on foot or with the ox or motorcycle taxis waiting by the main road, you can talk to your accommodation about organizing another boat (expect to pay upward of $50). To my knowledge, there is no tourist accommodation in Mingun.
PS: For private tours to Mingun you can also check the listings on Get your Guide, which gives you the benefit of seeing the feedback travelers have left about the trips: