Mingun is a small town in Sagaing, situated on the bank of the Ayeyarwady River, 11 km up from Mandalay. It is famous for its enormous structures and you can visit all those structures in a half day time. Mingun is accessible from Mandalay by car and also by boat. It takes about one and half hour by car, crossing Sagaing Bridge. By boat, it takes about an hour or an hour and half depending on the tide to cross the Ayeyarwady River.
The Mingun Jetty is located at the corner of 26th street and Myo Pat Road. The public boat runs only one boat per day every day. It leaves at 9 am from Mandalay and returns at 1 pm from Mingun. You can buy the ticket from the ticket office at the jetty from 8:30am in the morning of your trip. The boat arrives at Mingun between 10am-10:30am and you have about two hours to explore Mingun. The ticket price is 5000 kyats (roughly 4 USD) for return. If you want to ride for one way, you pay half the price. You can hire the private boat at 30000 kyats per day. For private boat, you can leave at any time and return at any time before sunset. If you are travelling with a large group, hiring the private boat would be more cost-effective. The boat journey is a relaxing and enjoyable one. You will see the daily lives of locals at the docks and in the river. I had opportunity to mingle with boat crew and listen to the stories of their lives. If you are lucky, you will be able to spot Ayeyarwady dolphins, one of the five endangered species of fresh water dolphins.
The main attractions are Mingun Pahtodawgyi, two Chinthae statues, Mingun Bell, Mya Thein Dan Pagoda, the Venerable Mingun Sayardaw Memorial and Home for the Age. All of them situated along the river bank in the walking distance and so, giving a half day is enough to visit Mingun. But when you arrive Mingun, you will see bull carts and tuk tuks (tricycles) waiting at the jetty. You can get a ride at 8000 kyats and they will take you around and back to the jetty before 1pm. If you have time, you can also go up to Mingun Hill, from where you can enjoy the beautiful view of Mingun, the Ayeyarwady River and the surroundings.
Mingun Pahtodawgyi is the massive ruined unfinished stupa and it is also called Mandayargyi Pagoda. Pahtodawgyi is so massive that we could see it from 11 km away soon after we left Mandalay jetty. King Bodawpayar built the stupa in 1790 and he aimed to built the stupa up to 500 feet high. The grid of the stupa is about 450 square feet. The king abandoned the construction when the stupa reached the height about 165 feet. It was said that during the construction, a prophecy appeared that the king would die once the stupa was finished. Some said the construction cost and the use of many slaves and prisoners caused disagreement on construction of such a large pagoda and so, the prophecy was allegedly created to stop the king, who was deeply superstitious, from continuing the construction. You can see the prototype of Pahtodawgyi, called Pondawya Pagoda, on the way from the jetty to the stupa. It would become the largest religious monument if it would have been finished. Even now, it is known as the largest brick foundation in the world. The earthquake in 1838 made large cracks on the stupa and nowadays, Pahtodawgyi is more famous as an attraction than as a religious monument.
Chinthe is the mythical lion like creature in Burmese culture and you can see them at the gates fo pagodas in Myanmar. You will see the ruins of two large statues in front of Pahtodawgyi. The Chithes were meant to be the guards of the Pahtodawgyi on each side of the stairway from the river to the stupa. The 1838 earthquake damaged the lions and the heads of lions fell off.
King Bodawpayar cast a large bronze bell in 1808 to hang at Pahtodawgyi. The casting finished in 1810. The bell is 12 feet high and weighs 55555 viss (about 90 tons). You can see a mnemonic “Min Hpyu Hman Hman Pyaw”, written on the bell which is the consonants representing the number 5 in Burmese astronomy and numerology so that people can remember easily. It had been the world’s largest functioning bell until 2000 when China made ‘Bell of Good Luck’. Today, Mingun Bell is the third largest bell after Tsar Bell in Russia and Bell of Good Luck in China.
Just beside Mingun Bell is the Memorial for Mingun Sayadaw U Vicittasarabivamsa, where the Sayadaw’s Statue is housed. Sayadaw was a Burmese Theravada Buddhist monk and he was best known for his memorial skills and his scholarly works for Buddhist literature. Sayadaw took part a key role in the Sangha Executive Commttee at Sixth Buddhist Council held in Myanmar from 1954 to 1956. It was said that Sayadaw recalled the correct books, pages and lines from Tipitaka from his memory during the council and during the Tipitaka exam which is the hardest Buddhist exam in Myanmar, he could recite the Buddhist canonical without any hesitation or error. In 1985, he was recorded in Guinness Book of Records as a record holder in the human memory class – “Human memory: Bhandanta Vicitsara (sic) recited 16,000 pages of Buddhist canonical text in Rangoon, Burma in May 1954. Rare instances of eidetic memory — the ability to project and hence “visually” recall material — are known to science.” Sayadaw had earned many titles for his scholarly works and the most famous accomplishment is the Maha Buddhavamsa, the Life Story of the Buddha from 1955 to 1960. When Sayadaw passed away, he was given a state memorial service and his ashes were scattered over different parts of the nation to symbolize him as the national religious figure.
The beautiful white pagoda with the golden spire at the top is also known as Hsinbyume Pagoda. It was built by King Bagyidaw, the grandson and the successor of the throne of King Bodawpayar, in 1816. He dedicated the pagoda to his first wife Hsinbyume (Princess White Elephant), who passed away during child birth. The design of the pagoda was modeled from the Sulamani Pagoda on the top of Mount Meru. (Mount Meru is the mythical mountain in Buddhist cosmology, regarded as the centre of the universe.) The top part of the pagoda represents the Sulamani Pagoda, the body of the pagoda represents Mount Meru and the surrounding wave patterns represent the seven mountains surrounding Mount Meru. It was also damaged by 1838 earthquake and King Mindon renovated it in 1874. At both Myatheidan Pagoda and Pahtodawgyi, you will see young girls following you trying to sell flowers and souvenirs. I started my visit from Myatheindan pagoda and bought flowers from two girls and then, they became my photographers and advisors of where to take photos to get the perfect shots. They tagged along with me to all the way back to Pahtodawgyi and took beautiful photos of me with my phone and camera. I was impressed.
Mingun Home for the Aged was founded by Daw Oo Zun in 1915 and it was the first home for aged in Myanmar. If you walk into the compound, you will be able to feel the tranquil of the place. You can make a donation for the residents.
There is no restaurant in Mingun except small food shops near Pathodawgyi and Myatheindan Pagoda. But if you are visiting by car, you will have to pass a small village called Kho Taung village between Sagaing and Mingun. Kho Taung noddle (called ‘Kho Taung Mont Tee’) is well-known among locals. The soup is made with fish. You will see few shops in the village. If you would like to try, just stop by at a shop in the village and have a taste.