The next day, we decided to embark on a half-day trip from Mandalay to Mingun. Mingun is a place that is well-known as a photography paradise to many tourists and to get there, we had to take a 1-hour boat ride across the Ayeyarwady river.
Upon arrival, we headed straight for the Museum of the late Venerable Mingun Sayadaw, who was famed for being recorded in the Guinness World Records in 1985 as the “Man With The Most Awesome Memory in the World”. Walking through the museum which showcased his works and even personal belongings, I could see that he was indeed a legendary and highly respected religious figure here in Myanmar.
After the museum visit, we headed for the Mingun Pahtodawgyi. This was an unfinished brick-base pagoda which was supposed to stand at about 150m tall when completed. However, it was only built up to 60m and never completed as it was believed that the pagoda would topple if built any higher. Still, the uncompleted pagoda was a beautiful sight and tourists could also climb up to get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area and the nearby Hsinbyume Pagoda.
Walking around the area near the Mingun Pahtodawgyi, I also discovered many quaint shops selling a wide variety of items ranging from oil paintings to handicrafts to even traditional Burmese paper toys. I was especially amazed by how realistic the oil paintings looked and stopped to take several pictures of them.
It was then time to head to arguably the most iconic photography spot in the whole of Mingun – the beautiful Hsinbyume Pagoda. As an all-white structure, it was built in 1816 by Prince Bagyidaw and was dedicated to his first wife, Princess Hsinbyume. It also has an architectural style that was very different from other pagodas and this could be one of the reasons why it stands out. Upon reaching there, I could immediately see why this particular pagoda was so popular among tourists. It was simply stunning. Many tourists could be seen dressing up to the nines to take pictures, with some even engaging the help of professional photographers. As someone who was normally camera-shy, I could not help getting in on the act and took some time trying to get the best pictures as well.
It was soon time to leave Mingun but before leaving, we decided to stop by the Mingun Bell. This was the third largest bell in the world, weighing 90 tons and approximately 13 feet tall. Cast in 1808 by King Bodawpaya, it has been known to play a big role in religious affairs in the past. For instance, whenever someone does a good deed, the Bell would be struck to call on others to share the merit. After taking several pictures of the gigantic Bell, we soon had to catch our boat and head back to Mandalay.
This half-day trip to Mingun might have been short but we had sufficient time to cover most of the important sights at our own pace, and the beauty of the place made the travel there most certainly worth it.
No visit to Mandalay would be complete without a visit to the majestic Mandalay Royal Palace so that was where we ended up spending the second half of the day. Built in 1857 by King Mindon, it was the last palace to be built by the Burmese Royals and consisted of many buildings such as the throne halls, a monastery, a watch tower, a court building, a tooth relic building and a library. The entire palace was also constructed from teak wood after the original was burnt down in a bombing raid during World War 2. With a total area of 4 square kilometres, the palace was truly huge, and we spent plenty of time wandering from one building to another.
One of the places that we visited within the palace compounds was the Mya Nan San Kyaw Golden Palace Cultural Museum, where there were many artefacts being preserved. Some of them included the beautiful wood carvings from the 19th century, the bullock cart that princesses used to ride and the costumes of the kings from the past. It was indeed a great experience viewing all these historical artefacts and I felt that I was able to understand the history of Myanmar much better by seeing these items in the flesh rather than just merely reading about them.
And with that, it concluded my trip around this part of Myanmar. Overall, it was yet another enriching experience filled with excitement and learning pointers everywhere I went. From Monywa City to Sagaing to Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin, each town/city had its own charm and brought different kinds of learning experiences for me. While I did not have the luxury of time to stop by all the attractions of each town/city, I still saw enough to be absolutely amazed by what Myanmar had to offer. And I certainly hope to be back for more in the near future.