Places To Visit In Mandalay, Myanmar: Part 2
After watching the sunrise from U Bein Bridge, we headed to Mingun. Mingun is a small town across the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay. Before arriving Mandalay, my plan was to take a boat from Mandalay to Mingun. According to Go-Myanmar, it’s an hour long trip and I thought it’d be a fun way to get around. Except, Duan (my friend in the airport taxi) commented on how he wasn’t sure if there are taxis on the Mingun side. Even though I did a good amount of research, I didn’t consider this or come across any blogs saying one thing or another. So that was one of the reasons we hired a private taxi.
Turns out there are motorbike taxis at the boat landing - but there’s no reason to use one. The three main sites tourists head for in Mingun are: Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Mingun Bell, and Hsinbyume Pagoda. Mingun Pahtodawgyi is literally right across the road from the dock, Mingun Bell is a stroll away, and even though Hsinbyume is the furthest away – it’s probably not more than a 10-minute walk.
But the car ride to Mingun was nice because we got to see more of the town, even if it was just through the window.
This all-white pagoda was built in 1816 by King Bagyidaw. The pagoda is dedicated to the memory of his first wife, Princess Hsinbyume, who died in childbirth. The pagoda’s design stands apart from other Burmese pagodas. It’s based on the descriptions of the mythical Sulamani Pagoda located on Mount Meru. According to Buddhist mythology, Mount Meru is a sacred mountain located in the center of the physical and spiritual universe. Hsinbyume Pagoda has seven circular terraces, each representing a mountain range leading up to Mount Meru.
Hsinbyume Pagoda is one of my top three favorite pagodas/temples out of the ones we visited in Myanmar. We arrived at the entrance around 10 AM, while the crowds were still slowly making their way over from Pahtodawgyi. Aside from a few local visitors, my mom and I had the place to ourselves.
At 90 tons, Mingun Bell is famous for being the heaviest functioning bell in the world at several occasions in history. The key word is "functioning". The bell was completed in 1810 and King Bodawpaya had it cast to go with his Mingun Pahtodawgyi stupa. Since the stupa was never completed, the bell lives nearby.
This behemoth incomplete brick stupa looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Doesn’t it remind you of Petra in Jordan?)
King Bodawpaya started this project in 1790 but had intentionally left it unfinished after it was prophesied that he would die at the completion of this stupa. The project was never restarted after King Bodawpaya’s death. There are stories that the prophecy was falsely created in order to spare the thousands of prisoners and slaves who were forced to build Pahtodawgyi; the project wasn’t well-received by the general people.
Today, there’s only one entrance that you can walk through. It leads a short distance before ending in front of a large Buddha statue. I noticed people walking down a long set of stairs at one corner of Pahtodawgyi. Curious, I started to walk up the steps only for a local tour guide tell me the top was closed. I never did find out what was behind the locked gate.
Each side of the stupa has an elaborate entrance built, along with numerous large cracks running down the sides from a 1839 earthquake. I’m stunned that this structure hasn’t fully tumbled down with the piles of rubble laying around the foundation, including whole portions of still mortared-together bricks.
There are a several food stands and restaurants in front of Pahtodawgyi and down the road towards Hsinbyume Pagoda.
Across the road, clothing and trinket vendors line the path down to the boat dock.
There’s a 5,000 kyats/person entry fee into Mingun (around US $3), whether you drive or take a boat. Don’t worry if you miss either of the collecting stations on the road or by the boat dock - they will FIND you!
Located on the same side of the river as Mingun is the town of Sagaing, another ancient capital of Myanmar. At this point in our day, I pretty much turned over the reins to our driver. I had hoped to continue my research of Mandalay and its surrounding towns our first night in the hotel, but I almost didn’t even have energy to eat dinner (probably thanks to jet-lag). I could’ve googled info during our drive, but I didn’t have an international data plan. My mom's phone has a Chinese SIM card and her international data plan was turned on. But other than being able to use WeChat, it was useless.
U Min Thonze Pagoda
U Min Thonze Pagoda is one of the many pagodas that sit on the main hill in Sagaing, aptly referred to as Sagaing Hill. Its Burmese name, U Min Thonze, translates to “30 Caves” because of the 30 entrances into the pagoda. Inside this crescent shaped pagoda 45 Buddha statues sit next to one another.
Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda
Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda is one of the oldest temples on Sagaing Hill. There’s also a wonderful view of all of Sagaing from its balcony, but at high noon (when we arrived), the lighting is no good for photos. What makes this pagoda worth visiting is its myriad of colored tiles that cover the floors and part way up the walls. My initial reaction was that the variety pastel shades of geometric shapes were tacky, but yet, somehow it kind of worked.
The tiled floor in the shadows also felt wonderfully cool against my bare feet. While the mornings and evenings are chilly, the afternoons are warm, especially in the sun.
There is a few hundred kyats fee if you want to take pictures while visiting Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda.
Inwa is located on the same side of Irrawaddy River as Mandalay. From the 14th to 19th century, Inwa was the capital of Myanmar under several different kingdoms. The royal court finally abandoned it the late 1830s/early 1840s after a series of major earthquakes and moved the capital to Amarapura (and then later to Mandalay).
I was very intrigued by Inwa. It gave off this lost city kind of feeling. Pagodas and temples were tucked away behind banana plantations and rice fields. A handful of them seemed to be abandoned, while the main temples were obviously cared for. It’s kind of like a mini-Bagan. Perhaps Inwa was enticing only because I hadn’t gone to Bagan yet. But even now, looking back, I wish we had spent more time wandering around Inwa – not in a car but perhaps on a bicycle where we could do it at our own speed.
Since I was already in a car, I didn’t pay attention to whether or not there were places to rent a bicycle. I didn’t notice any empty taxis available in Inwa, but there were horse cart taxis available to ride in (I’ve read that the horses are treated poorly).
According to the English sign at the entrance of Bagaya Monastery, it was built in 1834 during the King Bagyidaw (same king who had Hsinbyume Pagoda built, mentioned above). This is an all-teak monastery made with 267 gigantic teak posts, the largest post measuring 60 feet in height and 9 feet in circumference.
Yadana Hsemee Pagoda Complex
A small group of pagodas make up this complex. The place is quite eye-catching.
This complex of pagodas seemed to have been left abandoned. There weren't any people around - selling trinkets or sweeping the grounds.
Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery
This monastery was built by Queen Me Nu, wife of King Bagyidaw. This all-brick monastery is still in excellent condition. The ochre weathered exterior is unique compared to the typical wood or white-washed monasteries.
The Mandalay archeological zone ticket is required to enter Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery. It can be purchased at the entrance.
And that was how we spent our two days in Mandalay and the surround towns of Mingun, Sagaing and Inwa. Next up is the infamous Bagan.
We were in Mandalay from January 4 - 7, 2018