Have you ever visited a new place and felt ‘wow’ about it? For many visitors, it happens at Mingun.
Mingun may not be as popular as other cities in Myanmar, but don’t let that fool you. Mingun is a smaller but beautiful upcoming tourist destination that is worth a visit. You will be surprised by some of the unique things to do and places you can explore at this hidden destination.
Begun in 1790, Mingun Paya would have been the world’s biggest stupa if it had been completed. Work stopped in 1819 when King Bodawpaya died, and at that point only the bottom third of the structure was finished. What's there is still huge: a roughly 240ft cube on a 460ft lower terrace. It's often described as the world’s largest pile of bricks. There's a steep staircase to the top, though since the 2012 earthquake, you can only climb midway for amazing views of the countryside.
For added drama, there are several deep cracks, caused by the massive 1838 earthquake.
Mingun Nat Festival
Pays homage to the brother and sister of the Teak Tree, who drowned in the river while clinging to a trunk. This fascinating festival takes place from the fifth to 10th days of the waxing moon of Tabaung – the Burmese version of Carnival, complete with all of the associated public drunken behaviour.
Built in 1816 by King Bagyidaw, possibly using materials pilfered from Mingun Paya, this unusually striking pagoda rises in seven wavy, whitewashed terraces representing the seven mountain ranges around Mt Meru (the very topmost stupa), the mountain at the centre of the Buddhist universe. Like the Taj Mahal, this paya was meant as a monument to the tragic death of the king's wife, Queen Hsinbyume, who died in childbirth. The climb to the top is worth it for the views.
In 1808 Bodawpaya continued his biggest-is-best obsession by commissioning a bronze bell weighing 55,555 viss (90 tonnes). It’s 13ft high and more than 16ft across at the lip, and was the world's biggest ringable bell for many decades, albeit now surpassed by the giant bell of Pingdingshan, China. You can duck beneath and stand within the bell while some helpful bystander gives it a good thump with a wooden post.
Across the road from Mingun Paya lie two house-sized brick-and-stucco ruins, damaged in the 1838 earthquake. These are just the haunches of what would have been truly gigantic chinthe (the pagoda's half-lion, half-dragon guardian deities).
To see what Mingun Paya would have looked like had it ever been completed, have a quick look at diminutive Pondaw Paya, 200yd south at the end of the tourist strip.