My second day in Mandalay meant my second day trip, this time to the ancient capital of Mingun. This was a much shorter trip than the three town tour that I had done the day before.
I caught a motorcycle taxi to the river, and then bought a boat ticket to Mingun. Tickets to Mingun are theoretically 5,000 kyat round trip, but this price only works if at least four people are on the boat. As only a Chinese couple and I were taking the trip, we had to pay a bit more, 6,500 for my third of the fare.
The lazy river journey took us 11 kilometers north along the Irrawaddy, lasting around an hour. I sort of teamed up with the Chinese couple at first since we were kind of a unit and would have to catch the same boat to return. However, they spoke virtually no English, and when we got to the first impressive spot, the dude whipped out one of his two enormous DSLRs and proceeded to take over 9,000 pictures of his wife in front of it. I decided it would be best to go it alone.
Mingun, like many spots in Myanmar, requires a fee for tourists. I was forced to pay the fee in Mandalay to check out the monastery in Inwa and at Inle Lake to get on the boat to Nyaungshwe, but managaed to avoid it at Bagan, and I hoped to do it again in Mingun. The fee, as I mentioned, essentially just goes right to the ruling military junta and does nothing to maintain the sights or help regular people.
I started at the Mingun Paya, a pagoda that was supposed to reach 500 feet tall before getting wrecked by an earthquake. The remains are plenty impressive. I walked inside the pagoda up some stairs, and there was no fee checkpoint to do so. Inside the pagoda was a really douchey army dude dressed in green, who kept saying “pa-go-da!” and the people he was with had to fake laugh. Now I really didn’t want to pay the fee.
After leaving the small temple interior, I noticed that there was a dusty path directly from where I stood to the stairs that lead to the top of the pagoda. At the bottom of the stairs was the ticket-check booth. Hmm, I may just be able to get to the top of the temple without giving the army my three American dollars. I walked barefoot along the jagged path and reached the stairs. Success! I started walking up. Behind me, I heard people at the ticket booth yelling up at me. “Hello! Hello!” and clapping. I just kept walking up, pretending I didn’t hear them, never looking back at the ticket booth. Once I rounded a corner near the top, they stopped yelling at me.
After spending half an hour on top of the ruins, I hoped that there was another way down, but there was not. I walked back down the main stairs, and then took the same cutoff path to the pagoda entrance that I had taken up. If I got caught, I figured I had the built-in excuse that my shoes were at the temple interior entrance and not at the ticket booth. However, on my way down, nobody noticed me.
Mingun had one more can’t-miss sight, the Mingun Bell. This is the largest uncracked bell in the world. I knew that this would require the ticket too, and that I would almost certainly have to pay. Fortunately, while aimlessly wandering around at another pagoda, I found a side entrance to the Mingun Bell with no ticket booth. At the bell, I ran into the army guy again, and he was still acting douchey. I probably felt more smug than I should have that I had won, and he and his army buddies wouldn’t be getting my three bucks.
I walked around Mingun a little more, but it started raining so I hung out in a tea shop until it was time to re-join the Chinese couple and get on the boat back to Mandalay.