Itinerary: Day 4 Tuesday 11th March (Mingun & Sagaing). After breakfast, cruise to Mingun to visit the most important sights such as the pretty Hsinbyume Pagoda and the world’s largest uncracked bell. Return by ferry for a late lunch. In the afternoon, visit the Sagaing Hills, considered to be the living centre of the Buddhist faith in Burma. Sagaing is also famous for its silver and silversmiths who still work in much the same way as their ancestors did. Leave Bagan by 'Road to Mandalay' around 13:00. Dinner and local entertainment on board.
After an early breakfast, some of us left on foot with San for the short walk to the local monastery, where the monks were lined up prior to the morning procession around the village accepting offerings of food. Their first stop was a table set up by the ship where the Captain and members of the catering staff were serving various foods. The procession then wound through the village where, every few yards, women would be waiting with a bowl of rice or other food.
We then picked up our tour bus and headed north for about 40 minutes to Mandalay itself and the Jetty. This is just the usual shelving beach with lots of wooden craft moored side by side. We clambered over various gangplanks to get from moored craft to moored craft until we reached our private charter boat where, on the upper deck, cane chairs had been laid out for us. The boat was run by a team of husband, wife and son about ten or so. There was also a much younger daughter running about. We sailed north for about a hour and landed at Mingun on the west bank. We ran the gauntlet of the souvenir vendors to get to the Mingun Pagoda, which has been described, fairly accurately, as the world's biggest pile of bricks. The building project was abandoned when the huge pagoda was 50m tall - only a third of the intended height! Subsequent earthquakes have seriously damaged what's there and the various fissures mean that the steps to ascend are quite hard. I made the climb, with a retinue of four local boys who appointed themselves my guides. I clearly represented the best chance of dollars that morning. On the same site, there's the worlds largest uncracked bell. Of course, I rang it with the stick provided and also stood inside whilst someone else rang it. We also climbed the whitewashed Shinbyume Pagoda (coming away liberally whitened ourselves). We rejoined our local boat, cruised back to Mandalay, returned to the Road To Mandalay by coach and were ready for our lunch.
In the afternoon we went by the tour bus to Sagaing, on the west bank of the river directly opposite our moored ship. This is very hilly and pretty, crowded with monasteries and nunneries. The most famous pagoda amongst the hundreds dotted around the hills is the Soon U Ponya Shin, commanding good views in all directions from its summit position.
We were allowed to tour the Zeyar Theingi Nunnery, where the nun's ages ranged from 8 to late 70s. The nuns smile readily and don't appear to mind the intrusion, although you feel a little uncomfortable walking through dormitories and kitchens.
We also had two fascinating visits to commercial properties.
The first was a pottery where clay water pots are made. it's hard work, mainly carried out by women and because they only make water pots, they're not trying to sell the tourists anything. We were mobbed by a gang of young children who wanted to hold our hands and look at the pictures we'd taken on the screens of the various digital cameras. It was a joyful occasion and I was surprised that none of the children was looking for gifts.
We also visited a silversmiths' factory where the most exquisite work was being produced under the most primitive conditions imaginable. Here, there was an extensive showroom and a number of us were tempted to make purchases.
In the evening, we had our Farewell Dinner in the restaurant of the ship, followed by examples of traditional Myanmar Entertainments: four girl dancers, a boy and girl comedy dance routine, an astrologer talked about the rather different principles which they use and finally a girl jugglimg and balancing act. Quite a packed day and another early start tomorrow.