A one-hour boat trip upriver from Mandalay – through the habitat of endangered Ayeyarwady dolphins – will take visitors to Mingun, the site of a huge, unfinished temple dating back to the 18th century. Had it been completed, it would have been the world’s biggest temple. The Mingun Bell is displayed in a nearby pavilion, believed to be the largest hanging, uncracked bell in the world.
Those seeking to escape the heat of the central plains need only travel 70 kilometres east of Mandalay, up a winding road to the old hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin. Although the main road through town serves as a busy trade route for trucks carrying goods to and from China, exploring the area’s back roads will reveal quaint Edwardian cottages dating back to the colonial era, as well as gardens where flowers, strawberries and even coffee beans are grown. Colourful horse carriages can be hired to visit beautiful National Kandawgyi Gardens, while those seeking exercise can hike forest paths to some of the natural waterfalls just outside of town.