In the morning we take a boat across the Irrawaddy to Mingun. This might be the scariest boat we have been on in all our travels. It is large enough to hold thirty or 40 passengers, but it is just for us. There are dozens, if not hundreds of them, all identical, and all in various states of disrepair, tied up to the river bank. They are 6 deep against the bank, so you have to cross from one to another until you come to the outside one. They have an open upper deck and enclosed lower deck, but the lower deck is only 5ft tall, and it is through these that we have to travel to get to our personal boat. All the boats are moving in the current and it is quite treacherous going from one to the other. Finally we reach ours. I was assuming that we would have one of the ones that were in a better state of repair, but this was not to be. It was a complete wreck, and how we ever got across the river without it sinking is beyond me. As with so much else in the country, all the boats were built in the 1940’s when the British were here. Ours appears to have been untouched since then, which might be interesting in any other vehicle, but in a boat it is truly scary. The entire vessel seemed to sag in the middle, until the water almost came in over the sides. We are shown to the upper deck, which in fact is just the roof of the lower deck. It curves down to the edges, so that you feel you will slide off it. All there is to prevent us from doing so, is an extremely thin and rickety wooden railing held in place by a few spindly uprights attached to the floor by a couple of screws. The wooden floor is rotten in places and you can see straight through to the deck below. There are three extremely old and uncomfortable rattan chairs for us to sit on. Most of the rattan is broken and sticks into my body, tearing little holes in my shirt. There is also an extremely decrepit dining table. One of the crew (there are only 2) comes and lays a filthy old table cloth on it with a great flourish. The only thing dirtier than the table cloth is the young man putting it there. For one dreadful moment, we think food is going to be served, but in fact he is setting up a stall on which he lays a motley assortment of merchandise. There is nothing we would be remotely interested in buying, but considering we are half way across the huge Irrawaddy river, and completely at his mercy, we decide we better at least take a look.
We are told that there is a toilet downstairs but we are too afraid to venture down. However necessity, caused by a chilly wind, prevails. Added to the back of the boat is a small platform enclosed by a 4ft wall made of rush matting. You open a small door and step off the deck onto this small platform which appears to have no visible means of support. Standing on the platform was the toilet. It was not attached to the floor, or to any plumbing. It merely stood over a hole in the floor. The low height of the surrounding wall meant that all the passing ships were left in no doubt as to what you were doing there. Where is the Raffles Hotel when we need it.
We are suffering the indignities of this particularly unseaworthy vessel in order to see yet another largest bell in the world. This one is in a town called Mingun. We have already seen two other largest bells in the world in our travels, the most recent of which we saw in Russia . However our guide proudly tells us that the Russian one has a crack in it and so it doesn’t count. Myanmar ’s bell is perfect. However it is hung just a few inches off the ground in a crumbling building, completely uncared for and covered in cobwebs and large spiders. Adjacent to it is another crumbling building. This one is a home for aged monks. Our guide wants to show us round, but we are not interested, just grateful that this will not be our retirement home. For this we have just risked our lives crossing the Irrawaddy, and now we have to go back.