One of the more colourful characters of Burmese history was King Bodawpaya (reigned 1782–1819), a ruler of megalomaniac tendencies who boasted 206 wives and concubines, and launched victorious wars of conquest against neighbouring Arakan and Siam.

Keen to erect a monument that reflected the scale of his worldly achievements, Bodawpaya commissioned a vast pagoda to be built at Mingun, on the right bank of the Ayeyarwady, 10 miles upriver from his capital at Inwa. An army of slaves toiled for nearly a decade, but it was never finished. Had it been, the pagoda would have been even larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Its remnants are, even so, very impressive, especially when approached on the morning boat from Mandalay, when the mighty brick edifice is highlighted to dramatic effect against its background of scrub-covered ridges.

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