Sunset at U Bein Bridge

Final stop for the day. U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. Amarapura was the site of the royal palace very briefly before it moved to what is now Mandalay city proper. Now its claim to fame is the U Bein bridge.

For most tourists, the world’s longest teak bridge is notable because it is portrayed in front cover of the current edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook for Myanmar. The bridge is made of wood from an unused palace when the royal residence moved. Ironically, because much of the last royal residence and grounds were destroyed during World War II, these wood planks and Shwenandaw may be the only wooden remnants from the palace.

The planks are alarmingly wobbly and springy at some parts. I found myself wondering just how tested these planks are. Old historical wood structures aren’t all that common here and unlike the buildings which have subfloor layers and buttressed foundation, I can see down through the gaps to the trashy ground about 25 feet down. The average Myanmar person looks to weigh about 110 pounds… making me outsize and outweigh them.

The lake it goes over is very low, as it is the tail end of the dry season. Boats rowed through the bridge and back, carrying mostly tourists and an occasional romantic couple. Between human chatter, the ducks quack as their herders rush them off.

What I saw was more than a photo-op. For the locals, it seemed that they treat this 1.2 km bridge as an equivalent of a public park or shopping mall, depending on your background, where people came to gather. We arrived around sunset, and the bridge and the surrounding grounds were jam-packed. There was no lonely stroller scenic photo-op for those wanting to replicate the cover of the guide. Novices and monks strolled in groups, the adolescent and young boys much fooling around and watching girls like any boy, monk robes or not. Teenage girls giggled in gaggles, giving obvious sneaky looks at the boys. There were benches set up every 20 feet, perfect excuse for the young men to lounge while surreptitiously eying the passing female butts. Families brought the toddlers out to wobble their stops across the planks. Older monks sat at the cafes below the bridge, smoking cheroot and gossiping with village elders.