U Bein Bridge - Asia Travel & Leisure

Asia Travel & Leisure

U Bein Bridge

Amarapura’s biggest draw – one of Myanmar’s most photographed sites – is the remarkable 1300yd-long teak footbridge leading across the shallow Taungthaman Lake - U Bein Bridge. Still strong after 200 years, the 1.2 kilometre (0.75 mile) bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world.

Construction began when the capital of Ava Kingdom moved to Amarapura, and the bridge is named after the mayor who had it built. It is used as an important passageway for the local people and has also become a tourist attraction and therefore a significant source of income for souvenir sellers. It is particularly busy during July and August when the lake is at its highest.

The bridge was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa. It features 1,086 pillars that stretch out of the water, some of which have been replaced with concrete. Though the bridge largely remains intact, there are fears that an increasing number of the pillars are becoming dangerously decayed. Some have become entirely detached from their bases and only remain in place because of the lateral bars holding them together. Damage to these supports have been caused by flooding as well as a fish breeding program introduced into the lake which has caused the water to become stagnant. The Ministry of Culture’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library plans to carry out repairs when plans for the work are finalised.

Location: Amarapura, Mandalay, Myanmar

Entrance fee: part of Mandalay’s zone fee

Highlights:

While busy throughout the day, U Bein Bridge sees the most activity at dusk: fishermen in the still waters, monks streaming crimson from one end to the other, Burmese biking from shore to shore on their way home from work. The best time to visit the bridge are just after sunrise or just before sunset (most visitors come at this time of the day), when hundreds of villagers commute back and forth across it. A popular sunset activity is hiring boats from owners at the western end of the bridge to get close up looks of the 1060-post bridge from the water. In the dry season, the lake dwindles greatly in size; in June or July the water levels sometimes rise above the walkway.

There are five shaded rest areas on the bridge, including a couple of places to sample freah palm toddy. Near the start of the bridge are a few food stalls where you can buy noodles, tea or beer and enjoy the view.

The Irinaku Nat Festival takes place at Amarapura in September and celebrates the Popa Madaw, a protector of women and the mother of two executed brothers who became nats (spirits). To find out more, go to festivals in Myanmar.