The travel time from Mahamuni Paya to U Bein’s Bridge in Amarapura took about 45 minutes or so. And within those minutes I saw how crazy the traffic is or the lack of it. “Anyone can just drive motorbikes here, even young ones” says Olsen, my motorbike driver. No wonder, nobody is really teaching people how to drive here. And as farther we leave the city, the road also seemed to be a blur. Sometimes we would just turn and find a road I wasn’t even sure it was. “How about license?” I asked. Most people don’t have it since its very hard to get and expensive. If people get into trouble they just pay a fee. Despite the chaotic road traffic, I’m somewhat comfortable with his driving skills since he assured me he doesn’t “Drink and Drive”
We arrived at Amarapura, at the site of the famous U Bein’s bridge crossing over Taungthaman Lake. At 1.2km (or 1300 yards in distance), U Bein’s Bridge is the longest teak wood bridge in the world and still standing strong for more than 200 years. It is also one of the biggest draw in Amarapura and Mandalay making it one of the most photographed as well. The origin of the name “U Bein” has several versions. One is that it was the name of the town’s “Mayor” when it was declared a capital in 1841. Some say it was the name of the Muslim Bridge builder commissioned by the king at that time.
I was also able to talk to Olsen more on a quick snack in a tea shop before exploring the bridge. Somehow, tour guides have adapted English names to remember them easily. I was intrigued by Olsen because his English was very fluent. I learned that he came from a very poor family in a province, 3 hours away from Bagan. He learned English and got educated from the monks. He used to work as a truck driver, shipping cargo up north crossing over to China and back. His father recently died from lack of medicine. I thought he had a very interesting story.
The best time to photograph the bridge is definitely during sunrise or sunsets, not only because of the beautiful light, it’s also the busiest where a stream of people goes back and forth the bridge coming from their work or school. As expected, tourist comes also in droves toting their cameras as well, but good thing there is enough ground on the bridge to move around.
Dramatic silhouettes of people passing by are the common photo here but as I found out, it’s not really that easy to take. The easiest way is to ride the small boats that take tourist on a good vantage point from the lake for 3000 kyat. But if you are feeling cheap (like I do) there’s a part of soft land midway of the bridge where people can go down. A zoom lens is recommended.
I did take time just to see the people on the bridge. How some locals enjoy just hanging out on the wooden benches, enjoying the breeze or simply fishing. The huge full moon rising added another element of interest in this already picturesque place. The wind picks up as the evening comes in. This is where the angular bend of the bridge proves its mettle. The one who designed it made sure its wind proof or even submerged proof when the lake waters rise higher than the bridgeway. Somehow, as I walk towards the dusk light, I realize how this bridge is like the people of Myanmar, persevering through the hardship, like how it stands for more than 200 years despite the elemental adversity.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.