On the road from Mandalay

The U Bein Teak Bridge is more than a tourist attraction for sunset. The bridge near Mandalay is used everyday by the locals – and that’s the best thing.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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U Bein Teak Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar

One of the highlights of any visit to Mandalay is, ironically, to get out of Mandalay. In the surroundings of the ancient capital are the townships of royal yesteryear with pagodas, ruins, crafts and monasteries.

At Amarapura (itself a former capital of Burma), is my favourite of the sights – the U Bein Teak Bridge.

Most tourists come at sunset for the orange glow which gradually engulfs the bridge and silhouettes those upon it.

The ageing teak wood was once part of the Royal Palace but was turned into a bridge by the mayor, U Bein. They were columns which were no longer needed so they found a new home, helping the common people across Taungthaman Lake.

U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar

At 1.2 kilometres, this is the oldest teak bridge in the world. And it’s an impressive structure.

But while many tourists come to photograph the bridge and the sunset (it’s got to be one of the most snapped places in Myanmar!), it was the people who I found most enchanting.

Because despite its increasing status as a tourist location, the U Bein Teak Bridge is an important and practical part of the daily movements for people who live in this area. And as the sun slowly drifts towards the horizon over the watery fields around, the residents of Amarapura use it to head home from their day’s activities.

U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar

I thought I would share a small collection of the photographs I took at the bridge one afternoon as the day approached dusk.

Although there were a lot of foreigners there (Mandalay has to be one of the busiest tourism places I’ve visited in Myanmar), the locals just minded their own business and went on their way.

Oh, apart from those trying to sell you something… but what else would you expect?

U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar

If you’re interested in visiting the bridge yourself, it might be easier if you go with a tour rather than doing it independently.

Here are a few good options:

 
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar

27 thoughts on “On the road from Mandalay”

  1. Beautiful pics! I am considering moving to Burma when they start opening up the border to foreign NGOs. I think it is one of the last countries in South East Asia where you can still experience some raw culture and not a culture influenced by capitalism or tourism. How long it is going to last I don’t know, so I am hoping that I can get to go sooner rather than later.

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    • You’re spot on! You can really get involved with the culture very quickly and it generally doesn’t feel like it’s been tainted by commercialism. You would love it there if you could spend some time getting to know the place!

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  2. Michael, those were incredible pics of the U Bein Bridge. I didn’t got to see it in the sunset, but early in the morning and it was a lovely sight: you’re right, it’s the people walking over it that makes it such a special place. Even the sellers make good conversation 🙂
    It’s great to read your posts, make me miss Myanmar!

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    • It’s funny, isn’t it. Although it’s wonderful being there it can also be quite annoying dealing with the transport and dodgy guesthouses and everything. But as soon as you leave you forget all of that and you just start to miss the place!

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  3. Beautiful Pictures Michael! Never heard about Amara pura and this famous bridge. Sunset indeed is majestic, gorgeous and beautiful and the bridge just looks out of the world during that time. Also liked the leafy designs on the face of the Burmese children. Lean and muscular looking young Buddhist monks presented a curious sight.

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    • The monks are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. It really surprised me at first to see young athletic ones, fat ones drinking, old ones smoking, etc. But then they just all blend into the painting of Myanmar.

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    • It’s becoming more and more popular and I keep saying to people that it’s better to go sooner than later. Now is the perfect time… (perhaps it should go a little higher up the list… he he).

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  4. Michael, great post there… I will travel to Mandalay for business in a few days and will have 2 days for sightseeing. Is it advisable to get a local tour package for these 2 days? I didn’t have much time preparing for the trip (as it was a last-minute thing) and would love to maximize my time there. Also, do you happen to know any local reliable tour company in Mandalay?

    Reply
    • Hi Pong. I would recommend doing one day in the city of Mandalay by yourself – it’s fairly easy to see the main sights without a guide and just using a taxi to get around (or walking if you feel like the exercise!). You should get a guide for the second day to head out to the sights around Mandalay. You won’t need to book in advance – there are plenty of guys on motorbikes or taxi drivers on the street who will offer to be your guide. It sounds a bit dodgy but it’s not. Most of these guys are good and do this every day so they know their stuff. If you are a bit worried about choosing one, perhaps ask your hotel for advice (they’ll have a brother or a cousin or someone who does it). From memory, the whole day should cost less than $10.
      Let me know how you go!

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      • Michael, thanks a lot of your useful tips. I asked a hotel staff for a driver who could drive me around the city for almost a day and it cost 30,000 Kyat. I agree with you that Burmese people are one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They have pride in their nation and are eager to show you how they live their daily lives. BTW, I went to see a cultural dance at the Mintha Theater last night. The entry fee was 8,000 Kyat and it was a not-to-be-missed show in my view. As a Thai, I find that Burmese and Thais share a lot of common beliefs, foods and even traditions. The dance was entertaining and not too long or difficult to digest. There were just 8 audience last night. Tourists who like to support these artistes should drop by. The shows starts at 8.30 daily and it lasts for 1 hour.

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  5. thank you, just delightful pictures, completely captured the essence of the place … I only just found your photos as I was reminiscing about my visit to Myanmar in 2009; in the last few days, I had been talking to two friends in Myanmar and it made me think I need to go again as I believe it is already changing dramatically .. when I was there, even in Mandalay and surroundings, there were few English speaking people … the whole country is a complete joy, mainly because of the people …

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for sharing your memories, Dee. I would love to have seen it in 2009. These days (or even when I was there a year ago) it was becoming more open. That’s a good thing but over time I worry it will become as tourists as parts of Thailand. I would have loved to see the country when foreigners were even more of a novelty than they are now.

      Reply
  6. Beautiful write up – and awesome pics!

    What’s the meaning of the leaf prints on children’s faces I wonder?

    Will check out your travel guide 🙂

    Reply

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