U Bein Bridge is one of Myanmar’s most famous attractions. This iconic bridge stretches out for 1.2 kilometers across Taungthaman Lake in Mandalay and draws visitors from across the world. But how did it come to be, and just why is it so famous in Myanmar?
So, what it is?
U Bein Bridge is believed to be the longest and oldest teak wood bridge in the world. As we’ve already mentioned, it stretches out for 1.2 kilometers which is a pretty impressive feet seeing as it was built over 150 years ago. To be precise, its location is actually in the old ancient capital of Amarapura, which is just on the outskirts of Mandalay. The bridge itself plays a big part in the everyday life of locals with hundreds crossing over by either foot or bicycle to get to work or the local markets. Since becoming a popular tourist attraction, many now make their livelihood from the bridge by offering boat rides, selling food and water or by showing off their impressive knowledge of its history.
So Why the Name?
For the pretty simple reason that “U Bein” was the man who built the bridge. Or at least he was the local mayor at the time, and ordered its construction. In Burmese culture the “U” before a name is an honorific title similar to “Mr”, while “Bein” is his actual given name.
History of U Bein Bridge
Now things get a little bit muddled at this point, with various different dates thrown around that slightly contradict each other. What we do know is that following the Second Anglo-Burmese War, King Mindon decided to move his capital from Amarapura to Mandalay. He made the decision to reuse as much material from Amarapura in the construction of Mandalay, either to save costs, or more likely to preserve his kingdoms history. With the help of elephants to transport the materials, his new capital was officially established in 1859.
During this relocation period, the local mayor of Amarapura, U Bein, was able to salvage some of the teak wood from the now dismantled Inwa Palace. Using over 1000 pillars, U Bein began constructing the bridge across Thaungthaman Lake in order to reduce the time it took to get to the monastic school (around a 13 mile walk).
Bearing in mind that this bridge was constructed over 150 years ago, it’s an extremely impressive feet of engineering. Apparently engineers measured out the placing of the pillars by counting their footsteps one by one and using traditional scaling techniques.
Most, if not all, of the teak pillars have now been replaced with concrete so to provide a stronger base. This is needed most notably in August and September when the lake rises due to the monsoon rains, and often breaches over the top of the bridge. During the dryer months of March and April, the tall pillars tower above the water as the lake all but dries up.
A bridge is a villager’s best friend
The bridge is famous for not only its structure, but also for being a crucial part of the community. The bridge has remained an important passageway for over 150 years, helping children get to school, fishermen to channel their catch and locals to reach important religious sites and markets.
Over the years the livelihoods of the locals has begun to change, with many now relying on tourism for their income. As a result U Bein Bridge now provides a living to local vendors selling their souvenirs, fishermen offering to take tourists for a ride at sunset, and local entrepreneurs wanting to practice their English by showing off their history of the famous bridge.
Beloved Bridge for Tourists
Along with its distinctive features and scenic views, it is no wonder that tourists fall in love with it. The bridge and its scenery are naturally beautiful from all angles. Tourists usually come here for sunset, walking along the main passageway or watching the iconic view from a fisherman’s boat on the lake. Here you can capture both the everyday life of locals going about their business, mixed with the breathtaking landscape as a backdrop.
For those wanting to really see something special, come along at sunrise. Watch the early morning mist begin to clear as the town slowly wake up and begin their commute across the bridge, as the sun begins to climb. At this time, we promise you’ll see no other tourists, just you, the bridge, and the town.
The Final Word
To get to U Bein Bridge, you’ll have to take a car from Mandalay. It’s about 11 kilometers south of the old capital so it’ll take about 20 minutes to drive there and all taxis will know exactly where it is.
For the best views we’d either recommend hiring out a boat and watching the sunset from the lake, or making your way to the far side of the bridge where you’ll find some local tea shops on the water’s edge. Here you can sit back and enjoy a nice cold refreshment as you watch the sun setting in the far off distance. For both, it’s best to get their early so you can bag the front spot.