Mandalay’s U Bein Bridge: Aging Teak & a Glorious Sunset

 

Myanmar’s former capital of Mandalay has no shortage of things to keep you busy, but one of my favourites was to simply disappear into the bustle of people on the iconic U Bein bridge and watch the sun fade over the water. In my few days exploring Mandalay, I came to the bridge for three sunsets and each was spectacular.

Easily one of Burma’s most photographed sights, U Bein is a teak bridge stretching close to 1200 meters across Taungthaman Lake. While busy throughout the day, it 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. I loved standing to the side and watching the world go by, a world I’ll never be a part of but one that left me wide-eyed and smiling.

Shadow of U Bein bridge outside of Mandalay
Shadow of U Bein Bridge, midway across.

mandalay's U bein bridge in Myanmar
Small resting areas dot the bridge and squeezing to the end of them allow for a different photo vantage point.

Looking over the river from Mandalay's U Bein Bridge
Kids playing on the shores of Taungthaman Lake, with fishermen in the distance.

View from U Bein teak bridge Mandalay
Beautiful gnarled tamarind trees on the shores of the lake.

One of the negatives to visiting U Bein bridge are the many women with tiny wooden cages filled with baby owls. “$1 and I will let it go!” they exclaim, pushing the cage toward you. My guide would shake his head, explaining that the aim was to free something caged and (for Buddhists) thus make merit. As he told it, the owls were trained to come right back into the cage, allowing the next person to pay up for the same release.

As I watched these women shake their owl-laden cages, a lovely girl (Aye, below) came up and shyly introduced herself. She was selling necklaces, she was 13, she was from a village nearby and her English was impeccable. It turned out that her French and Spanish were also fairly perfect and she took my hand and became my de facto guide for the day. Accompanied also by the guide I hired from Mandalay proper, the three of us strolled across the bridge, talking culture and food and religion and stopping to watch the sunset.

At the end of the trip, I bought a necklace from her to give to my guide’s wife. One thing about this lovely girl: she never once pressed me to purchase anything and she never pushed to meet up again. Like many of the Burmese I encountered, she merely wanted temporary companionship, someone to talk to and a picture to remember me by.

New friends on U Bein Bridge Mandalay
Aye and me.

Monks walking across U Bein Bridge
Monks crossing U Bein bridge on the way to Kyauktawgyi Paya on the other side.

Mandalay
Almost at the end of the bridge.

Buddha at the end of U Bein Bridge

At the far end of the bridge, through Taungthaman village and a cluster of thick trees, is Kyauktawgyi Paya. Built in the mid 1800s, legend has it that the Paya was built in the image of Ananda Pahto in Bagan – and having seen Bagan thereafter, I can certainly see the resemblance. However, atop the traditionally Thereveda Buddhist structure is an out-of-place Tibetan roof, which lends a beautiful, mysterious air to the building as a whole.

Inside the Paya sat several monks, who asked me the customary questions (in the same order as always): (1) where was I from, (2) where was my husband and (3) how old was I. My guide, who at this point knew my actual age and lack of husband status, made the monks guess. They thought I was 16. And then they made me show them my passport in order to prove that I wasn’t. U Bein Bridge: inadvertently good for the ego.

Beautiful frescos in the monastery near U Bein Bridge
Beautiful frescos inside Kyauktawgyi Paya, at the end of U Bein Bridge.

 

And some beautiful hallways leading into the main prayer room:

Arched hallways inside Kyauktawgyi Paya near U Bein Bridge

To my delight: outside the Paya was an interspecies friendship I hadn’t seen prior: pigs and dogs playing and eating together.

Pigs and Dogs CAN be friends
Pigs and dogs: newfound friends.

Making my way back onto the bridge (my guide and Aye in tow), the first glimpses of the sunset over Taungthaman Lake appeared:

First glimpses of sunset from Mandalay's U Bein bridge

And deepened:

Sunset at U Bein Bridge in Myanmar

And bled colour across the sky:

Sunset at U Bein Bridge in Myanmar

As I went back to my guide’s motorbike (driving without streetlights in the dark outside Mandalay is inadvisible – we left while there was still some light), the last vestiges of the sunset peeked through the trees:

Last vestiges of sunset from Mandalay's U Bein teak bridge

A highly recommended way to spend a late afternoon.
-Jodi

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