Meeting locals on the U Bein’s bridge
09.08.2011 - 09.08.2011 28 °C
Renting bicycles the next morning, for a 16 mile round trip ride to the world’s longest Teak bridge in Amarapura, we soon found ourselves back in the scooter chaos of downtown Mandalay. Whilst cycling affords another opportunity to observe Burmese life pass by constant vigilance is required, with erratic road maneuvers and incessant horn blowing to contend with.
Passing through the centre of town we are soon riding along the slightly quieter streets of the southern suburbs. Throughout our journey roadside accommodation whether they be concrete, wooden or bamboo are never far away. The open countryside does not beckon this close to Mandalay. Carrying no map but with a helpful and friendly population knowing that this road south has only one destination for two sweaty, western cycling tourists a variety of shouts and gesticulations take us from the main road and along a veritable labyrinth of narrow village streets, towards U Bein’s Bridge.
With traffic and a number of stops our journey south takes a relatively slow two hours. Having seen no tourists during our ride it is clear that we are approaching U Bein’s Bridge when we can see a number of tourist buses parked in the distance. Approaching the Taungthaman Lake, the 1300yd-long teak bridge across it is suddenly visible. Still strong after 200 years, the world’s longest teak span is obviously still in daily use: small boys cast a line, with an old water bottle acting as a float, locals walk their bikes home to Taungthaman village and monks in saffron robes carry alms bowls between monasteries on both sides.
Curving to better withstand the wind a popular activity is to be rowed out to get a close-up look at the 1,060 post bridge from the water. Yet, after a cold beer, we decide to simply walk across the bridge savoring the ancient views and window into local life that it affords. Unexpectedly this decision also affords us a view of living the life of the photogenic and famous. For we are unable to make much progress across the bridge as a constant stream of holidaying Burmese smile, gesture and sometimes ask (in English) if they could have their picture taken with us…well typically Trey. Group and individual shots are all requested. At times we move from one photo pose to another as other holidaying Burmese, seeing our willingness to submit to the picture taking, make their request. With pictures taken and to the inevitable squeals of happy laughter they would continue on their journey clearly delighted to have had their picture taken with Westerners. For once I wish I had shaved that morning.
Finally reaching the far shoreline younger children, eager to talk with westerners would ask us to take their picture, some walking back across the bridge with or at least close to us. It was that kind of friendly bridge. A great tourist draw but one that few western tourists were visiting today.
Returning to the city and our hotel, dodging the afternoon monsoon, our bicycles had afforded us another opportunity to both view and talk to an immensely friendly local population. Yet the massages we partook of back at our hotel were also welcome. Helping to ease away the muscle strains of a long days exercise.