The old capital of Burma, a city called Ava (now known as Inwa), was no more – a series a powerful earthquakes completely flattened the city in 1839 CE. King Tharrawaddy, 8th monarch of the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma (commissioner of U Bein’s Bridge), decided he was done with earthquake-prone Ava; he ordered its abandonment, and shifted the capital back to Amarapura.
What to do with the remains of the royal palace of Ava though? It’d be a waste to leave all that teakwood timber just lying there, unused, in the ruined city.
How about reuse the timber in a 1.2 kilometre long bridge spanning Taungthaman Lake?
U Bein’s Bridge
U Bein’s Bridge (named after U Bein, the city mayor that oversaw its construction) was built between 1849 and 1851. It contains over 1000 teakwood posts reclaimed from the former royal palace – and other ruined structures – of Ava.
There are nine pagoda-like covered sections along the length of U Bein’s Bridge, each of which was built with removable floor components that can be lifted up to allow passage for barges and boats.
I visited in 2005, when the structure was still primarily used for daily commuting – there weren’t many tourists in Myanmar in 2005. The bridge was extremely busy, showing the continued usefulness of the 160 year old structure.
These days the bridge is one of the tourist highlights of Myanmar – a sunset photo of U Bein’s Bridge is a must-have – and I’ve been told the area has developed into a bit of a tourist trap. I’d argue that the bridge is best visited at midday, when it is dominated by locals, rather than at sunset or sunrise, when it is dominated by tourists.
But such things are unavoidable. And hopefully the bridge’s rise to prominence will secure it some much needed maintenance funds, as this 160 year old wooden bridge is beginning to show its years.
Practical information and how to reach U Bein’s Bridge:
U Bein’s Bridge is located in the town of Amarapura, on the outskirts of Mandalay. It can be reached by taxi, by local bus, or by cycling. More transport info here.
There is a plan to make U Bein’s Bridge a UNESCO World Heritage site. Read more here.