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Setting up camp at dawn on the Amarapura side of the U Bein Bridge one can look over the lake as the sun rises while around you yawning old men exchange pleasantries and go through their morning stretches.
Throughout the day you can walk over U Bein across the gusty lake, past children somersaulting into the water and the fishermen who catch their fare without a boat but on their feet with solely a stick and net.
An U Bein Bridge sunset is stunning. One can walk across the bridge to look out over the lake or alternatively rent a boat and bring along some beers so to enjoy the view as locals return home or back to the monastery, their silhouettes crisply marked against the burning orange backdrop.
The tea houses, restaurants and beer stations on the banks of the lake in Amarapura are usually bustling and are also an optimum spot for sunset. Alongside the road you will see women selling fish which those seeking merit can buy and release into the lake.
The bridge (sometimes spelt ‘U-Pain Bridge’) was constructed in the 1850s by an official (some sources say mayor) of the city, built out of 1, 086 posts, supposedly from the ruins of the former capital of Ava.
For reasons unknown, U Bein was later executed by the tyrannical King Pagan Min. However Pagan Min’s own comeuppance was soon at hand. The Second-Anglo Burmese War began and ended in 1852. Pagan Min was ousted by his half-brother Mindon, and the capital city relocated from Amarapura to Mandalay.
A shrine to U Bein stands not too far from the bridge but is in a poor state. Reportedly, requests to the authorities by local Muslims to rebuild it have been denied.
The Kyauktawgyi Pagoda (Mahatakyaayan) lies on the east side of the U Bein Bridge and has Myanmar’s most absorbing murals from the Amarapura period including angels – tell-tale signs of early European influence – as well as a 5 metre Buddha Image made of Sagyin marble. The pagoda is usually quiet and rewards exploration around its spacious gardens set within picturesque crumbling walls.
Visitors can also go and see the tombs of King Bodawpaya (he who sacked the Rakhine Kingdom of Mrauk U and stole the Mahamuni Image) who died in 1819, King Bagyidaw who died in 1846 after being dethroned in 1837, and King Tharrawaddy who died in Amarapura in 1846.
There is also a shrine to the Islamic Saint Arbhisha Hussaini and a tomb in the Lin Zin Gon Cemetery to the ex-Thai King Uthumphon, who abdicated and became a Buddhist monk. He is also known as Chaofa Dawk Madua, ‘King of the Fig Flower.’
A small British charity continues to work for the sake of forgotten allies from WW2.
The spillage of empires has been mopped up. Mandalay remains Myanmar’s cultural capital.