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Amarapura

And the U-Bein Bridge

 

Most tourists travel to Amarapura, Myanmar’s former capital, to visit the U-Bein Bridge. Stretching 1.2 kilometres over the Taung-tha-man Lake, it is the world’s longest wooden bridge. The lake itself is of interest, having been identified as a neolithic site in the 1970’s.

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 (some say from the ruins of the former capital of Ava.) U Bein was later executed by the tyranical King Pagan Min. A shrine to U Bein stands not to far from the bridge, but is in poor shape. Reportedly, requests to the authorities by local Muslims to rebuild the shrine have been denied. 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.

Setting up camp at dawn on the Amarapura side of the U-Bein Bridge, Mandalay’s finest 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 the U-Bein Bridge 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. A 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 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 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.’

 

Mahagandayon and other monasteries


Mahagandayon Monastery is one of the largest teaching monasteries in the entire country. It is home to 1, 200 monks, novices and pre-novices housed in over 200 buildings. When visiting Mahagandayon Monastery you will be able to observe the monks filing out into the town to collect alms each morning, first at 6am and then later at 10am. The sight of the hundreds of monks lining up together is stunning, however it is worth going at 6am, because as Mahagandayon Monastery is Myanmar’s most famous monastery, it attracts throngs of tourists and their invasive cameras. For this reason, we recommend travellers to instead visit a monastery in Sagaing.

Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura is particularly conservative and therefore you will notice that the monks there expose very little flesh. It is the principal teaching monastery in the Mandalay region, admitting young men and boys from far and wide. Therefore as well as full-grown and wizened monks you will see hundreds of young novices and pre-novices, the latter wearing robes of white as opposed to safron.

Interested in visiting the U-Bein Bridge? Have a look at our Suggested Journeys that incorporate visiting Amarapura, or alternatively begin building your own Myanmar journey here.

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