Saturday, 20 September 2014

Amarapura (home of the big-ass bridge)

Burma's last capital before Mandalay, Amarapura is essentially a leafy suburb. It's main (indeed, only real) claim to fame for tourists is the 1300 yard long U Bein's Bridge, the longest teak footbridge in the world.

Stretching across Taungthaman Lake, the rickety wooden structure is not a place to wear high heels or go for a walk when you feel unsteady. Expect wide cracks between the planks, ancient support posts, and no hand rails. Expect the feel of the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and dozens of friendly "mingalaba" greetings from the locals you pass.

Imagine Jeremy Clarkson's voice: the best rickety wooden bridge... in the world

At the peak of the wet season, the lake rises up to lap just below the bridge. In the dry season, water levels drop right down and the exposed land becomes seasonal farmland. Expect scrawny grazing cows. Expect pop-up restaurants with no electricity or running water. Expect fishermen standing in waist deep water, tossing nets.

Wandering cows underneath the bridge
Pop up restaurants before they became trendy in Shoreditch.....

When you cross the bridge, you'll find a handful of restaurants and cafes on the other side, and a nice pagoda, Kyauktawgyi Paya, known for its frescoes in the four entry hallways. To find the pagoda, cross the bridge to the Eastern end, then follow the main road as it winds away from the bridge for a couple of hundred yards, until after the restaurants end. You'll pass a school on your left, and then see the large complex of the pagoda on the left.

Beautiful scene, scary tree

The easiest way to get to the bridge is to take a taxi or motorbike taxi from Mandalay. Amarapura is about halfway between the city centre and either Sagaing Hill or Inwa, so would combine with either or both of those for a great day trip.

It's easy to hire a taxi in Mandalay; indeed, they'll find you pretty quickly. Drivers tend to hang out outside all the hotels or guesthouses, as well as plenty of street corners. Or your hotel can order you a car, although they're always a bit more expensive. 

Small shelters provide a bit of shelter from the sun and a place to buy snacks - crisps
and bags of small, bright orange, roasted crabs. Small warning though: there ain't no
refrigeration on the bridge 

Unfortunately, wherever you go to get your ride, it's not that easy to get a fair deal on a taxi anymore. Drivers see a foreign face, and the price is suddenly three or four times the normal fare. So my advice is do some research and try and get an idea of what the actual correct, local fare is, and then try not to pay more than 50% over the odds. Don't be afraid to walk away. You'll be amazed at how quickly the fare tends to come down if you just keep walking away. 

Also, be aware that the driver you negotiate with may not be the one who actually gives you the ride. It's not uncommon for you to suddenly be handed off to the drivers "brother" as the taxi drivers with the best English often negotiate fares for those who don't speak the language.

Mmmm.... crumbly
Mmmm.... holey. Not the best place for stilettos....
That is some serious bridge, stretching almost to the horizon. 

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