South East Asia – Chapter 20 – One day in Mandalay – U Bein

Next up was a short, but sweet visit to U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. This bridge connects an island to the main land, spanning the Taungthaman lake at 1.2kms long and is made from salvaged teak wood posts (or columns) from an old palace that was being moved from Amarapura to Mandalay. It was constructed in the 1850’s. It is the world’s longest teak bridge. The surprisingly sturdy teak-wood bridge is beautiful to look at and is of daily importance to the locals as they walk to and from the main land for work, school and markets.

It is best known to tourist for it’s beauty at sunset and is one of Mandalay’s most photographed destinations. Unfortunately, it was only a short stop for us, so I did not get to see it’s beauty in the setting evening sun, but none-the-less, it was still amazing and full of life, functional and very active with locals. It was one area where we did see a couple of dozen other tourists, which is still incredibly miniscule.

Several of us opted to take a boat ride to the halfway point and then we walked back along the bridge (4000 kyat for 3 – 4 people). The heat was nearly unbearable, but the breeze on the water was refreshing. Along the way we saw people fishing from the bridge and from the water, as well as people swimming / bathing in the water.

On our way back each of us was approached by a child selling items. These children have been trained to ‘make friends’ with one tourist each rather than surrounding and bombarding all of the tourists at once. They love to practice their English with you and I found that the girls who ‘friended’ me were very polite and not pushy. They certainly told you about the items they had for sale, but they weren’t demanding that you buy them. They were hoping if they had a chat with you, that you would be nice enough to buy them. I suppose this likely makes it harder for tourists to bargain as hard as well. At least for me, once I feel like I know someone a little, know about their family, their schooling etc, it is harder for me to offer them only half price.

I chatted with a young girl named Ehtoo for the walk back along the teak bridge. She spoke really good English, told me about her family and that she goes to school in the mornings, but has to work in the afternoons. She showed me the jewelry that she was selling. I wasn’t interested and try really hard not to buy things if I’m not interested. But, the simple fact that she was trying to have a discussion and offering her items, but not pushing them on me … in the end I bought two necklaces from her for 12 000 kyat. She tried to get me to buy three for 15 000 but I simply wasn’t interested. Sometimes I can just walk away, especially when I’m being swarmed and hounded. But, when I’ve had one-on-one time with someone, I find it much harder to say no.

I asked her if she made the jewelry herself, but she did not. She simply buys (or borrows) it from one of the larger stores on the teak bridge and then she gets a cut of what she sells. Although I would have much rather bought something that she actually made, or known that the money was going directly to her, but in the end, I guess she was making some money rather than no money and she was a really sweet kid.

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