I didn’t expect to see a pair of monks playing music on an iPhone, but I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined the music would be a song from One Direction, of all possible options. Michael Buble, maybe; Enya, of course; but One Direction? Then again, I’d never imagined myself in Myanmar to begin with, so wasn’t this just part of the experience of being continuously and wonderfully surprised by everything around me?
I was walking on a long wooden bridge with no railings, with just a little more space in between each of the planks than I wanted to feel safe. I am clumsy and accident-prone AF, and this unlevel playing field did not bode well for me. I put my phone in my bag immediately because I had a vision of it falling and landing perfectly vertical through one of the open slats, splashing into the water below. I was thankful to have my actual camera and the wriststrap which I felt more comfortable with in this situation. My new friends and I had taken a cab ride from Mandalay to the town of Amarapura, though I’d initially tried to convince them we take a bike ride there and back. A cab was the right decision considering how dark it got and how long it took to drive there and back.
The U Bein Bridge (pronounced “oo bain”) is the longest teak footbridge in the world at 3/4 of a mile. It was constructed in the 1850s and the bridge itself is held up by over 1,000 poles, though some of those have been replaced by concrete over the years. It’s recommended to visit during sunrise or sunset. We visited during sunset because I’ve only been able to wake up for a handful of sunrises in my entire life. As we were there during August, the end of the rainy season, the water was up pretty high, maybe just six feet below the bridge. But we’d all seen pictures during the dry season with the bridge up thirty or so feet from the water. I think if I’d visited during that time I’d have been too scared of falling to enjoy the views, as I was already a little nervous due to the spaces between the boards.
Because of the high water level, the tops of trees were peaking out of the Taungthaman River with little evidence of their trunks or roots. The roofs of huts were sticking out of the water, whereas the dry season would’ve revealed the whole building, perhaps a covering for a floating market. A few locals were sitting on the bridge selling souvenirs (and one woman was selling small whole fried birds – we weren’t sure what kind), but nothing was overwhelmingly touristy, especially since most of the other travelers were in the water.
There were boats alongside the bridge on which you could take a ride, filled with seemingly European senior citizens in bright orange vests. There was no way we wanted to be with them so we continued walking instead. We walked until the sun set completely, almost to the end of the bridge, but turned back because it got pretty damn dark and we had other plans than to fall off the bridge.
Toward the end of the walk back is where we found ourselves behind the musical monks. Once again – as keeps happening in all of my travels – at a moment when I felt so far away from home, halfway across the globe, walking with three people I’d just met from three different countries, I also felt so close to home because I too, have that song on my phone. And just as Myanmar has stayed with me even though it’s what’s physically far away right now, the people I was with have stayed with me. I was in Cape Town earlier this month with Cathy who I’d met that morning of the bridge walk, and David, in Melbourne, is the one who inspired me to hit “publish” on this post, as he mentioned to me today that I haven’t written in a while.
The sunset, the bridge, and the company would have been enough for one evening of travel success, but a few minutes later we were extremely fortunate to experience something even more unimaginable to me than monks rocking out to boybands, something that the travelers in the boats along the U Bein Bridge would have never experienced – that’s a story for another time.