Suitcase and World: As The Sun Sets Over Myanmar. U Bein Bridge.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

As The Sun Sets Over Myanmar. U Bein Bridge.

In the glow of the setting sun at U Bein Bridge.

We barely made it to Mandalay Hill in time for sunset yesterday. I think Zaw did not want to take any chances today so he had us at U Bein Bridge just before the sun began its journey down to the horizon.

 Zaw and Aung deposited us in the parking lot.  We agreed on a spot where we would meet back up with them and then headed out on to the bridge on our own.

This place was jam packed with both locals and tourists! It was unbelievably crowded!  We made our way past a row of vendor stalls, following the masses towards the bridge.

U Bein bridge is a wooden footbridge that spans 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles) across  Taungthaman Lake near the township of Amarapura.

The bridge was built around 1850 and is believed to be the oldest and longest teak wood bridge in the world.  Construction began when the capital of Ava Kingdom moved to Amarapura and the bridge is named after the man who had it built.

It's currently dry season in Myanmar so you can actually walk over much of the dried up lake on foot but in rainy season in July and August, the only way across is via the bridge.

The bridge’s attraction is not simply in its structure, but that it remains a central part of the community, with hundreds of locals and saffron-robed monks walking their bicycles home along it, and fishermen going about their daily work in its shadow.  These days there are increasing numbers of tourists, especially at sunset which is why we're here at this time of day.

You can read more about the bridge on Wikipedia.

Once we were on the bridge, the crowds seemed to thin out a bit though there were quite a lot of people walking across it.

We took our time so we could take in the view.

On one side of the bridge, the view was a scenic one of fields and lake.  On the other side, it was lake and the parking lot we had just left behind.

While Bro and Ayşe took in the view from the bridge itself, I decided to head back down to ground level.  I am by no stretch of anyone's rating a skilled taker of sunset photos but I still want to try so I had to find a good spot to take the photos from, given the angle that the sun was setting in.   I went in search of that spot.

Looking around the area, I realized that I would not be able to stand back far enough to really a good shot of the bridge, against the setting sun.  It was then that I  noticed the wooden boats, occupied with tourists, heading out into the lake.   I didn't realize that you can take a boat out on to the lake because had I known, I would have asked to go on one.  It's the best way to get a full shot of the bridge.

Sadly, the area all around the bridge was also littered with trash.  I had to avoid certain spots if for no reason other than to not step into something undesirable.

I kept experimenting with camera settings and locations.  Here are some of the shots.  I took way too many to post them all up :-)  You can see that I'm pretty much standing right up against the bridge.  In July and August, I would be standing in water.  Having the water to reflect off of would make for some spectacular photos.  Not today.

Only when my back was to the sun could I actually get shots where you could clearly make out the faces of people.

Otherwise, it was just silhouettes which I think are quite beautiful in their own way.

There are a few benches, positioned along the length of bridge.  It was nice to see people just sitting and enjoying the sun set.

I had to wait patiently to capture the shot below. I was desperately trying to get one photo where there were only a few people crossing the bridge.  I didn't realize how incredibly difficult that would be!  It came just about when I was ready to give up.  If you can't tell, the figure on the right is a monk.

I was so preoccupied with taking photos of the bridge that I barely took any photos of what was taking place around me.  This group of woman was having so much fun, their joyful giggling caught my ear.  I quietly chuckled to myself as I watched them struggle doing what so many of us are challenged to do - take a selfie with both the people and the background in nice view.  Selfie stick or not, it's not an easy thing to do :-)

As I made my way back to the parking lot, I watched the tourist boats return back to shore.  In a short while, this whole area would be returned back to the locals as the horde of visitors will have left.  In many ways, the time to come to U Bein is at this moment when the sun is still just inches from setting and all the other photo takers are about to leave.

I met with Bro and Ayşe as they were coming off the bridge and the three of us made our way back to the van where Aung was waiting for us.  He's very quiet but a very nice man.  Zaw soon appeared.  But, before we headed off, I led everyone to a lakeside eatery.  When we arrived, I had spotted the sugar cane juicer and sticks of sugar cane propped up nearby.  If I had to pick a single drink that Bro and I both love more than anything else, it would be sugar cane juice.  Growing up in Malaysia, we had it all the time. In the US, we can only get the canned stuff which if you've ever had the freshly squeezed stuff, you know it cannot compare.  So, when we travel, we leapt at any and all opportunities to have some.  You can imagine how disappointed we were in Thailand where there was not any sugar cane juice to be found....anywhere.  That was a complete shock to me as Thailand and Malaysia are neighbors but yet the Thais don't know how to appreciate this delectable sweet drink.  I feel sorry for them :-)

With Zaw translating, both Bro and I ordered a glass each.  Sugar cane juice is not something familiar to Ayşe so it was no surprised that she declined.  But she would have a sip to try.  That's one of the things I like about traveling with Ayşe - she's willing to give everything a try.  I took Ayşe over to watch the young boy use the machine to squeeze the juice from the canes.  So much easier than the hand cranked machine.

The squeezed juice went straight into the glasses.  Sometimes the vendor will try to cheat you and dilute the juice with water.  Here, it was pure, sweet cane goodness.  One sip each and we both decided to order a second glass worth to take back to the hotel with us.  Each glass, which was about the size of a small beer mug, cost us less than 50 US cents. What a treat!  Now that I know the Burmese drink sugar cane juice, I will be on the look out for the rest of the trip!!

Sorry for the fuzzy video. My camera's not been the same since I took the tumble in Bangkok.  I'm going to send my beloved zoom lens for repair when I get home.

Back our hotel, we were too tire and feeling far to lazy to venture out in search of a place for dinner so we opted instead to eat at a small local restaurant located in front of the entrance to our hotel.  We had passed it last night and it looked like it served up some decent meal. 

All the tables were outside so we tried to find one near a fan. The first waiter spoke no English so we waited for his colleague who spoke just enough for him to help us order up a simple meal of curry and rice.  The place turned out to be a sports bar of sorts - you had better luck ordering a large pitcher of beer than a real meal.  Thankfully, none of us were all that hungry - the heat saps your appetite.

Dinner was okay.  Power went out when we were eating.  I had my flashlight with me.  But thankfully, it came back on after a couple of minutes.

Sadly, tonight is our last night in Mandalay. Tomorrow, we are heading to Bagan.  It will be an all day trip and hopefully, an interesting one!

Goodnight from Mandalay!