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U Bein Bridge feels the strains of age

Conservationists and residents in Mandalay have expressed concerns over a lack of planning to protect the historical U Bein Bridge that spans across Taungthaman Lake in the town of Amarapura, one of the country’s best known tourist attractions.

Named after the mayor who ordered it built following the move of the Ava Kingdom to Amarapura, the U Bein Bridge was constructed around 1850. It spans 1.2 km and is thought to be the longest teak bridge in the world.

The bridge was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa. It features 1,086 pillars that stretch out of the water, some of which have been replaced with concrete in modern times. However, many of its teakwood beams and pillars are rotting, and critics say a lack of regulation is leading to the strain on the structure.

“We see motorbikes casually rolling along the bridge and people running on it,” said architect Win Maung. “This is destroying the bridge.


“If we start now with efforts to preserve the bridge as a cultural heritage site, it may last another 100 to 150 years,” he continued. “But if we continue to treat it like this, it will collapse in about 30 to 40 years.”

He said preserving the bridge should be set as a priority.

Maung Maung Oo, the head of a Mandalay-based environment and heritage conservation group, Seinyaungso Activities, said fishery operators have been building ponds in Taungthaman Lake which manipulate the flow of water. He said the drainage is a huge threat to the lake’s survival.

“The only party that get profits from these ponds are the fishery operators themselves,” he said. “But everyone has to pay the price.”

Mickey Hart, a historian based in Mandalay, said a “master plan” is needed to preserve the bridge systemically without damaging its cultural values.

“We need a master plan for preserving the bridge and the lake; it is not something that can be done off-the-cuff,” he said. “We need to consider how to renovate the bridge using materials that preserve its cultural values as well as preserving the lake. We must also manage the drainage and make the water cleaner without damaging the livelihoods of locals.”


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