The celebrated U Bein Bridge is certainly one of Mandalay’s top destinations and probably the most photogenic, so, how to optimise your visit? Now there’s considerable debate amongst frequent visitors as to whether dawn or dusk is better and, well they’re both good and despite the Bridge running approximately east/west, it does extend for a whole 1.2 km so you ought to be able to find the angle to get those iconic silhouette shots at either time of day.
However because of the way our Burma tour itinerary is set up we usually time our visit for the end of the day but the essential thing, if you are to see the picturesque bridge under ideal conditions, is to avoid the middle of the day when U Bein is at its least photogenic and when the unprotected wooden walkway can get seriously hot.
Another significant factor to consider is water levels which in a monsoon climate can obviously vary substantially from month to month. Your silhouette images may well be compromised during high water periods of say August and September when much of the bridge is under water but rest assured – there are plenty more classic images to capture.
Conversely in the dry season months of, for instance, March and April, large areas of the lake become dry land and you’ll struggle to find vantage points with water still under the bridge. The central part, to the immediate north of the bridge itself, becomes a tongue of land sticking into the lake covered in improvised bamboo cafes. Of course, that does mean you could almost dispense with hiring a boat and can even just sit in a deckchair with a cold beer and still watch the sunset.
So what to do when you get there is going to depend upon the month as well as what you aim to get out of your visit. You have 3 main choices; walking along the bridge, sitting in a lakeside cafe or hiring a boat or combinations of the options. If you are absolutely after that iconic image then hiring a boat is going to be essential since the classic views are from the centre of the lake and even during the dry season you’re ideally going to need to be mobile to cover the different angles.
Walking along the bridge might not afford those Burma guide book cover-shots but it is a great way to meet a lot of locals, get plenty of good ‘people’ photos and in the cool of dusk or dawn certainly makes for a very pleasant and picturesque stroll. Bear in mind a return trip from one end to the other is a 2 and a half kilometre walk though. Anyway, your guide and tour-leader will be on hand for advice and we’ll make sure we get you to the bridge at optimum ‘viewing time’.
Relaxing in a deckchair with a chilled ‘Myanmar’ is also a pleasant part of the ‘U Bein experience’ but when the water’s high you’ll be quite a distance from the bridge. Conveniently there are steps down to the water at certain points along the bridge so it is possible to arrange a pick-up with one of the boatmen meaning you could walk halfway along, chat with the monks and take in the views then return by boat with a stop in the lake to obtain your classic sunset/sunrise pictures. Follow that up with a cold one at a lakeside cafe and we reckon you’ve covered all the angles, photographically and otherwise!
Whatever you do you it’s a wonderful destination and we reckon if there’s any doubt – just go there twice. Enjoy!