Uttamanusorn Bridge, Sangkhlaburi, Thailand
The sunrise had come and gone but there were still plenty of people on the bridge. An ethnic mix of Mon, Karen, Thai and me all enjoying a stroll in the gentle morning breeze. A girl walked up to me and smudged some fragrant thanakha onto my cheeks, smiled and said, “Welcome to Sangkhlaburi.”
Thanakha is a creamy paste, made by grinding the bark of the Murraya and Livonia acidissima, or wood apple tree into a fine paste. Applied to the skin it provides a pleasant cooling sensation and is also said to act as a sunscreen and to protect against acne and fungal infections.
Sangkhlaburi is a town that sits at the confluence of three rivers, the Songkhalia, the Bi Khi Yai and the Ran Ti. Stretching south from Sangkhlaburi, and flanked on both sides by the Khao Laem National Park, lies the picturesque Vajiralongkorn Reservoir. When the reservoir was created in 1984 much of the town was flooded and what remained was split into two halves.
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Construction of the Uttamanusorn, or Mon bridge was initiated by Luangpho Ajahn Tala Uttama, Thailand’s most revered Mon monk, to rejoin the two halves of the town and make it whole again. The bridge was originally built by the local Mon community, mostly refugees from Myanmar to whom the monk had given sanctuary. Unfortunately, this collapsed in 2013 after particularly heavy rains. It was rebuilt by the Engineering soldiers of the Ninth Division and re-opened on October 18, 2014, the anniversary of Luangpho Uttama’s death. The bridge is still maintained by the Mon community and whilst there is no charge to walk across a donation towards the cost of its upkeep is appreciated.
At about 440 metres the wooden bridge is the longest of its kind in Thailand.