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The Bamboo Bridge of Kampong Cham That is Built And Dismantled Every Year

Across the turbid waters of the Mekong River, in eastern Cambodia, runs a long rickety bamboo bridge connecting the river island of Koh Pen, that sits in the middle of Mekong, to the river’s western banks where lies Cambodia’s sixth largest city—Kampong Cham.

This bamboo bridge is seasonal: it’s built every dry season when the waters of the Mekong River recede and become too shallow for ferry. Then at the start of each rainy season, before the rivers swell, the bridge is dismantled by hand and the bamboos stored away or reused for other constructions. This is done because during the wet season the river currents become too strong for the bridge to survive. Boats then ferry people across the river instead.

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Photo credit: James Antrobus/Flickr

Once the waters have receded low enough and currents have subdued, construction on a new bridge commences. First, tall bamboo poles are rammed into the riverbed and a layer of split bamboo matting is laid on top to make the surface. More poles at different angles brace the foundation. The bridge is strong and wide enough to support the weight of light vehicles, but from afar it looks like a matchstick model.

Because bamboos bend rather than break when under pressure, driving a car or motorbike over the bridge causes the bamboos to continually flex and bounce giving riders the experience of riding a wave, accompanied by the percussive and deafening rattling of the deck under the tires.

“None of the thousands upon thousands of horizontal-running bamboo striations are quite level, so it’s a slippery, bumpy ride,” wrote Emily Lush on Wander Lush. “Speeding motorbikes send shock waves across the bridge, threatening to throw unsteady travellers off their feet and onto a menacing row of blunt bamboo spikes that line the bridge’s edge.”

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Photo credit: Stephen Bugno/Flickr

Yet, thousands of tourists come to Kampong Cham each year to make the adrenalin fueled crossing. Locals are charged 100 riel, or about 2.5 cents, to use the bridge but foreign tourists are charged forty times more, as is customary in these parts of the world. Tolls bring in 1 to 2 million riel per day, or about $250 to $500, the lion’s share of which is borne by foreigners. The revenue collected goes towards the bridge’s construction and maintenance which requires about $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

Kampong Cham’s bamboo bridge has been built and rebuilt for decades. But this year might be the bridge’s last.

About two kilometers south of the bamboo bridge a new concrete bridge opened in March this year. The 800-meter long bridge has the capacity to carry vehicles of up to 30 tons, as opposed to only 4 tons of the bamboo bridge, and has an expected lifespan of at least 50 years.

Some villagers of Koh Pen Island, to which the bridge leads, are happy about the new concrete bridge as it’s more convenient and time saving, as well as safer. Plus, they do not have to pay for it either. But losing the bamboo bridge will be losing tourists which many fear will negatively impact the economy of the whole island.

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Photo credit: Donald Macauley/Wikimedia

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Longest bamboo bridge in the world. Photo credit: Dale Warren/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Stephen Bugno/Flickr

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Photo credit: Stephen Bugno/Flickr

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Photo credit: Stephen Bugno/Flickr

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View under the bamboo bridge in Kampong Cham. Photo credit: Vitalii Karas/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Vitalii Karas/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: Kompasskind.de/Shutterstock.com

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