Dodge the crowds and enjoy the serenity
Firmly in the category of half the attraction is getting here, the Thanh Toan bridge is set roughly 7km from Hue and makes for an interesting and somewhat historic stop during a ramble through countryside.
While it doesn’t look like that troublesome a body of water, before the construction of the bridge, local villagers had no way of crossing the canal other than by boat. That all changed when, in 1776, Tran Thai Dao, the childless wife of a court mandarin, decided to put her savings to good use and have the bridge constructed. The wood structured and tile roofed bridge had dual purposes—the obvious one being to facilitate travel from one bank of the river to the other (duh!) but secondly, on each side of the bridge seating was incorporated into the series of chambers that form the bridge’s construction. This seating allowed for locals to rest and escape the midday heat, shaded by the tiled roof overhead and the cool air above the waters which flowed below the bridge.
While the bridge has been rebuilt at least five times since its construction, what you see today is believed to be true to the original—this is one of only four remaining examples of this style of bridge in Vietnam. While it can be tempting just to quickly wander through and take a few pics, make the time (crowds allowing) to relax on the seating within the bridge. Appreciate the cooling temperature and the relaxing effect of the waters passing underneath—it is easy to imagine passing a moonlit evening here.
Once news of the construction reached the ears of Emperor Le Hien Tong, he gave both Tran Thai Dao and the village a tax break—who says good deeds don’t pay off? Well over a century later, Emperor Khai Dinh instructed a shrine be set up on site to allow locals to honour her. As she’d had no children, this meant there was no one to pray for her after she died, so this instruction allowed the villagers to take up the slack. To this day prayers are made at the shrine.
The bridge is often referred to at the Japanese Bridge, but as far as we know this is only in reference to the bridge being of a somewhat similar appearance to the Japanese Bridge in Hoi An. Thanh Toan bridge is a very popular inclusion on the Hue organised tour itineraries and as the bridge is very small it can get extremely congested. If it is heaving with tourists when you arrive, bide your time at one of the nearby foodstalls until the buses depart and there is a break in the crowds—it is far more pleasant and easier to appreciate when not too busy.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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