In Cambodia, a magnificent feat of architectural ingenuity takes place every year as the world’s longest bamboo bridge is reconstructed. Spanning a whopping 3,000 feet, this bridge is composed of approximately 50,000 bamboo sticks and serves as an essential link between Kampong Cham, the country’s sixth-largest town, and Koh Paen island across the Mekong River.
The bridge is meticulously built during the dry season when the waters of the Mekong River recede, rendering the customary ferry service impossible. This annual reconstruction ensures that the bridge is always sound and secure for use. However, as the rainy season approaches and the river waters start to rise, the bamboo bridge must be dismantled by hand. The bamboo used in its construction is either stored away for future use or repurposed in other architectural projects. During the monsoon season, when river currents become treacherously strong, boat or ferry travel becomes the norm for people seeking to cross the river.
The construction of the bamboo bridge commences when the river is dry and devoid of water. The process involves driving tall bamboo poles into the riverbed, which serve as the foundation of the bridge. A layer of split bamboo matting is then placed on top to create a sturdy and stable surface. Additional poles are carefully added at different angles to reinforce the bridge’s foundation. The end result is a robust and wide structure capable of supporting the weight of light vehicles. From a distance, the bridge may appear delicate, akin to a construction crafted from matchsticks.
While the bamboo bridge can bear the weight of cars and two-wheelers, the experience of traversing it is far from smooth. Due to the flexible nature of bamboo, the bridge gives way under pressure instead of breaking. Consequently, travelers must endure a bouncy ride accompanied by the rattling sound emanating from the bridge’s deck under the tires.
Each year, thousands of tourists flock to Kampong Cham to witness and experience the bamboo bridge. Local residents are charged a modest fee of 100 riels (approximately $0.02), while foreign tourists are subject to significantly higher rates. The tolls collected generate between 1 to 2 million riels per day (approximately $250 to $500), with the majority attributed to the fees levied upon tourists.
Interestingly, situated just two kilometers south of the bamboo bridge is a more recently built concrete bridge. This 800-meter-long structure has the capacity to accommodate vehicles weighing up to 30 tons, in contrast to the bamboo bridge’s limited capacity of only 4 tons. The concrete bridge boasts an expected lifespan of at least 50 years, offering a longer-lasting alternative to the marvelous but temporary bamboo bridge.