SANGKHLABURI, Thailand — In Sangkhlaburi, a border town that has long been a bridge between Thai and Burmese cultures, residents appear to be benefitting from the reconstruction of a literal bridge, after a portion of its predecessor collapsed in July 2013. Locals attribute a rising number of visitors to the new wooden bridge, which was completed in September of this year. Local businesses were affected when the link was severed, though some enterprising residents did later manage to build a floating bamboo bridge in the shadow of the broken structure. Shops, cafes and restaurants have since sprouted up to cater to a growing number of visitors. The town’s revival was on full display for New Year’s festivities this year, with hundreds of people drawn both by the bridge and a Mon Culture village in southern Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province. The village, which is under Thai sovereignty, was established in 1984 and is home to more than 5,000 people who rely on the bridge to link them to the rest of Sangkhlaburi. The diverse population of Sangkhlaburi—which sits across the border from the Burmese town of Payathonsu—also includes a smattering of ethnic Karen, Dawei, Chinese, Arakanese and Bangladeshis. [irrawaddy_gallery] Crowds on Wednesday thronged the wooden bridge, Thailand’s longest, with celebrants lining its planks and the river it spans to welcome 2015. On Thursday, the people rose early to donate food to Buddhist monks at a monastery nearby. A shortage of accommodation in the town was to the benefit of some entrepreneurial homeowners, who opened their doors to visitors for the night—at a price of 300 baht (US$10). The Mon Culture village was established by U Uttama, an ethnic Mon Buddhist monk who also had the wooden bridge built. Fleeing civil war in Burma, U Uttama migrated to Thailand in 1949 with about 60 followers. He had a strong spiritual influence over Mon, Karen and Thai people, and helped establish Sangkhlaburi and Three Pagodas Pass, the latter of which serves as an important border crossing between Thailand and Burma. The village land controlled by U Uttama is not for sale and anyone who wants to can build a home on it. U Uttama passed away on Oct. 18, 2006. His legacy lingers on, however, perhaps best encapsulated in these words, spoken by the monk: “You can live here as long as you like, if you live with a peaceful mind.”
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