Cross that Bridge

Asia bridges provide a choice of stunning side trips on a visit to the region.

Asia bridges provide a choice of stunning side trips on a visit to the region.

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Connections between Asian and Western countries are constantly developing; it is fitting for international visitors and travelling expats in Asian countries to make a point of seeing some of the impressive bridges that exist across Asia.

In my humble opinion, most bridges should be considered notable architectural achievements, whether ancient or modern, and each one has a different claim to fame.

In Asia, it tends to be the more modern masterpiece links that capture your attention as you travel around the region.

Longest Bridge in Asia

Of special pride to China, the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge spans about 102 miles, making it the longest bridge in Asia. The pride rose over time however, as construction took some four years to complete. The bridge now serves as a key link for the Beijing-Shanghai (or “Jinghu”) High-Speed Railway, which also breaks records as the longest  line of its type built in one phase.

The feeling of shooting along at around 200 miles per hour is exhilarating to say the least, and the trip also gives you a full appreciation of the endless miles of farmland needed to feed China’s massive population. The highlight of the journey for me, however, was definitely passing over this seemingly endless bridge. Thanks to its expanse, my travel time from was cut by almost 10 hours compared to the older rail route, down to a breathtaking 3 hours and 50 minutes.

Water-crossing Wonder

If you like whizzing over water as much as I do, there’s another Chinese bridge of epic length and handsome appearance you should not miss, namely, Jiaozhou Bay Bridge. It links Huangdao island to the port city of Quingdao on China’s eastern coast, and it also took four years to build.

Halving travel time from 40 to 20 minutes between endpoints (claims the state-run CCTV) can save a lot of gas. With some 30,000 cars projected to shuttle across the structure daily, this is quite an accomplishment, and certainly fitting with China’s stated plans to curtail environmental pollution.

You might feel like you’re flying if you make the journey during the hazy morning hours as I did. The waters are obscured by dense mist, and I felt as if I was winging over clouds at aircraft altitude until the passing support spans quickly dispelled this sensation.

Suspending disbelief

Japan always astounds me with its natural and architectural wonders, and one attraction I still marvel at lies between Akashi and Kaikyo.

The eponymous Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, is currently the world’s largest suspension bridge at 6,532 ft., and crossing it costs more in tolls than ferries charge to traverse the same river.

What this means is that many drivers opt for the latter. In fact, Oni, a taxi driver I spoke to in Akashi, said he actually likes the feel of the ferries as well as the cost saving, not to mention the chance to talk with people face to face rather than in a rear view mirror. He only uses the bridge  when his passengers (like me) request it to save time.

If you have ever doubted claims that such structures are built to absorb cataclysmic events in Japan you’ll be surprised to learn that the January 1995 Kobe earthquake actually lengthened Akashi-Kaikyo bridge by over a yard. Mind you, the overall length of the bridge is almost 2.5 miles so you would hardly notice the extension. If you pick your time well to cross it, the journey can be a pleasantly traffic-free experience.

Walking High

Walking may have become a form of exercise worldwide over the last decades, but it has been considered healthy for centuries in Asia. As a result, more bridges are being built strictly for pedestrians.

If you love to hike across lovely bridges and over striking terrain, you will be particularly struck by the Langkawi Sky Bridge in Malaysia. While you must first endure or enjoy a steep cable car ride up a mountainside to reach it. Once you reach the peak, the bridge offers truly a magnificent walk with stunning views of the Andaman Sea from its seemingly air-hung 2,300-foot elevated position.

Angled viewing platforms also allow for long lens shots of the sailing and diving boats beneath you, and if you catch the right afternoon following a rain shower, you can observe the rising thermal winds as I did and get some wonderful shots of birds circling high above, or flocks diving in search of a  feed.

Upper Undulations

Have you ever wanted to walk inside a wave? Well you can in Singapore, although it’s not quite water. Nevertheless you definitely get the sense you’re moving to the groove of a rising and falling ocean wave as you circuit the city state’s almost 900-ft-long Henderson Waves Bridge.

It’s a surreal experience indeed after dark when the LED lights add a shimmering and colorful glow to the experience. I did it with my Singapore-based friend Alain and his children and it was a thrill to see the kids find secret spots to play hide-and-seek “underwater”.

For daytime trips, take your time and take your camera, as the bridge is part of a three-mile trail through three gorgeous parks, two of them actually linked directly by the bridge.

For those not quite as fascinated with bridges as others the trips that incorporate above-mentioned crossings also offer plenty of captivating experiences and learning opportunities.

  • In China, if you make a few stops along the Beijing-Shanghai Railway, you can add some shorter boat and rail trips in the Yangtze River Delta region. The on-water business is a sight to behold and being served meals made by locals direct from their own tiny craft is a rare pleasure, especially when the taste and quality of the fresh food hits home.
  • According to CCTV, the 26.4-mile Jiaozhou Bay Bridge required more than 5,000 support pillars (using the equivalent of more than 3,500 Olympic-size swimming pools worth of concrete), and cost USD1.5 USD billion to build.
  • If you’re on Langkawi to enjoy the Sky Bridge, I’d suggest adding a land-bound duck boat tour. It’s a fun ride through a variety of terrain for those who don’t mind being shaken and stirred. The same feeling occurs on the bridge on windy days when it can sway quite a lot.
  • To explore Singapore’s Henderson Waves Bridge with a workout, follow the entire Southern Ridges Walk. This hiking trail winds through three stunning parks: Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Park and Kent Ridge Park.
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