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Shan Palace and Little Bagan

Exploring Hsipaw

Ryan was feeling pretty sick this morning and didn't want to go to breakfast. I took the elevator up to the fourth floor for the breakfast buffet that I'd been excited for since last night. They had fried noodles, fried veggies, tomatoes and crepes in addition to the standard eggs your way and toast.

There were even tasty brown baguette-like slices that were delicious. The highlight was the crepes with jam and I knew Ryan would enjoy them so I went back down and talked him into coming up for breakfast. He managed to eat a little and loved the crepes too. The view from the rooftop was a bit foggy this morning but we could still see other rooftops and trees.

We rested in the room for awhile after breakfast. For lunch, I ventured out to the street for some mediocre fried rice that I couldn't finish after the marathon breakfast. I came back to check on Ryan who still wanted to rest so I rented a bike so he could do so without me shuffling around the room.

My destination was Little Bagan, but it was far harder to find than I'd anticipated even with the hotel's hand drawn map. I passed the railroad tracks and kept going past some uphill construction to find nothing but trees, fields and sunrays. I turned back and headed for another temple but that road had a dead end. Riding up and down the street one last time, I spotted a couple foreigners and followed them to Mrs. Popcorn. I continued down the little trail to find Little Bagan.

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Near a monastery, there were white and gray stone chedis with vegetation growing out of them. There were around a dozen all together near the gates. One outside that area called Eissa Paya had cracked down the middle as a result of a growing tree. Behind were nice terraces and a few woman working in the fields.

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Further down the road, there was the Bamboo Buddha Monastery, Maha Nanda Kantha. A small pagoda sat near a seated Buddha on an island reached by small bridge. The monastery was mainly wooden and not very busy. Across the street there were more chedis of a similar age to those in little Bagan. Some had loud speakers attached and others were newer. They were all together in a courtyard area, different than the spread out and endless nature of Bagan.

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I biked maybe five minutes back down the main road to reach the much easier to find Shan Palace. The gate was locked and closed so I pulled out the travel journal and prepared to make the most of the wait. The resident dog was not so happy to see me so I began to walk away. Luckily, the grandson of the owner was more friendly and invited me inside as he and others drove off to work.

Fern, the owner, came out to greet me and invited me to explore the yard. I went back to the 90 year old prayer house, a two story wooden building that hadn't aged so well. There were three smaller shrines in front of it as well.

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When I returned to the European style house, Fern kindly explained the history of the Shan Palace in the sitting room. Sao Khun Seng was the ruling Shan prince or chief in the early 20th century. His son, Sao Khe went away to school in England and was even knighted at one point. He finished his studies and upon his return, he wanted to embrace western life and had the current Shan Palace built as a home to live in separately from his family. There was already a Shan Palace not far from there which housed his family. When his father passed away, Sir Sao Khe used the original palace for administrative purposes. He had no children but his uncle had two sons, Sao Oo Kya and Sao Kya Seng.

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The eldest was invited to Taunggyi to be the secretary for all of the Shan states. The youngest, Sao Kya Seng, left for Colorado to study where he met an Austrian woman on a full scholarship. They fell in love, got married and moved back to Hsipaw. His father passed away, leaving him as chief. Inge, his wife, learned Burmese and Shan as well as adopted Burmese and local dress. The local people liked and accepted her for that reason. She stayed along with her two daughters for 10 years.

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Post World War II, Burma went through political change and independence. Sao Kya Seng served various roles such as the Mp for Burma's house of Nationalities, a member of the Shan State Council and secretary of the Association of Shan Princes. The military came into the area where some Shan rebels seeking independence resided. The rebels would be arrested, go missing or be tortured. Sao Kya Seng maintained his position as prince, saopha, while others were giving up theirs. In 1962, ethnic groups were planning on asking for federation. Ne Win knew this and also planned to take over the country. A coup occurred and he seized power.

The heads of Shan state were all arrested including the two brothers and Fern's father. The family were able to write to them so the families relocated to Rangoon (now Yangon). Inge stayed until her mother in law confirmed that the Hsipaw prince, her husband, had also been arrested. Then Inge moved to Rangoon and sought assistance from the British and Austrian embassies and friends. They found out that her husband had been killed but the government would not confirm this. They wouldn't even confirm that he'd been arrested anymore.

Since she wasn't a Burmese citizen, she chose to move back to Austria and then America for her family's safety. She wrote to the government, asking for information on her husband but this earned her a spot on the black list. To this day, he is still considered missing. Therefore, by Buddhist tradition, they cannot hold a funeral for him. Her blacklist status has been lifted but she has grown older and is not well enough to travel. She wrote Twilight Over Burma twenty years ago about her experience.

Biking back to the hotel, I was quite happy with the experience. It was very special to have someone share such a fascinating family history to such a small audience. It was one of my highlights of Myanmar so far.

Ryan was feeling better after a good rest so we decided to tackle sunset hill. The walk to the river was nice and straightforward. A water buffalo was grazing on the boulevard. The first hill and temple we saw, we attempted to climb, but it wasn't the right one. Further down, the hill had a sign and quite the climb, even after a few ambitious short cuts. The climb wasn't too long, maybe 15-20 minutes. Many took a tuktuk to save time and energy.

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The top had a great view of the Dokhtawady river and Hsipaw. The sun was still up, illuminating a statue with monks kneeling around their teacher and Thein Daung Pagoda. The sunset soon painted the sky in pinks and oranges.

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We made good time on the way down, passing others on our way to find supper. We went to Mr. Food to have a Chinese meal. I had an omelette and Ryan had tasty fried tofu. Sharing the table with us was a Canadian man from Newfoundland and his Canadian/Thai wife. He was 85 years old and they came to see the viaduct then return. They also met other Newfoundlanders earlier in their trip who were twins. Another man joined us from Germany and he'd been trekking for three days with the guides from Mr. Charles guesthouse. They slept in hammocks and ate a monkey that their guide shot. I hoped when we did the trek that there'd be a vegetarian option or that he was exaggerating.

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I've done my best to try and make sure the details are accurate, especially with the history. If you're interested in further reading on the Shan prince situation here are a few articles:

http://www.irrawaddy.com/feature/hispaw-haw-abode-of-tragic-shan-prince.html

http://www.irrawaddy.com/contributor/posthumous-award-revives-memories-of-a-shan-prince.html

Posted by Sarah.M 19:17 Archived in Myanmar Tagged palace breakfast burma pagoda myanmar shan sao buffet lily prince hsipaw inge kya seng little_bagan thein daung sunset_hill Comments (0)

Pha Taem National Park

Waterfalls and rock art

Traffic was pretty light this morning around eight. Filling the bike us with fuel cost us a whopping 60 baht ($2) so we could understand the appeal of driving these vehicles. We followed the main road/highway that we'd come in on until the 2112, and took that until the National Park entrance. Admission was 100 baht each for the day.

Sao Chaliang came up first which were giant rock pillars that had eroded to look like mushrooms. It was almost like being back in the badlands with the desert-like vegetation and impressive coloured rocks.

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A bit of a walk up was a rock plateau with a significant crack/gap. It would have been quite the drop if we got caught in there. A viewpoint showed off the plains of the park and the visitor's centre. We went back down to see the mushroom rocks a bit closer once the crowds had dissipated a bit.

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The visitor's centre, with an extremely rocky parking lot, was at the end of the road. We jumped off the bike to figure out which way to go to reach the walks to the historic rock art. The route to the cave paintings was not really clearly marked, but after following the crowds we got on the right track.

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The path led us to impressive cliffs even without the cave paintings. They were quite tall and stood by the nearby Mekong river. Opposite the water was Laos, so we'd come pretty far East. After a bit of walking, we discovered our first cave paintings which depicted people and animals. The people had triangular heads and almost reminded us of aliens. The animals ranged from a whale to turtles and fish. The paintings were red in colour and according to the signs were 3,000 to 4,000 years old. There were some paintings of hands as well.

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The next cliff had criss-crossed line paintings under one of the ledges which was a bamboo fish trap called 'blister'. The paintings were done at a significant height when the water levels must have been higher. They were part of the death rituals although there wasn't much further information to indicate why or how.

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Our walk back took us along the riverside where they'd filmed part of the movie Alexander from the cliff tops. We stopped off at the restaurant across from the visitor's centre for lunch and had some fried rice that was alright.

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Ryan navigated the tricky parking lot exit on the bike. The drive to Soi Sawan waterfall was thankfully smoother, 20 kilometres or so which took longer on a slower scooter. It was nice to have the wind against us to cool off.

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There was a small walk to the falls. The trek down was not so bad but heading back up would be a challenge. There was a small thin stream running from the top of a rocky peak. Holes had been eroded in the rock floor at the bottom and were filled with water. Kids had fun splashing in the puddles. It was dry season but some water trickled down the falls.

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To the side of one of the falls was a giant rock valley. From the smoothness of the rocks it, was pretty clear these would be another falls during wet season. We climbed around on the rocks to get some fun photos. The valley was so large we felt like ants.

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There was a mini falls closer to the higher one where a river drained out the water. People were rock jumping and swimming. It would have been fun to have a bathing suit.

After the walk to the top, we decided to check out the wildflower fields. A hot, sunny walk revealed that they were sparse at best. We turned around a few kilometres in only to find that the cliffs we sought were in that direction too. We didn't have the energy to retrace those steps so we hopped back on the bike.

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Next was Saeng Chan waterfall, another half hour or so away. It was easy enough to walk there from the parking lot, just a short flight of stairs. A decent amount of water ran from the stream up top. There was a small calm pool surrounded by vegetation at the bottom of the falls. Aside from the occasional shout or scream, it was quite serene. As we got closer, we could see the crescent or heart shaped hole formed by the erosion of the falls.

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We went up to the falls, then behind them to climb up the cave area steps to the stream which fed the top of the falls. It was neat to see the hole and the drop but signs warned us not to get too close. Ryan joked one of us should jump to the bottom and meet the other there.

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We drove back after one more visit to the bottom of the falls. Since we were fighting the clock and still needed gas, our pace was quicker than before. There was a gas station just before the main road and it only cost us 65 baht ($2.15) to fill up the tank. The hour plus drive began after that. Except for us trying to return the bike for 5:20, Ryan was really enjoyed the drive. I was just trying to sit without my legs going numb or tipping the thing over.

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The bike made it back with fifteen minutes to spare. We rented it for another day then rode off to Two Colour River just down the street. This was where the Mekong and Moon rivers colours were meant to converge. The light from the setting sun obscured the colour a bit, but the sunset was beautiful too. Some visiting Thai travellers showed us Laos on the other side and asked us how our trip was going.

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We had supper at a restaurant on the river and ordered a big fried rice, mixed veggie dish and Ryan had some fried chicken. It hit the spot and we enjoyed the bright gazebo decorations.

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Posted by Sarah.M 19:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged art park colour thailand river waterfall national rock chan sao two pha taem chaliang saeng Comments (0)

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