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Trekking to Tungsan

After delaying our trek a day, we were finally ready to depart, not until after one more tasty breakfast buffet. They had veggie tempura this morning to add to their selection. Five of us set off on a trek with our guide Kham Lu who was from a nearby Shan village. One man in our group was from Edinburgh, Scotland and the other women were from the Netherlands.

Kham Lu explained the shrines once our tuktuk reached the rural roads. Every village had a Buddhist shrine and a Nat shrine. Nats were spirits and could be guardians of the village. People worshipped there twice a month and to the Buddhist shrine twice a day. The nat shrines often had horse and elephant statues because the nats also liked to travel.

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We passed a fair amount of agriculture including corn, soya beans and tomato grown by the Shan people. Two woman picked herbs by the stream for cooking. Some farmers would rent out their land to Chinese farmers so that they could grow watermelon to ship back to China. Some village women would get married off to the Chinese men and move to China. Some visited afterward but Kham Lu couldn't tell if they were happy or not. Another foreign initiative was an oil pipeline that stretched from China to the Yangon area. It was still under construction, going through the fields and near the road.

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Kham Lu taught us hello (mày sǔng khaa) and thank you (possibly: sǔng khaa or ngín cóm) in Shan which both ended in ka like in Thai. The two languages were similar as Shan people (known as Tai elsewhere) also resided in Thailand. There are also some faint similarities to Cantonese because it's a Sino-Thai language.

As we passed the villages, we noticed small hydro operations to power a few houses. They also had cheap Chinese solar panels they'd connect to a car battery to power their lights and maybe one other device. For a country many claim is like a time vacuum, they're using alternative energy well enough.

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The road we walked on had just opened and Kham Lu expected it to be paved one day. The bridge was new as well. The villagers had collected enough money to finance it, likely using profits from selling a big teak tree whose trunk we saw. There were few regulations on cutting them down unlike in Thailand where you needed official permission.

We stopped at a small shop and shared spicy chips, some kind of corn puffs and dried noodles. In the home/store, the owner had pictures of her visits to important sites like Shwedagon in Yangon and Golden Rock. A kitten came to sit on our laps and was quite reluctant to let me leave.

There was quite a bit of uphill trekking in the harsh sun that followed. We went through plenty of water and took our own breaks since no one else was stopping. It didn't help that I was feeling a bit sick like I was catching a cold. Ryan offered to carry my bag for part of the trek.

Finally we made it to Pankam village for lunch in a wooden home/homestay that Kham Lu said that Mr. Charles hikes used a lot. He also had a few negative things to say about them that we weren't sure we believed.

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Lunch was pretty good and vegetarian friendly after I asked about the dishes. There was an egg dish, green leaf dish, mixed fried veggies and some dried and spiced soy bean that wasn't my favourite. The rest and tea were nice to have.

We explored the town including the tea steaming and drying area that most farmers used as it was the Palaung's primary crop. They could harvest each plant every fifteen days then process it. Dry tea fetched the highest price, but during wet season they couldn't dry it and it fetched a lower price. The average farmer earned about 3,000 kyat a day, equivalent to $3 US, which is sometimes the price we pay for a meal out here.

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At the school, we greeted some children with another greeting we'd learned "Chumsa!" In the small rectangular room, four teachers occupied the corners with their uniformed students. One taught English vocabulary, another Math and Burmese. They had white boards and paper booklets to write in unlike the slates of the South. There were a few English posters on the walls too.

The children ran up to question us with stock phrases: where are you from? Are you happy in Burma? How old are you? Kham Lu brought me over to speak with one of the teachers who had moved her classroom outdoors. When I asked her if she was from this village or another one, she froze up and couldn't speak. I should have just asked a simple question. Kham Lu translated for me and explained they got quite nervous.

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Kham Lu insisted that I teach the students something. The Scottish man jumped in with Ring around the Roses which had a different tune and lyrics than the one we grew up with in Canada. I got an idea and taught the students If you're happy and you know it as well as head and shoulders, which they'd done before. Interacting with them, it was easy to see their learning had be rote as they didn't respond to questions or prompts, just repeated what I said. It was still fun and they kept wanting to repeat the songs.

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The afternoon walk was shorter and we arrived in Tungsan before nightfall. Another group including the German and French guys from the waterfall were there. We even got rooms to sleep in with floor mattresses, walls and a door that we could lock, no lights though. The wash station was a bucket but it was still nice to rinse off a bit.

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We went on a walk through the village to the monastery. Many homes had metal roofs and some thicker walls. At the monastery, one American man quite adamantly defended his belief that road lines created inefficient and worse drivers. He wanted the freedom to pass when he wanted no matter any of our arguments.

The Dutch women gave their cameras to some of the village children to take photos with. They said that they'd done it in Vietnam and it was great. One of the woman had done her international development studies placement out there, working at times as a teacher. She'd travelled Vietnam after that too.

Supper was tasty with two pumpkin dishes, one regular and the other white and a touch more bitter. We also had some kind of tofu chip with tasty tomato garlic spice dip and tea leaf salad that had more crispy goodness than bitterness. Of course we had tea as well.

We played cards the rest of the night with Kham Lu, the guide from Mr. Charles guesthouse and a man from the house we were staying at. Kham Lu didn't like losing and some funny rules would pop up only to be vetoed by logic. It was still quite fun. The guides were a bit sad when they realized they wouldn't be able to purchase Uno games in their country. I almost wanted to pick one up in Malaysia and mail it back to them, if only it would get to them.

Posted by Sarah.M 08:44 Archived in Myanmar Tagged trek village china school shan pankam hsipaw pipeline tungsan Comments (0)

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)

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