This was one of the few times I was willing to support the government and take a train. I had been very conscious on my travels to make certain that I limited the amount of money to the Myanmar government. The Lonely Planet guidebook explained the locations and the amount of money that goes to the government. I stayed away from the government run hotels and only took the train twice, Circle train ($1) and the train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hspiaw ($13). I had paid the fees at historical sights ($10 at each of the cities Bagan, Inle Lake, and Mandalay). And the flight to Mandalay was a government sponsored airline. Otherwise, I had stayed away as much as I could. I was also conscious about spreading my money around the towns instead of only buying things at one restaurant or hotel. I wanted the people to get the money and not the government. I want to be conscious of how I spend my money here.
I noticed the map had the Shan Palace labeled in the area he had suggested I explore. I had read the book Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess by Inge Sargent. I also had read in the guidebook not to bother the residents of the home. So, my plan was to bike out and see the palace through the gate and continue on my path.
|Gate of Shan Palace|
Ms. Fern, came out and welcomed me to her home. She told me I could go out and see the private prayer room. As I wandered out there I saw beautiful butterflies and the spirit houses. The prayer house was falling down and was in need of repairs like the rest of the property. As I walked back to the home, Ms. Fern invited me into her home.
|Ms. Fern with photographs of the Shan Princes|
She shared pictures of the Shan princes in the room where ceremonies took place. She talked to me about what had happened to the Hsipaw Shan Prince and to her husband, Mr. Donald. Mr. Donald had been arrested by the government for talking to tourists in 2005. The government charged him with sharing state secrets because they had found a book that tourists had written in when they visited the palace. Mr. Donald was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was eventually released after four years and placed under house arrest. He was ordered not to talk to tourists. Ms. Fern explained that the government allowed her to visit her husband in prison once every 2 weeks for 15 minutes. She would pack up food that would stay edible for 2 weeks at a time. I was shocked as she told me about their life. I asked again if she should be talking with me. She assured me that it was ok now and that I could write about our visit without any harm to her or her family. She told me the head of Myanmar tourism had visited her and Mr. Donald last fall and said there were no problems with them talking to foreigners. She wanted to share their stories and about life in Hsipaw and the difficulties of the Shan people. It was a part of their history. I noticed she had a large library of books. She explained that she loves to read true life stories about people and showed me the books. I asked her how she got all the books and she told me tourists had left with her. One of my favorite stories she shared was about the tractor out in front of the house. I knew from reading Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess, the last Shan prince had bought tractors to try to help the his people become more productive with agriculture. He bought tractors and allowed his people to use them to help farm their lands. I was inquisitive and noticed that there was a tractor under a tarp outside and asked if it was one of the tractors originally bought by the Prince. Fern told me how the military government had taken it and returned it wrecked. She told me it had sat for 30 years before Mr. Donald got it running again. It took 4 months of work and the help of friends and tourists but it is now used to mow the lawn.
I came across a monastery and stopped. Two young novices were playing marbles in the front. I stopped when they greeted me. I watched them play marbles and soon I was invited to play along.
I giggled as they were better than me. If I said anything in English they repeated it and giggled. We all know I have a soft spot for novice monks. So of course, this was a fun hour just playing marbles.
I had spent most of my day chatting with people and had lost track of the time. It was 4 PM and I noticed the sky was getting dark. Rain was coming and I wanted to get back to Mr. Charles Guesthouse before I got soaked. I was a few blocks from the guesthouse when the rain started. Whew! I was ready for a shower and a hot dinner.
|Candlelight market in Hsipaw|
I am not sure how the people see what they are getting. I suspect they rely on the sense of smell to know it is fresh. I wandered back to the guesthouse a half hour later and checked the weather forecast. Rain was predicted for the next 3 days. There would be no hiking into the villages. I decided to book the overnight bus to Yangon. I was sad to leave without hiking to the villages but I had great experiences the day before that made the trip to Hsipaw worthwhile.I sat outside in the cabana as I waited for the evening bus. I had a 16 hour trip to Yangon. It was scheduled to leave at 4:30PM. I was dreading this trip. It was going to be long and painful. I just wanted to sleep through it. As the bus pulled up I was pleasantly surprised. I have been on many buses in my years of travel and this was the nicest. It had big business-sized seats that reclined with foot rests and a stewardess on board. She walked up and gave me a bag with water, snacks and candy. Then she handed me a pillow and a fuzzy soft blanket. When she came back I wondered what else she could have to offer me. This time she opened up a box and asked if I wanted aspirin, motion sickness pills or sleeping pills! Wow! I declined and decided to stick with my own medications. I curled up in my seat with my headphones, blanket and pillow and slept most of the night. They woke everyone up for a bathroom and dinner break at 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM. It was an odd time but we were all forced to sit outside for a half an hour each time. Otherwise the trip was uneventful. I arrived in Yangon and back to the hotel I had stayed on my first week in Myanmar.