Before we started planning the train ride that was to take us over the Gokteik Viaduct, we were completely unfamiliar with Hsipaw, the capital of the Northern Shan State. But during the course of our research we saw colorful reports on Hsipaw describing it as an interesting tranquil sort of place where you can see the “real Myanmar” so we decided as long as we were in the neighborhood that we would spend 2-nights there.
There are quite a few sights to see in the area and many of them involve trekking. But because of the distance from Mandalay and the time it takes to travel between there and Hsipaw, our 2-nights there really only gave us 1 full day to explore the area but we made the most of it beginning with a morning departure on a Day Trip On The Duthawadi River, which is recorded in the video above.
Along with our Mandalay Guide Soe Paing and a local guide we boarded a small long tail boat for a 45 minute ride up the river. Along the way we passed some beautiful countryside, spotted the occasional stupa and got to witness life along the river.
Our first stop was at a railroad bridge over the river where we walked from the bank on small pieces of lumber scattered over top of the supports for the rails. It was interesting to note that there were actually 2 sets of rails on the track; one very narrow set inside of a wider pair.
Our next stop on the river was a small Shan village where we had lunch in an open air restaurant on the first floor of a family residence. The local people were very friendly and their kids were beautiful. Coincidentally, we ran into a lady there who was one of the vendors we had spent time with at the train station in Pyin Oo Lwin the day before. She greeted us like old friends.
We were led down a trail to a small wooden monastery that is home to about 50 monks. After a tour of the main building we were treated to a music jam that included a very enthusiastic monk playing the drum.
The last scene in our video is of us walking away from the monastery back towards our launch. The music you hear was being played from a loudspeaker on top of the monastery.
Once we returned to Hsipaw, we were taken on a tour that is described as the last Royal Palace of the Nothern Shan state. We met Mrs. Fern, the wife of Mr. Donald, nephew of Kya Seng (aka Inge Eberhard), the lady that wrote the book “Twilight over Burma: My life as a Shan Princess” and she told us the family history. It is a really amazing story.
After gaining independence from the British, there was a battle among the various ethnic groups of Myanmar for control of the new government. This was the same civil unrest during which Major General Suu Kyi, recognized by many as the Father of modern-day Myanmar and actual father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winning current civilian leader of Myanmar; was assassinated.
As a part of events creating the civil discord, Mrs. Fern’s father along with her father-in-law and her husband’s uncle (the husband of the book writer) were all leaders in the Shan (ethnic minority) community and were working towards creating an independent Shan State. However, before that could happen, all were jailed as political prisoners at about the same time as a military coup in the early 1960’s.
While most of her family was eventually released, the uncle (Shan Prince Sao Kya Seng) was never seen again and the government denied he was ever arrested. The government has since taken control of some family properties and is now trying to appropriate the Hsipaw Palace and estate so Mrs. Fern is raising money to defend it by giving tours of the property.
In fact, her husband, Mr. Donald was arrested in 2005 and not released until 2009.
The actual house itself, also known as the East Haw is a very traditional Western style country house that would not look out of place in the English countryside. This style is attributed to Sao Kya Seng’s education in Great Britain and the United States.
That pretty much covers our one full day in Hsipaw. After our long day we returned to the wonderful Tai House Resort Hotel and had a well deserved gin & tonic and an excellent dinner.
This report would be incomplete without some mention of the road conditions between Mandalay and Hsipaw. We were spared the worst of the traffic on our way up to Hsipaw in part by the time of day we traveled and the fact that some of the journey was by train. But on the drive back we got the full gridlock treatment.
This narrow road is the main supply line between northern Myanmar transporting mostly natural products like timber and produce into China and the return traffic of Chinese products delivered cheaper than can be manufactured in Myanmar.
So there were a significant number of big trucks traveling in both directions crowding private cars, buses and other commercial traffic. Add in too-many-to-count hairpin corners as the road switches back and forth first going up and then down a steady stream of mountains. And on top of that; at the time of our trip (November 2016) during certain hours of the day the two lanes are reduced to one as construction projects were being undertaken.
We did stop at a lovely monastery on our way out of town the next day, at a lake resort for a very nice lunch and also at a very nice park and botanical garden on our way back to Mandalay but overall our Hsipaw to Mandalay return trip was a long exhausting ordeal.