Shan Palace Hsipaw
Before you go you must read 'Twilight over Burma' to understand the significance of this house and its sad circumstances. then you will want to visit. This is a piece of living history. Descendants of the price still live there and are keen to meet tourists. Restrictions of earlier years have now been lifted.
This is important - read it.
I must say, I find it extremely hard (on many levels) to write this tip, and I have been thinking long and hard about the exact words I'm going to use.
Until relatively recently, one of the "must do" things for travellers was to visit the residence of the last Shan Prince of Hsipaw and talk to the current owner, his nephew, called in the local parlance, Mr. Donald. Accordingly, I took off for a short walk from the town towards the slightly faded but still beautiful "palace".
Approaching the place I was intercepted by a young lad who spoke very good Oxford English and asked me if I was going to see Mr. Donald. I replied that I was and he asked me (pausing only to pick me a tamarind from an adjacent tree) to wait while he summoned his grandmother, and telling me that the place was shut. At first I thought I had just come on the wrong day or something, but I was then approached by a late middle aged woman who the lad had summoned. I was asked politely not to enter the grounds as Mr. Donald had been recently arrested, tried and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. Mr. Donald is, I believe, in his 60's. I subsequently found out that the charges effectively amounted to talking to foreigners.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, I departed. I would like to stress that neither the lady (I believe her name was Fern) or the lad did anything to encourage me to enter the place.
It was certainly an interesting experience. In the light of the current situation, I would very strongly recommend that travellers do NOT go to the place for fear of bringing further trouble to this lady's door. If any bona fide travellers wish to contact me via VT mail, I will be more than happy to discuss the matter further, but I fell it's probably best not discussed in an open forum like this.
I should stress that the photo I use to accompany this tip, which is of a pagoda at the edge of the grounds, was taken before I spoke to either of the people mentioned.
A good place for a beer.
A wander along Namtu road, or restaurant row as I dubbed it, can very quickly degenerate into a pub crawl. To be honest, in the noonday heat, the best place to be is inside sipping a nice cold bottle of Myanmar or a Dagon draught.
The Khit Mee, on the West side of the road down near the main Lashio Road is as good a place as any to indulge in this pastime. i didn't actually eat there but the food looked pretty good as well.
There is a minimum of English spoken, but you can have a pleasant time with the friendly staff and friendlier locals. Early evening is the liveliest time.
- Beer Tasting
This is probably the largest religious building in Hsipaw, although it's nowhere on the scale of the great Payas in Yangon, Mandalay or even Prome (Pyay). It is the Mahamyatmuni Paya. The Lonely Planet guidebook assured me it was one of the busiest religious sites in Hsipaw, although on the afternoon I visited I had the place more or less to myself.
There are a few Buddha images here, including one supposedly inspired by the image in Mahamuni Paya in Mandalay (see seperate tip). It's nothing spectacular but, in a town like Hsipaw, it's worth a visit.
- Religious Travel
- Budget Travel
I simply love wandering about markests, particularly in Southeast Asia. There is such a vitality to them, and in most of them you get the impression that you are actually mixing with local people (obviously there are "touristy" exceptions to this).
The main market in Hsipaw is wonderful. It is held in a large permanent structure, and the range of goods on offer is staggering.
If you have a look at the photos you will see a lady selling the ubiquitous Burmese hats, and my favourite, the sandals made out of old tyres.
There is no pressure on you to buy anything, as there is very little there geared towards tourists, although if you want to buy a longyi, you'll certainly have plenty of choice. People are genuinely interested to meet you, and happy for you to take photos. I spent absolutely ages in here.
- Budget Travel
Interesting for early birds.
There are two markets in Hsipaw. the main market (see seperate tip) is in the large permanent structure East of Namtu Street and stays open all day. The second market is the morning market where local people gather to sell mostly foodstuffs. It is a much more ad hoc affair, held under tarpaulin awnings, as you can see.
If you're on a very strict budget and preparing your own food, or if you just want to buy some fruit, this is the place to be. You need to be up fairly early though, as it's just about finished by breakfast time.
- Budget Travel
Tea with a view.
As alluded to in my introduction page, one of the elements of my ideal day in Hsipaw would include a tea or coffee down by the river. This is the place I was referring to, the Black House coffee shop.
It's a relatively new venture, and may not have made it into the guidebooks yet. Overseen by a very friendly Australian lady called Margaret (or Miss Margaret in the local parlance), the main draw here is the view. You are sitting right on the river, and you can spend a lazy hour or two just watching the boatrmen about their business on the Dokhawaddy (see photos).
The building itself as you can see, is relatively modern although built in the traditional Burmese wood style.
Margaret keeps a large selection of teas and herbal infusions which she serves in unusual little Chinese vessels and also does a full range of coffees, which is unusual in Myanmar. Prices are not cheap by local standards, starting at 600 kyat (60 cents US) but it's well worth it.
She also runs a book exchange which is useful if you've run out of reading material. Go and say hello.