When it Rains in Hsipaw, Northern Shan State, Myanmar
|Tun Naing Family of Shan State|
There's an Anglican, Baptist and Catholic church 5 minutes away, an organic restaurant straight ahead that serves fresh salad straight from the garden, and one of the town's only preparatory school to the left. A few hours have passed and i have seen them all, yet, i wasn't satisfied. The urge in me to explore this small town was still very strong and i just needed to go. There's really more discover.
A few kilometers away is a museum, called Palace of Kengtung. When i arrived, it was on a long lunch break. It opens in the morning, takes a long break mid afternoon and only resumes a few hours before dusk. Nearby is a noodle factory which fancied my interest. I haven't seen a noodle factory in my life so i decided to go. On my way there, i passed by two french girls whom i met at Mrs. Popcorn, the organic restaurant i went to earlier. They totally missed the noodle factory on their rainy bike escapade. We bid adieu and they started speeding away like little girls.
|Hsipaw's mean machine|
I went to a nearby store and bought a bottle of water, and smoked a few cigarettes while waiting for the rain to subside. When i was ready to head out, it began to rain again. Oh, what luck do i have. I actually braved the rain to the direction of the river. Sadly, it just won't stop, and by this time, the sky was getting darker, and the bunch of clouds was already covering the tiny little speck of sunlight i need to take photographs. I went back to the nearby store, and the kind gentleman requested i stay put first for obvious reasons. I bought a 3-in-1 tea, the one i had before in my hostel in Yangon, which has become a ritual every morning and late afternoon. His charming wife came and a few minutes later, we were all chatting about my home country. They were very interested as to where i am from. And i was very interested to know more about their culture. It's a win-win situation.
A man came up to the store owner to have his full bills changed to smaller ones. This is the neighbor from two houses away, who just came from work, received his paycheck, and eager to spend it all for his family. The inevitable (all the time in Myanmar) happened, i was invited to his house with the blessing of the store owner so i could wait out the rain. A beer, two beers, three beers after, i was waiting for my fish to cook. What started out as a friendly invitation to take cover from the rain turned out to be a happy hour session with the local people. There, at his half-built house, i met his wife, and two kids whom i cannot distinguish who is who because they have the same shaved head. His mother was also there, and a long-time cousin who makes awesome dishes.
|Myanmar beer, fresh pineaples and the most delicious fish I've eaten in my life|
His restaurant "Family Restaurant", was receiving more guests as hours pass by. On one table, there was a couple from Yangon, next to them are a few school kids from the town, and a bunch of girls from the next town up north just arrived for a mid-afternoon snack. I helped out in the kitchen, served cutlery and order to the guests, while i sip away my cold and fantastic Myanmar beer. I asked if i could work there in exchange of free lodging for three months. We all burst into laughter. He excused himself and said he has errands to make, as he needed to deliver food to some people in the town. With pretty much nothing else to do, i found myself at the back of his Honda motorcycle, and i was delivering lunch take out with him. It was drizzling and good enough for anyone to catch a cold. But we carried on like champs. Along the way, he would stop by for a bit and point me to spots. "That's Dokhtawady River over there", he said. "Over here is the highway to the next town", he added.
|Beautiful Hsipaw girls pose in fashion|
We went back to the place thirty minutes after and continued my extended happy hour session. For breaks, I went back of the house to the tiny bamboo stilted comfort room. Surreal as it can get, i was pissing directly to the river. Lone witnesses are cows, roosters and occasional sightings of four legged creatures.
|Quiet river side town of Hsipaw, Shan State, Myanmar|
The sky cleared up finally but it was already too dark to take photographs. A few days before, I booked an extraordinary fifteen hour bus ride bound for Yangon which leaves around 9PM that night. I still have a few hours left but my rucksack is back at the guest house. My friend who became my best friend in less than three hours, offered dinner and ride back to the guest house. I really wanted to stay so I thanked them for their gracious offer, but i will miss the only bus leaving that night. It's one of the most painful goodbyes of my life. :(
That afternoon, I finished a plate of grilled fish, mutton, bread (marinated), seven bottles of big Myanmar beer. And the endless chat about anything under the sun with the most friendly people I've met in all of my travels combined has proved to be the greatest highlight of my Myanmar odyssey.
|Twins by hair style|
Because of the pouring rain, I didn't see Kengtung palace, the noodle factory, nor the Dokhtawady river up close, and i was just a few minutes away. Yet, meeting Tun Naing and his lovely family was enough bargain for me that day, more than enough bargain.
Myanmar's poster boy for hospitality
TIPS: Shan state is one of the most elusive towns in the country. It is a bit far from the popular Myanmar cities like Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan and going here is an adventure in itself. Base yourself in charming Pyin oo Lwin, and take the bus or hired taxi to Hsipaw. Alternatively, you can catch the train going to Hsipaw all the way from Mandalay provided that there are no mishaps. During my trip, the train got stuck in the flood. And the passengers were left inside for close to 20 hours. Get the window seat, the views are mind-blowing. Check travel advisory for conflicts within the region.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Avoid the rainy season during June to September as occasional floods do occur. But on the hindsight, you won't be bumping to tourists this time around. Bring Citronella oil and mosquito repellent as the Shan State is notorious for Malaria. The region is considered Malaria red zone but the people are the friendliest in the whole country.