musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Magwe’

The Middle of Nowhere: 90th Street on the Road (Pt. 3)


The last stop on my trip within a trip with the crew from 90th Street in Mandalay was a remote place called Shwe Set Taw. We left from Bagan and passed Chauk and Salay and Yenangyaung, stopping briefly at a large pagoda in Magwe before crossing the Ayeyarwaddy River and continuing past the town of Minbu. That was the last real town of note, and still we kept driving, and driving, and driving. I’d never seen such dry, desolate looking landscape in all of Myanmar. No large trees and no signs of habitation. Just flat, ugly stretches of no-man’s land Where were they taking me?!



I’d never heard of Shwe Set Taw before this trip, but Maw Hsi and the truck driver, along with the kids, decided that this “side trip” was what they wanted to do, so I gave it my blessing, not knowing at the time what a long journey it was going to be. From Bagan, the one-way driving time was nearly six hours! And that’s six hours driving on roads that weren’t always paved, sitting in the back of flatbed truck. My ass is still sore.






When we finally arrived, I saw a sign proclaiming “Shwe Set Taw Wildlife Sanctuary.” Huh? I had assumed that this was going to be some sort of grand sacred golden pagoda. A wildlife park? Well, I learned more about the place quickly from Maw Hsi. Shwe Set Taw certainly is an official government wildlife sanctuary, but it’s also the site of a very sacred pagoda, hosting what are reputed to be a set of the Buddha’s footprints. Maw Hsi told me that the history of this site goes back nearly two thousand years! Many people from Bagan and around the region come to visit and spend the night, and with the confluence of two large streams it makes for a nice swimming hole too. But it’s only open about six months out of the year, most of the low-lying area become flood-prone during the rainy season.





I have to say that I wasn’t blown away by the visit to Shwe Set Taw; it was sort of a ho-hum destination from my perspective. A lot of traveling on bad roads just to go swimming and gaze at a set of footprints. Once was enough! But for Maw Hsi and the kids it was one of those possible once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages that they can tell their family and friends about. And for their sake, I’m glad we went. Plus, the kids got to buy cheap, silly sunglasses and eat more junk food, so they were quite happy!




Hpone Thant (or “Harry”, as he’s called) has a nice write-up about Shwe Set Taw on his informative blog:



Bouncing Down Bad Roads in the Back of a Truck


Here are some photos I took during a three-day road trip with the kids from 90th Street in Mandalay earlier this month. Forgive the “shaky” quality; most of them were taken in the back of a truck while bouncing down bumpy roads in the Myanmar countryside. So, you can safely assume that it wasn’t easy trying to hold the camera still and snap photos under those conditions.



And it certainly wasn’t a comfortable ride either. I sat in the back — with only a bamboo mat and my backpack to lean against — with the kids and Ko Maw Hsi, one of the fathers, while the driver and another father from the neighborhood sat in the front cab. I could have demanded one of those comfy front seats, but then I would have missed out on the experience — and silliness — of hanging out with the rest of the crew, and that was part of the trip’s appeal.




Even after three long days, mostly spent in the cramped confines in back of this truck, the kids remained cheerful. They’d pass the time cracking jokes, singing songs, shouting at other trucks full of passengers (“Hey!”), wearing their crazy cheap sunglasses, tossing snacks to village  kids we passed along the way, and playing tricks on one another: just boys being boys. At one point a heated, but playful argument ensued; the supporters of Chelsea against the supporters of Manchester United. Yes, even in Myanmar, Premiership Football matches from England are hugely popular. But one thing the boys could all agree on was supporting their favorite local team; the Mandalay-based Yadanarbon. And that led to rousing “Yadanarbon” cheers. Good memories.





From Mandalay, we headed to Mt. Popa, and then on to Bagan where we spend the first night. Day number two was even longer, driving past Chauk and Yenangyaung, to Magwe, Minbu, and eventually to Shwe Set Taw, out in the middle of nowhere, and back to Bagan again. The third day was slower paced, but still a long one as we returned to Mandalay.





I’ll post more stories and photos about the trip later, but today I’m sticking with the bumpy road photos that I took from my little corner of the truck.








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