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: