The mystery of The Last Shan Prince is one of the most intriguing stories to emerge from Myanmar – and an excellent reason to visit the town of Hsipaw.
Who was The Last Shan Prince?
The Burmese monarchy spanned 1000 years, from the Pagan Empire in 9th century Bagan all the way to the collapse of the Konbaung Dynasty in 1885.
British colonial rule soon took over but the royal tradition continued in Shan State in eastern Burma – until the suspicious disappearance of Sao Kya Seng, the Last Shan Prince.
Born into the powerful Shan royal family in 1924, the prince studied in the United States where he met and fell in love with a fellow classmate, Inge Eberhard from Austria.
After marrying in 1953 they returned to Burma to large crowds and celebrations. It was only then that the bride discovered that her new husband was a prince…
Inge was a natural people’s princess. She learnt to speak Burmese and Shan and quickly became adored by the locals.
The Capture of The Last Shan Prince
The first few years in Hsipaw were fruitful: the royal couple had two daughters while working tirelessly to improve living conditions in the State.
The prince gave away agricultural land, supplied farmers with rice and dismissed top officials for corruption.
Then in 1962 the military junta that had seized power in the country also captured the prince, a popular reformist and threat to the regime.
Princess Inge and her daughters were placed under house arrest where she spent the next two years trying to discover the whereabouts of the prince.
Unable to obtain answers from the government, the family fled Burma, returning to Austria and then back to the United States.
Where are they now?
Now Inge Sargent, the princess remarried and remains in the United States with her two daughters.
She has written an autobiography titled “Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess” which has since been turned into a movie of the same name.
With no news since his arrest over 50 years ago, the family have long-assumed that the prince is dead.
Every year on the anniversary of his disappearance, the princess and her daughters write to the government requesting information. They have never received a response.
Visiting the Shan Palace
The Shan Palace in Hsipaw where the prince and his family once lived was bombed and destroyed in World War II.
A part of the residence survived and is now managed by the prince’s nephew Mr Donald and his wife.
No tours of the old palace are offered however the couple are generous and patient with their time.
They receive visitors in the front quarters of their home to share their family story of The Last Shan Prince.
Trekking in Hsipaw
The scenic countryside offers easy trails along green rolling hills, vegetable crops and rice paddies.
Treks can be combined with overnight homestays where visitors have the opportunity to stay with local families and enjoy delicious home-cooked Shan food.
Shan noodles, fish rice and tofu noodles are just a few of the must-try regional specialties.
Trekkers can certainly work up an appetite by exploring nearby Shan villages, made up of bamboo and thatch houses raised on wooden stilts with corrugated iron roofs.
Things to do in Hsipaw
Slightly off the beaten track, travelers that make it here quickly find themselves embraced by the community.
Tourism has enabled many locals to open their own businesses, aimed at making travellers feel at home in a foreign land:
• Stay at Mr Charles’ guesthouse
• Browse Mr Book’s bookshop
• Dine in Mr Food’s restaurant
• Have a drink at Mr Shake’s cafe
• Relax in Mrs Popcorn’s Garden
Those craving a more exotic experience can head to the bustling Central Market along the riverside. The action starts at 3:30am every morning where tribes near and far come to trade by candlelight along the river. Set your alarms as it’s all over by 6:00 am!
Mahamyatmuni Paya is the most impressive pagoda in Hsipaw but there are shines scattered around the town and even a “little Bagan.”
Other highlights of Hsipaw include:
• Watching sunset from the top of Sunset Hill
• Joining the annual pilgrimage to Bagyo Paya Pwe
• Marvelling at a 150 year old gold lacquered bamboo Buddha
Hsipaw is a destination where you can do as much or as little as you like. Many travellers come to enjoy the slower pace of rural life and find themselves staying 1 day longer, 1 day at a time.
See Hsipaw for yourself and experience the special Shan-side of Myanmar.