I was expecting just another Burmese Python
Sweat drips from my brow as I dismount the motorbike that has carried me from one side of Bago, Myanmar to the other. There are no expectations of meeting a princess because, to be honest, I haven’t done any research for this trip. Bago is just about an hour and a half away from Yangon, where I live. My partner had to go for work and I tagged along. When I saw a place on the map labeled Snake Pagoda, I looked at the images and decided to go.
It’s easy to feel the greatness of the place the moment my feet are on steady ground. In Southeast Asia, a pagoda is a cone-shaped monumental structure constructed in memory of Buddha. In Myanmar, one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world, there are thousands.
I begin wandering around aimlessly as I often do in Myanmar when there are no signs in English. It’s eerily quiet, not even the sounds of chanting monks or chirping birds taint the dense air. Most of the time when I roam, no one appears and tells me not to enter, but in this majestic place, someone does. I listen. Especially since I am anticipating where the famous snake might be lurking.
Meeting Daw Saw Nan Wei
The pictures I had seen showed the Burmese python curled up in a cage with cash piled on her back. But when I enter, there is no cage between her and me. It doesn’t appear that she can possibly be hungry with visible bulges of food beneath her stretched out skin, which is comforting. But I keep my distance, approaching the caretaker.
He tells me her name is Daw Saw Nan Wei. She is six meters long and eats 12 chickens every two months. Her massive body doesn’t look like it is moving anywhere any time soon. I am not afraid of being face to face with her. In fact, I feel a kind of awe at this huge powerful creature so close and unencumbered by a cage.
When I place a couple of thousand kyat (about $1.50) on the green pillow near Daw Saw Nan Wei’s head, her eyes meet mine and I slowly back away. I learned that the locals believe a Princess from the Shan state in Myanmar was reincarnated in this snake’s body. They claim the Burmese python is 130 years old and was sent to this location because the pagoda was crumbling and in dire need of repair.
How can a Burmese python help rebuild a pagoda?
You may want to know how a snake could help rebuild a pagoda. Daw Saw Nan Wei is special and brings in more than 20 times the average Myanmar household salary per day. Foreign tourists, like me, come out of curiosity and locals come to pay their respects and leave offerings for this powerful spirit in the body of a Burmese python.
Intimidated by the Princess
Presumably, I was there at a rare moment when not another soul wanted the attention of this powerful creature, and perhaps I wasted the opportunity. Maybe I should have sat down and had a chat with her, but I honestly wasn’t prepared to meet a princess. What would I even say?
I expected something very different, but I left satisfied. I stayed in the moment and took very few pictures, although I don’t regret it. Now, I am fascinated by Burmese Pythons. I will be exploring more snake pagodas in Myanmar. I have to add to my travel checklist, ‘always be prepared to meet a princess.’
Originally published on Medium June 1, 2019 – Meeting a Princess Python
If you want to visit Myanmar, read up on how to get your tourist visa here.