Hsipaw is a beautiful region, which is very popular with travellers for walking and trekking, whether this is for a day, overnight, or 3-plus days.
At the time of writing, there was fighting between the Shan rebels and government troops, which resulted in some trekkers having to turn back and return to the guest house after a day’s trek instead of the 3-day trek, so, only got to do independent day treks during our stay.
Although the guide books advise that this town is not frequented much by travellers, don’t believe it, many travellers visit this northern Shan state town and it’s easy to organise trekking activities.
A 6-hour bus from Mandalay to Hsipaw takes you through some beautifully lush (currently the wet season) vistas and a couple hours of switchbacks. If you’re prone to travel sickness, I’d suggest some tablets beforehand. Be warned, the locals don’t travel well and the vocals and scent of vomit permeates every nook and cranny of the bus – there’s no escape; bring some lozenges or peppermints to mask smells. And of course, a jacket and ear plugs for obvious reasons! Although locals are sick during the bus trip, when the bus stops for lunch, everyone partakes in a huge lunch, and once the journey continues, the vomiting starts all over again, it’s like a revolving dream!
Lily Guest House (108 Aung Thepye St)
Although staff are very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast is good, I still feel that the accommodation itself is over-priced (more of a hostel feel). Clean room, private bathroom, hot water, coffee making facilities in the room, and also tea/coffee/water provided in communal area. Sporadic wifi in communal area only. A new 4-storey building for 30+ rooms and also extensions for another 2 rooms at the premise was under way at the time of writing. So, if the new rooms are offered at the current price (very doubtful), then this will be much better value (travelled in low season and booked through Agoda).
Staff at the Lily can arrange all travel tickets (bus, train, boat) and also treks. The guest house charges a 5% charge when paying by credit card, which is a tad pricey.
As it’s the wet season and raining an awful lot all the time, gave Sunset Hill a miss, although the scenery from the top is supposed to provide sweeping views along the town and river.
The surrounding area is just gorgeous and the best way to see and explore this is on foot; of course there’s loads of mud along the path in the wet season.
This is on the same easy, half-hour walk from town as to Myauk Myo. Once you get to Little Bagan, there’s a collection of ancient brick Stupas, which is a good photo opportunity (as long as it’s not raining).
If you’ve travelled to the Angkor Wat ruins (Cambodia) and Bagan (Burma) and seen some of the smaller temples, Little Bagan will remind you of these sites, a little; overgrown vegetation and rubble but on a much smaller scale in comparison.
The two teak monasteries (includes the Bamboo Buddha Monastery) are about a 45-minute walk north of town and next to Little Bagan. Ask your hostel/hotel for a map before you set out as it’s a muddy track. So, from the Central Market, head north on Namtu Road for a while, cross the railway line and follow the road until you reach the monasteries. Turn left at the big Tamarind tree and keep walking. On the walk back, stop in at Mrs. Popcorn for a lovely fresh juice, local snacks, and warm Burmese hospitality.
Take a stroll along the Myawaddy River, which is great for a photo shoot or just to relax and chill. As it was raining a lot, there was not much sitting happening – I can only imagine it would be much more pleasant in the dry.
Typically, the longer treks go further into the surrounding hill areas than the shorter treks. As there was fighting between the Shan rebels and the Government’s army, we didn’t do the 2 or 3-day treks and only did the short treks. Still, the scenery is pretty special and this means that you can sleep in the comfort of your own hostel/hotel; lush, especially in the rain!
If you take a short walk (8km round trip) south of the town, you’ll run into small Shan villages along iridescent rice paddies and against the surrounding mountains, this makes for an excellent photo opportunity. But most of all, the local villagers are so friendly and it doesn’t take much to win a smile from a local…definitely make the effort to venture outside of Hsipaw Town itself.
Decided on Bagan as the next stop, so took the 6-hour morning bus back to Mandalay, which arrived in the city at around 20:00. The Lily Guest House pre-booked our tickets for the expensive (US$43+5% card charge) government-owned but average quality and service, RV Shwe Keinnery 10-hour ferry from Mandalay to Bagan.