Hsipaw is a beautiful region in central Burma, which is very popular with travellers for walking and trekking, and easily reached by bus from Mandalay.
The 6-hour bus from Mandalay to Hsipaw takes you through some wonderfully lush vistas during the wet season, and a couple hours of switchbacks.
If you are prone to travel sickness, I’d suggest some tablets beforehand.
Be warned, the locals do not travel well. And so, the vocal noice and scent of vomit permeates every nook and cranny of the bus during the trip. There is no escape. Bring some strong lozenges or peppermints to mask the odours. And of course, a jacket and ear plugs for obvious reasons.
Something I’ve noticed so far on bus trips in Burma is that although locals are sick throughout the bus trip, when the bus stops for lunch, everyone partakes in a huge lunch – not too dissimilar to a gorging session.
Once the bus journey continues, the vomiting starts all over again. This is like a revolving dream or some may say nightmare – I just don’t understand this behaviour.
At the time of writing, fighting between the Shan Rebels and government troops is still fierce. This resulted in trekkers having to turn back and return to the guest house after a day’s trek, which should have been a 3-day trek.
Unfortunately for the moment, tourists can only go on short independent day treks, as who knows when the government will allow further travel.
Although the guide books advise that this town is not frequented much by travellers, don’t believe this – many travellers visit this northern Shan state town as it’s easy to organise trekking activities once in the town.
As it is the wet season so raining an awful lot all of the time, gave Sunset Hill a miss. The scenery from the top is supposed to provide sweeping views along the town and river.
The surrounding area is just stunning and the best way to see and explore everywhere is on foot.
Of course and as expected for this time of year, there is loads of mud along most paths but this makes for an adventurous experience.
The two teak monasteries including 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 and not obvious.
To get there, 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. If you’re anything like me and don’t know what a Tamarind Tree looks like, then you need to look one up as I did – should of taken a photo for this post.
On the walk back from the monastery, stop in at Mrs. Popcorn for a lovely fresh juice and local snacks. Enjoy the delightful and warm Burmese hospitality that typically, you experience in the smaller villages.
This site is on the same easy, half-hour walk from town as to Myauk Myo.
Once you get to Little Bagan, you will see 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 much rubble but on a much smaller scale, in comparison.
Take a stroll along the romantic Myawaddy River, which is wonderful for a photo shoot or just to relax and chill.
As it is raining a lot, there isn’t much stopping and 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 currently, there is fighting between the Shan rebels and the Government’s army, we didn’t book the 2 or 3-day treks and only did the short day-treks.
Still, these treks provide wonderful scenery, which is pretty special.
This also means that you can sleep in the comfort of your own hostel or hotel, which is very lush, especially in the wet season’s pouring rain.
Take a short walk (8km round trip) south of the town and you’ll run into small Shan villages. Backdropped along iridescent rice paddies and splayed against the craggy surrounding mountains, these ever-changing vistas make excellent photo opportunities.
Most of all, the local villagers are so friendly that it doesn’t take much to win a smile from a local and interact.
Definitely make the effort to venture outside of Hsipaw Town itself.
Hsipaw caters well enough for tourists and offers a selection of varying accommodation.
Lily Guest House
On 108 Aung Thepye Street, I feel that this guest house is over-priced, as it offers a more hostel feel.
Staff are very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast is good.
Lily offers a clean room, private bathroom, hot water, and coffee-making facilities in the room.
Tea/coffee/water are also provided in the communal area, with sporadic wi-fi available in this area.
A new 4-storey building for 30+ rooms and also extensions for another 2 rooms at the premise, is under way. So, if the new rooms are offered at the current price (very doubtful), then this will be much better value. We are also travelling during low season and booked through Agoda.
Staff at the Lily Guest House can arrange all bus, train, and boat travel tickets; and also treks. You are charged 5% extra anytime you pay for something with a credit card here – a tad pricey, but this is Burma.
As we really can’t go any further than Hsipaw due to the fighting, decided on Bagan as the next stop to see the famous temples.
With no direct buses from Hsipaw to Bagan, we have to back-track through to Mandalay by bus.The 6-hour morning bus to Mandalay, arrives in the city at around 20:00 hrs – lets hope so…
From Mandalay, we catch a ferry to Bagan. The Lily Guest House also pre-booked our tickets for the expensive (USD$43 per person + 5% card charge) government-owned, but very average quality and service: RV Shwe Keinnery.
This 10-hour ferry journey from Mandalay to Bagan along the Irrawaddy River should be quite spectacular and I’m looking forward to travelling in more comfort and getting off the pot-holed Burmese roads.