Hsipaw , Burma , Myanmar
Hsipaw was once the Royal capital of a small Shan state of its own. Due to the altitude it’s a cool retreat and has a relaxed atmosphere that attracts a wide variety of travellers who mainly come to town to organise short treks and walks into the surrounding hills.
Things to do in Hsipaw
Hsipaw is a town that attracts visitors for usually one thing – trekking. But for those who are happy to just enjoy life in a genuine Burmese village, there are plenty of other options to fill your days. The vibe here is relaxed and friendly and many find themselves staying longer than they anticipated.
The major drawcard for Hsipaw is the treks to visit and stay with hill tribes in the surrounding mountains. While some of the ethnic minority treks in other neighbouring countries give the impression of being outdated and overrun with tourists, the ones from Hsipaw are still quite authentic.
Those with just one day in town will find quite a few different options to visit some of the outlying villages. If you have a few extra days up your sleeve consider a one or two-night journey that takes you to some of the more remote and isolated settlements.
The terrain is steep and dusty but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and the chance to spend a night or two with a Shan family. All trekking services can be organised from your guesthouse and prices will include a guide, accommodation and food.
An enjoyable day can be had by simply renting a bicycle and getting lost on the many dirt roads and paths that meander through the surrounding farmlands.
There is a historic Shan palace you can visit at the northern end of town. Waterfalls and a hot spring are also found within riding distance from your guesthouse and make for a pleasant morning or afternoon.
Climbing to the top of Five Buddha Hill to watch the sunset over town has become a favourite pastime of tourists to Hsipaw. There is a story saying that when foreigners first started visiting Hsipaw they all began to climb the hill for sunset.
Locals were confused as to what the attraction was and why tourists would climb this hill at dusk. Finally, the villagers started walking up Five Buddha Hill at sunset to see what the fuss was about.
Eventually, they learned that the foreigners just wanted to watch the beauty of the day’s end from a high vantage point. Now the local population makes the climb themselves to witness this daily occurrence from Five Buddha Hill.
If you are a (very) early riser, you can visit this great market set up entirely for the local tribal population. Starting at 3:30 am and usually finishing by 6 am, this market is the place for the Shan, Kachin and other ethnic tribes of the area to meet and sell produce, clothing and just about any other kind of merchandise you can expect to find in a remote town so close to China.
How To Get There
Taking 12 hours from Mandalay the train is a slow, rickety affair that winds its way through mountains and valleys. The stretch from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw, however, holds the journey’s greatest attraction: The Goteik Viaduct.
Considered an engineering marvel due to its technical and natural condition, construction of the viaduct began in 1899 and was completed two years later.
The single railway track spans 689 metres and peaks out at 102 metres above the valley floor. It is the highest bridge in Myanmar, and at the time of its construction was the highest railway trestle in the world. One of the must-do train journeys on the planet. Not for the faint-hearted!
Buses in Myanmar vary from modern, European coaches to typical dilapidated local vehicles. Air-conditioned transport is available daily from Mandalay.
Overnight buses from Inle Lake and Kalaw leave every afternoon. Consider taking motion sickness tablets on this leg of the journey as the road is very mountainous with lots of switchbacks. If you want to travel to the closest point to China before you need military permits, a bus to Lashio leaves early every morning.