Hsipaw (pronounced see-paw) is known for some incredible trekking routes into its beautiful surrounding countryside, and visiting the hill tribes of the area.
We did both;
Quite far north, the village of Hsipaw brings with it fewer foreigners and trekking is so much quieter than the more well-known treks between Kalaw and Inle Lake.
We, obviously, also wanted a slice of that action and so, took the spectacular seven-hour train journey from Pyin Oo Lwin – check out our awesome experience and how to do it yourself here.
When we arrived in Hsipaw, we were unexpectedly greeted off the train by a chap from our hostel Mr Charles. We had been recommend it as a nice place to stay with a good backpacker hub and decent rooms.
They seem to have a constant daily stream of treks leaving the place and offer both day and overnight options. Mr Charles also have a designated desk to arrange your chosen trek and are very knowledgeable of the surrounding areas.
When we were there, political unrest further north of Hsipaw meant that two night treks were off the table, so they seem to have a handle on the current political state and your safety. Particularly handy, if you ask us.
We spent three nights in Hsipaw with Mr Charles and one night out overnight on a trek to the Shan Tribes.
Jump to the section about that trek.
Arriving in the afternoon of day one, we booked our trek for the day after next. This gave some time to explore the local area of Hsipaw and get a couple of good night’s sleep.
Hsipaw has seen increasingly more backpackers and foreigners in recent years, seemingly evident by a whole bunch of Mr’s in town – Mr Shake, Mr Pizza, Mr Food, Mr Book, Mr Wok…
Breakfast at Mr Charles is great and so we stuffed ourselves with that before we headed out for the day.
Day Exploring in Hsipaw Countryside
We’d recommend having a day to explore Hsipaw. There are a couple of different guided options, but we decided to hire bicycles from a man in the high street to explore for ourselves.
Here is the route we took – but we would also recommend taking little roads off of the route that look inviting to really explore.
So, to the countryside!
The countryside was beautiful, incredibly peaceful and serine as we cycled around Hsipaw. We were practically the only foreigners in sight.
Towards the northern section of Hsipaw, lies a little village called Myauk Myo which comprises of so-called ‘Little Bagan’ (it’s not, but is still worth a visit), Madahya Monastery and the Shan Palace.
On a beautiful blue day, we didn’t come across another foreigner, it felt so peaceful and calm cycling through the lanes feeling like we had it all to ourselves.
We stumbled upon a gorgeous little cafe called Mrs Popcorn’s (unfortunately no popcorn in sight) for some Shan noodle lunch.
And, dumping our bikes at the bottom, walked all the way up Sunset Hill to watch err…sunset.
One Night Hsipaw Trek To Lisu, Shan and Pulau Villages
The following day we packed a little backpack each and set off early on a hike with five others into the local Lisu, Shan and Pulau villages.
We covered 26km and hiked for eight hours through some glorious countryside with some fantastic views, stopping every now and then to eat and learn something new.
This is tamarind freshly picked from a tree using a stupidly long stick.
We experienced our first (of many!) pickled tea leaf salad. The leaves are locally grown and used for both salads (where they’re fermented) and green tea (where they’re dried).
We commenced our almost daily stream of tomato salads in those hills.
The villagers use bamboo to collect water from the spring which is used in their kitchen, positioned high on the mountainside.
We stopped for lunch at a Shan village called Pankam which houses 106 families and 500 people.
And, visited the local school which has six teachers for 45 children from the age of four.
By then, we had passed quite a few schools on our journey through Myanmar, and had quickly realised that we could never walk past one without knowing it.
We knew we were approaching a school because they were loud with children chanting their learnings over and over. English colours were one of my favourite with ‘yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow’, ‘red, red, red, red, red’ shouted over and over, until the cows came home and had even been milked!
Pankam village school was no different.
We continued hiking until we reached the village and the family’s house we were staying in for the night, arriving just as night fell.
In the house lived many generations who all slept in the same room and was surrounded by large vegetable plots that supplied their food.
Dinner was an endless supply of vegetable dishes that were incredibly tasty.
We spent the remainder of the evening as a group chatting around the table, and watching the family’s youngest (and cutest) son run around the house like a mad-man wearing Smartie tubes on his legs.
We also learnt that homework was completed in a similar fashion to classwork, as repeated-Burmese came out of one of the rooms in the house.
Our bedroom consisted of a row of mattresses on the floor with four blankets per bed to huddle under.
When the sun set, the village was bathed in pure darkness and so, after a spot of incredible stargazing, we were in bed attempting to sleep by 9pm (which apparently is like their midnight). Byron conked out pretty quickly, but I spent the majority of night counting the hours until daylight. A perfect start for another day’s trekking.
After a breakfast of vegetable curries and rice we commenced day two, stopping along the way to see and sample locally grown peanuts and sugar cane.
We began our trek back to Hsipaw and after another another 26km, were promised a grand-finale-finish at the local hot springs. Which, of course, we were all looking forward to.
However, we quickly learnt that ‘hot spring’ in Burmese may be better translated as ‘communal bath’ as, on arrival, we were greeted with two separate pools, one for men and one for women who were turning up with their soap and toothpaste for a wash. Most of our trekking group politely declined the invitation to go for a dip, except Byron who joined the locals and their toothpaste foam.
What a champ.
Despite nursing a cold and being pleased to be back in a proper bed (even though the hostel was right next to another school), the trek was fantastic!
The journey to Hsipaw and our time spent there was a huge highlight of our time spent travelling in Myanmar.
We met some fantastic people and saw some absolutely beautiful countryside.
And, those little yellow flowers…amazing…
Let us know if you have also been trekking in Hsipaw or are keen to do so. We would love to hear from you.