Northern Hsipaw may not be high up on your priority destination list for Myanmar, when compared with the ‘must visit’ spots such as Inle Lake and Bagan, however that’s why we wanted to share our reasons for loving it and why we think it should be included in your Myanmar itinerary! We’re so glad we went.
Though there are many, some of our warmest Myanmar memories are from our time in Hsipaw, and here we explain why…
1. The Lovely Locals
Trekking through the local ‘Shan’ villages around Hsipaw is an amazing way to meet the locals and to experience a little of their daily life. Here are some of the lovely people we met along the way.
Across all of the places we visited in Myanmar, we found the people to be extremely genuine and friendly, however we left Hsipaw with the biggest feeling of warmth in our hearts of everywhere we visited. It might sound cliché, but looking back over all our travels, it’s always the people we meet that make a place and Hsipaw is definitely one of such places.
On our day trek around the villages, we came across lots of local villagers who said hello and made us feel welcome. Though I think our legendary local guide (Mr Bean, yes I promise that was his name!) might have played a big part in our popularity!
On our way back towards town, we were lucky to see a procession of nuns making their way to a special ceremony…
2. Stunning Scenery
You don’t have to trek far to witness some beautiful scenery!
Literally 10 minutes or so of ‘trekking’ out of town brought us to beautifully kept farmland and hill views such as this one. The whole area around Hsipaw is extremely ‘unspoilt’ and consists mainly of farmland, villages and green hills dotted with a few monasteries.One particular trip worth making at some point during your visit is to the Thein Daung Pagoda, otherwise known as ‘Sunset Hill’. It’s a little out of town (around 1 and a 1/2 miles south of Hsipaw) but can easily be reached by bicycle followed by a short hill hike (around 20 minutes). It’s worth it because you get rewarded with a beautiful sunset view over the whole town and river, and you’ll probably meet some friendly locals along the way!
3. Learn About Local Work And Trade
Conveniently close to town are various workshops and mini factories where you can see locals carrying out all kinds of local speciality work such as noodle manufacturing, weaving, shoe and leather making and even popcorn popping! Your guesthouse (you can find details of ours in the info section at the end) will probably be able to provide you with a local map with each of them marked out, however some were easier to find than others!
We were delighted when we came across this noodle manufacturing place. In fact we wanted to get inside and help the workers with their noodle ‘stamping’ – yes that’s how much we love noodles!
We also came across this rather well stocked bicycle shop, if that’s what you call it. I don’t know how she manages to stay balanced when stopped! Incredible.
And you’ll find plenty of friendly local farmers. We learned from our guide how hard they work, but despite the long hours, they still found time to smile, wave and shout hello to us. Yep that’s Myanmar for you.
4. Visit The Local Monasteries & Nunneries On A Local Tour
It was on our day trek with the lovely and extremely knowledgable ‘Mr Bean’ that we had our most interesting experience when he brought us to a local monastery and nunnery.
During our short visit to the local nunnery we had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with the young student nuns. We enjoyed answering questions from some of the more inquisitive students who were confident to communicate in English with us. We shared stories about where we were from and our travels around Myanmar. I think they were almost as pleased to meet us as we were to meet them.
We also met some young monks who were taking a break from their studies. We’ll never forget the moment however that their eyes lit up as soon as they heard the familiar sound of the local ice-cream van coming to the monastery! They all quickly turned on their heels and ran as fast they could to make sure they got one. We got the impression that this was not an every day occurrence!
5. Tour The Architectural Remnants From The Shan Royal Era
The final highlight of our time in Hsipaw was a day spent exploring the local sights by bicycle!
Thanks to the compactness of the town and the fairly quiet roads and paths, it’s easy to get around the area and in particular to find some special sights. Due to its history as a Shan Royal City, there are few such architectural remnants to be discovered.
Not far from town (around only 15-20 minutes by bike) will bring you to the northern end of town where you’ll find two traditional wooden monasteries, ‘Madahya’ and the ‘Bamboo Buddha Monastery’. Both of which were worth a look around, especially to find the famous 150-year-old lacquered buddha inside the latter, but it was further along the route behind these where we discovered the real gem of the place, ‘Little Bagan’.
Some of the ancient brick stupas are overgrown with vegetation but this most definitely adds to the charm of this place and the feeling of adventure when you discover it, especially in its unassuming discrete setting. It’s no Angkor Wat but definitely makes for an enchanting visit, especially as you’ll most likely have it to yourself! Another advantage of venturing off the beaten path to Hsipaw.
Note: Don’t miss a stop off at ‘Mrs Popcorn’s Garden’ on the path back! If she’s still there, you’re in for a real treat. Seriously, order ANYTHING from her menu and you’ll love it. We went for a couple of her deliciously fresh smoothies and Barry tucked into one of her homemade curries!
We loved our Hsipaw Trekking experience and consider it to be one of the highlights of our time in Myanmar. In addition to the reasons we’ve summarised above, we found Hsipaw and its local people to be very genuine and a beautifully non-touristy place to visit. We left feeling like we’d experienced the ‘real’ Myanmar.
NB: We stayed at the popular Mr Charles Guesthouse during our visit to Hsipaw and would recommend it, especially for their tours with excellent local guides.
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