Hsipaw (Thibaw) is a town in Shan State in Eastern Myanmar.
Every day, a train makes it laborious way up from Mandalay, via steep hills and a breathtaking gorge, to Hsipaw (and onward to Lashio). One of the 'must do' railway journeys of the world, the railway line between Pyin u Lwin and Hsipaw is a masterpiece of British engineering, designed primarily to bring trade (and thus control) to the Northern Shan State, an important ally of the British after the conquest of Upper Burma. The train from Mandalay to Hsipaw takes 11 hours and costs 4$ or 7$ First Class, depending on who you buy it from. (Some people have been told they have to book the train the afternoon before and pay 7$, while others just show up at 3 in the morning and pay the real price, which is around 4$). The train should leave around 4am. The journey from Pyin oo Lwin to Hsipaw takes seven hours and costs Kyat 2750 First Class or Kyat 1200 Second Class (as of May 2014). Many travelers do the Pyin oo Lwin (Maymyo) to Hsipaw section one way and return by road (7 hours by train, 4 hours by road). Lashio is four hours from Hsipaw by train. The train from Hsipaw to Mandalay (and Pyin Oo Lwin) leaves at 9.40AM and arrives in Mandalay at 10.40PM (to Pyin Oo Lwin at around 4PM)
Pickups leave early in the morning from Mandalay near the clock tower (6 hours, 1,500 kyat) or Pyin oo Lwin (4 hours, 1,300 kyat) for Hsipaw. It is a long and uncomfortable ride and not recommended unless you can get a seat in the front.
Early morning buses leave from Mandalay to Hsipaw (4000 kyat) and from Hsipaw to Mandalay leaves at 6:00 am (4500 AC, 4000 W/O AC). For buses out of Hsipaw, the ticket offices for the two companies,Duhtawadi are on Namtu Road across from Mr. Food and, for the express bus, at the Shan Market. Buy your ticket on the previous day and try for a seat towards the front of the bus and preferably not on the seat that folds into the aisle (the aisles are blocked for the ride). A bus ride to Lashio (800 kyat) takes two hours and buses, you got it, leave early in the morning. Both bus companies will pick you up from your hotel, sometimes an hour before the bus leaves (buses leave at about 6am), so you may find it better to walk to the bus yourself. In additional, there is also air conditioned bus of Duhtawadi Express which is the best way to Hsipaw or Kyauk Me' leaves 2:30 pm (5000 kyat)
In Pyin Oo Lwin the bus ticket to Hsipaw costs 4500 kyats for non airconditioned bus and 6000 for air con bus and leaves from the bus terminal (3km from pyin oo lwin). The bus takes 6 hours from Pyin oo lwin
It is also possible to access Hsipaw by air-conditioned bus from Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake). The bus departs around 3:30pm from Nyaungshwe and costs 16,000 kyats. Expect the journey to take anywhere between 12 - 14 hours, dropping you off in Hsipaw early the next morning. Note that the route this bus takes is towards Kalaw, Meiktila, Mandalay and then reascends back into the mountains via Pyin Oo Lwin. Ask at your hotel in Nyaungshwe and they will be able to book it for you.
Depending on availability (shared taxis run with at least three passengers). Between Mandalay and Hsipaw about 10,000 kyat and between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw about 9000 kyat. Four hours.
By private car
Approximate cost about US$100 for the round trip.
It is easy to get around walking or on a rented bicycle (500 kyat/day). Trishaws are available if you don't want to walk and taxis can be found on the Lashio Road.
The Sawbwas of Hsipaw lived in the Shan Palace at the northern end of the town. The last Sawbwa (Sao Kya Seng) disappeared during the military coup in 1962 and the palace is cared for by his nephew and his nephew's wife. 'Mr. Donald' (Sao Oo Kya), the nephew, was in jail, apparently for saying bad things about the military, but was released several years ago during a general amnesty. Since then he has had to be very careful not to give the regime a chance to re-arrest him. For several years after his release he and his wife lived in Taunggyi, the major Shan administrative centre, However recently his wife has returned to the palace in Hsipaw. She is determined (very courageously) to tell the story of the Shan State over the last 50 years, explaining specifically the history of the last sawbwa and their family and welcomes visitors from overseas. Just walk up to the building at any reasonable hour to be treated to the insider story. Not to be missed. July 2014: Visiting hours are now 9am-12pm and 3-6 pm. Fern makes for a great and very honest host. Also recommended is to look up the memoirs of the last Sabwa's austrian wife, Inge Sargent, called "Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess." It's a moving personal account of her life in Burma up till her husband's disappearance.
At the southern end of town (across the Lashio Road) is the Mahamyatmuni Paya.
The Central Market at Hsipaw is one of the best markets to visit in all of Myanmar. Shans, Kachins, and other tribals come here to trade regularly. Because so few tourists visit Hsipaw, the merchandise is primarily for villagers who go there to shop. Radios, spare parts, diverse foodstuffs, and of course, Shan clothing (trousers, hats, sandals) and the ubiquitous lyongi. The market begins and ends early, starting at 3:30am and pretty much wrapping up by 6am.
Sunset watching at Five Buddha Hill or Nine Buddha Hill is another recommended pastime. Both hills are about 2km out of town and are accessible by bicycle.
The Bawgyo Paya, 8km out of town in the direction of Mandalay, is a revered Shan pagoda. In addition to the usual complement of Buddha's, the pagoda also has some ancient statues of Hindu origin in the plaza outside.
Lying in a valley, Hsipaw is a good place for easy day hikes. There are few restrictions on moving around and, unlike in the Inle Lake region, you don't need to hire a guide. Mr. Charles organises half day boat trips and hikes to Shan Villages and nearby waterfalls, a good way to meet other tourists. (Please see this discussion on Thorntree for caveats on Mr. Charles.)
If you'd feel more comfortable organising a guide outside of the Mr. Charles guesthouse, Mr Bean from the Nam Khae Mao Guest House, is a fantastic guide - very very funny and great company. You can trek to Pan Kam village and stay overnight in a lovely homestay for 10,000 kyat per person per day. You can also call him on 09 47 31 18 600.
Unless you're interested in Shan headdresses and clothes, there is not much to buy in Hsipaw. Troll the market to see if anything catches your fancy.
Books can be bought at the store run by Mr. Book. It is always interesting to chat with him (he can also arrange tours) but some recent reports (unverified and anecdotal) seem to indicate that he is not as forthcoming as before, possibly because of the dominance of Mr. Charles in the Hsipaw tourist industry. Mr. Charles also runs a book exchange in the lobby across the front desk where you can either buy a book or exchange one for another (for a small fee).
Hsipaw has lots of food being cooked outdoors but few organized eateries. On Namtu Road, across the bridge and toward the turn off for Mr. Charles guest house, several open air eateries serve freshly deep fried veggies in a batter (sort of like an Indian pakora or Japanese tempura). Very delicious. The Market has several stalls that serve snacks (go well before mid-day) and Shan Noodles, the main dish in the Northern Shan State, noodles in a sweet and spicy broth packed with meat and vegetables.
Mr Food (Law Chun) runs the backpacker restaurant on Namtu Road. Along with the usual Chinese and Shan fare, draft beer (400 kyat) is available.
An Unnamed Shack across from Mr Food serves Burmese food. No menu or sign but you'll recognise it by the big pots full of curries outside. The food is good but, since it is prepared in the morning, best to go for lunch.
Maureen, an Australian woman married to a Shan, runs a café named Black House" by the Dokhtawady River. Good coffee and conversation is available. (Last heard, her husband was in jail so please do ask her about his well-being.) - Update: Visited the "Black House" in May 2013, according to the Burmese owners Maureen sold them the business 10 years ago! not sure why the legend of maureen is still listed on many websites... still, I recommend visiting anyway as its a great spot to sit by the river especially at sunset. The chinese "Dali" beer is 1,200 kyat.
"The Club Terrace ( Hsipaw ) is a newly opened (recently at late 2012 )restaurant located by the side of "Black House Cafe' " at the bank of Dokhtawady River. It serves European, Chinese, Thai and Shan traditional foods for local or foreign visitors. Large terrace over the bank of Dokhtawady River may helps all guests to see a pleasant scenery and feel fresh wind pass thought the river.
Beer Station. They sell "Myanmar draught Beer", which is much better than the "dagon" draught at Mr Food. Walk out to the main Lashio road and head in the Mandalay direction a couple of minutes past the main Bus stops, its on the left - good for a beer or two whilst waiting for the night bus! 600 kyat per beer (May 2013)
There are three well-known choices for accommodation in Hsipaw. They are all decent and clean. The cheapest, Nam Khae Mao, also has the best facilities, yet for some reason the backpackers flock to Mr. Charles, where the staff are unhelpful and the facilites lacking. Mr. Kid's is probably the friendliest of the bunch and the closest to the railway station, as well.
As of March 2013, there are new choices on the market, including Yee Shin Guest House. More are under construction in early 2013.
Nam Khae Mao Guest House - The original location is at 134 Bogyoke Road, just near the clock tower and overlooking the Burma Road; shared bath (US$6); private bath (US$7-10). In 2012 the owners also opened "Lily House" at 108 Aung Thae Pye Road, 2 blocks north of the Burma Road and 2 1/2 blocks east of the main street; shared bath (single US$8, double US$15); private bath (single US$15, double US$25-30). Both Nam Khae Mao and Lily House are clean and the staff super friendly. It is possible to arrange just about anything from here, bus tickets, share taxis, treks and motorcycle trips. Free Wifi, with PC access offered at 500 Ks/hour. 24 hour hot water. Pound for pound, the best options in Hsipaw. If you happen to stay here get one of their excellent and funny guides - Mr. Sai or Mr. Bean - to take you for an overnight yet easy trip to beautiful Pankham village - with a stay in a local house - you won't regret it. Nam Khae Mao Guest House, No 134,Bogyoke road, Hsipaw. Tel - 082 80077, 80088, 80318. Manager - Sai Aung Tun and Lily. firstname.lastname@example.org Current as of Nov 2012.
Mr. Kid Guest House, Bogyoke Road (towards the railway station), rooms start at 5,000 KS (no breakfast included). The family is incredibly hospitable and a cup of tea is always available. On the whole, a very homey atmosphere. Also offers Western-style toilet.
Lily House, brand new and really nice guesthouse. Free Wifi,western breakfirst, towels, hot shower, western style toilet. Staff is very friendly and helpful there. They can arrange a guide for treks to Palaung villages. Bed in a dorm from 7$. Good value for money. No.108, Aung Thepye Streetm Hsipaw, Tel. +95-82-80318, 80408, Email: email@example.com
There are no international dial facilities in Hsipaw. Several stores and call booths offer local and domestic phone service. The office of the Telephone department is just by the Shan Palace but is rarely open and is unlikely to offer international direct dial calls.
"Memory" Computer Training Center, near the police station (400 Ks/hour). Like most places in Myanmar, the speed is on the slow side. So try getting there in the afternoon, since less people are there and the road is better. It is found on a small road branching from the main road north of town, indicated by a sign "Memory".
Net City Internet Cafe, Awtha Street (500 Ks/hour). Inexplicably refuses to give foreigners access to Wifi, despite having four separate signals available. They claim that Wifi use is reserved for those with monthly membership, but probably has more to do with the proximity of Mr. Charles, whose untoward business practices are already well known. Staff decidedly unpleasant.