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.
Situated 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.
Most trekking (as of Jan 2015) is organized through Mr Charles guesthouse. It can be more comfortable organising a guide outside of the guesthouses. That way you also support the local economy as the guides will not have to pay a steep 20-50% commission to the guesthouse. Also, you may be able to customize your trek this way. If The guide is not english spoken enough for you, do not hesitate to ask for a english spoken person to assist him along your trek; it will be better for him and for you. Mr Bike (firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/trek.hsipaw), Mr Bean (09 473118600), and Mr Sai (09 258325525/082 email@example.com) speak very good English and are exceptionally knowledgeable about the villages, nature, society and politics. Mr. Win (09-31670041 or 09-259739956) is also an exceptional guide with deep knowledge of the land acquired through years in the Forest Service. The guides can organise treks to local villages and arrange a stay overnight in lovely homestays.
BoatBoat Tour Services: Held by the wonderfully MaBoatboat (who run Lu Wun Aung Restaurant at the same location), this funny and friendly woman will make everything to help you find a local guide to respond to your requirement, organising your trek (in February 2015). Her commission is much lower than in the "industrial" guesthouses (mentioned below) and you will have the opportunity to help local economy. Row Building off football ground/Nampthu Road (hundred meters north from Mr. Shake, close to a fat tree) tel: 09-402778213
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 (600-700 kyat 17/06/15) is available.
San restaurant 200m further south from Mr food has a great menu, good prices, beer is 700 Kyat and the 6th beer is free promotion (17/06/15). Get the sweet and sour chicken and stuffed chicken breast.
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.
An unnamed Nepali restaurant on the Lashio-Mandalay road, West of the Baptist church. It has a sign with the name in Burmese with a sacred cow on it, football night the front will be full of people watching Premier League. Super friendly, they serve chapati with curry, pancake with vegetable or banana, amazing masala tea. They also have rice based dish. 1000K for a meal.
The restaurant Khit Mee, just hundred meters to the northafter the "gasoline station" corner : this family run house will delight you with hot milk tea, cakes or local donuts (according to the day) even if you arrive very early in the morning (from Bagan or Inle for instance) for almost nothing (200 a tea, and small cake 200 kyats - in february 2015), perfect for cheap breakfasts. The son speaks a fair english and the father can chinese. This place is still protected from tourists invasion, so enjoy it now.
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 (even if it can be noisy and romms are not that fresh), yet for some reason the backpackers flock to Mr. Charles or Lili's, where the staff are unhelpful and the facilites lacking. Moreover, those two have created an increasing empire in Hsipaw. 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$6 per person - bargained at 5$ without breakfast); private bath (US$7-10). Free Wifi, 24 hour hot water. Pound for pound, the best options in Hsipaw. Because of its location on the road this place may be noisy, bring your earplugs. Moreover, choose upper floor rooms whch are "totally" noise insulated - compared to ground floor ones were there is the usual Burmese gap close to the ceiling. Nam Khae Mao Guest House, No 134,Bogyoke road, Hsipaw. Tel - 082 80077, 80088, 80318. Manager - Sai Aung Tun and Lily. firstname.lastname@example.org Know that although it is far to be as fancy as Lili's home, it belong to the same Lili's increasing empire. It anyway remain more human and friendly than the "headquarter"
Mr. Kid Guest House, Bogyoke Road (towards the railway station), rooms start at 5,000 KS (no breakfast included). The family is incredibly hospitable and a cup of tea is always available. On the whole, a very homey atmosphere. Also offers Western-style toilet.
Lily House, brand new and really nice guesthouse. Free but slow Wifi, Western and Oriental breakfast buffet, towels, hot shower, western style toilet. They charge much more than the going rate for multi-day treks. Bed in a dorm from 9$. Private room with private bath is $20 in slow season (May 2015). No.108, Aung Thepye Street, Hsipaw, Tel. +95-82-80318, 80408, Email: email@example.com Moreover, before choosing any guesthouse in Myanmar, think socially fair: empires like Mr. Charles or Lili's grew enough (so that sometimes new comers may have some pressured - money is still mightier than justice in this country), try to leave the beaten tracks, LP restaurants or guesthouses and test smoe family run restaurant. Taste will ba as good, for a cheaper price.
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.
About 80 km, up in the mountains is the Golden Palaung village of Namshan, the furthest one can get in the mountains and spend the night without an organised tour or guide. The easiest way to get there is to hire a bike and ride pillion (K15000 should do for a two day trip) or hire a pickup (K30,000) from Hsipaw. Mr. Book can help organize transport and recent reports suggest that Mr. Charles organizes regular tours to Namshan from his guesthouse these days (unconfirmed, but likely). In Namshan itself there is no official place to stay but a couple of places let you sleep on the floor (blankets and sheets are provided). The road from Hsipaw is almost totaly sealed, except 4km (small stones), it takes around 3h30 to join Namhsan. Attention! It's hard to find petrol between Panglong and Namhsan (60km !), just one small village and some camps