During World War II it was a stop on the Burma Road. Today it is a mercantile town that is mostly avoided by tourists except the few who make it across from China.
The Burmese part of the Burma Road is shorter than the Chinese part, from the Ruili China & Muse (pronounce Mu Say) Myanmar border crossing to Lashio. The Ruili / Muse border is not an International border access, so special permission may be needed to enter from China. However, travelling from the Myanmar side up to Muse is easy without an escort or special permission needed. An immigration official told me they intended to open the border for international travel in 2016 sometime.
There is easy access to Lashio by bus from Mandalay or Yangon on Shwe Mandalar bus lines. 15,000 Kyat ($15 from Yangon). This bus is comfortable. You can upgrade to 22,000 Kyat ($22 from Yangon) for VIP class bus. You can buy bus tickets online by searching for Myanmar Bus Tickets, and the site I used I was able to pay with Paypal. There are also vans that travel once they are full. No info on that option, as I've only heard of it, not used it.
You can get there from Hsipaw (locals pronounce: Thibaw) with the train which departs mid afternoon, and costs 600 Kyats per ticket. Bear in mind that the train supposed to arrive in Lashio at 7.30 or so but you will arrive at least at 10pm in a border town where few people speak English. You can do a full day train, but it is a long day from Mandalay all the way to Lashio. But there are good places to stop for a night or several nights along the train journey. Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) is known for its cool weather, beauty, and colonial era influences. The train goes from Pyin Oo Lwin over the Gokteik Viaduct bridge and a fitting stay for that night would be Kyaukme. There are a few trekking guides there who can take on day trips of hiking or motorbiking, or multi-day treks. Similarly, a few stops down the track is Hsipaw, which is similarly beautiful but has an overcrowded tourism industry. The next main stop past Hsipaw is Lashio, but the most beautiful part of the train journey, as you wind along the river, passing a couple beautiful waterfalls.
Air. You can fly to/from Mandalay, Tachileik, Yangon, Heho (Inle / Kalaw), or nearly anywhere in country. Lashio airport is an old military airstrip, as are almost all airports in Myanmar aside from Yangon and Mandalay. It is a typical small Myanmar airport, as it is just a concrete small building with a few wood benches in a middle of nowhere. No computer or internet or screen of departures or English signs or even a phone. There will be a few small shops selling some drinks and snacks. Someone will shout the name of the company you are flying with. Go there with your tickets printed or an email of your booking, and arrive at the airport earlier than you think (our fight departed 25 min early)
By Private Taxi
At the bus stations or stops and at some travel agents or hotels, you can arrange a private taxi to Lashio. This allows flexibility to stop if you negotiate this into the price. This is more expensive than bus or train, but is also more comfortable and convenient. If you want to ensure that the taxi is all yours, you need to pay for all the seats, otherwise they will want to fill it with other people.
Not Roos many things to be seen in Lashio:
- A pagoda on the top of the hill which supposed to be older then 2000 years? However it looks like a spot for young people and gives you opportunity to overview the area around.
- Morning market: strongly recommended! You will find people from all the villages and hilltribes around dressed typically selling foods or handicrafts. Plus you will see Indian, Burmese and Chinese people all around. You will be the only western on all the town.
There are many places to eat around town that will get you satisfied. If don't know names of favourite dishes, you can always point at the picture or ask for Shan Kauk Sway noodles. But here are a few options:
Family Cafe - On top of the hill above the market in Quarter 2. Family Cafe has been run by a local Chinese / Myanmar family for nearly 40 years. Its perched at the top of the hill and gives a great view. The owner speak English inside. This is a favourite by many locals. The price is great and the food is great. And they have free WiFi, when it works. Note that this place is only open from 7am to 12pm (noon).
Sun Moon - There are three bakeries run by Sun Moon, all within 1 block of each other. New Sun Moon is the newest and most modern. It is primarily a cafe, with espresso drinks, smoothies, ice cream, and sweet baked goods. Up the hill from New Sun Moon is Sun Moon. This restaurant is a bakery below, but has a full menu of Myanmar, Thai, Chinese, and Western food with comfortable couches to eat at. They also have baked goods downstairs and coffee and ice cream. The third Sun Moon is just a bakery, which the other two Sun Moon shops both have. They all also have free WiFi.
Pizza House - If you're craving Pizza, this is an option. It is also near the main market, on the same road as New Sun Moon. The pizza is what you'd expect in the middle of backcountry Myanmar. Not amazing, but not so expensive either. This place has free Wifi, as the phone shop and internet shop next door is owned by the same family. My experience is that the internet was not very fast.
In the evenings, there is a night market in the downtown market area, and many tea shops in the area will be open, as well as you can get street food. No guarantees on the cleanliness. Myanmar is not known for clean street food!!!
Update Feb. 2013 Nice Double Room with Bathroom, no breakfast, with not working wifi, TV and AC. 35 USD. They change prices like other people their underwear. 1 Hour before the Double Room was 25 USD and Triple for 35 USD. The staff was nice. Regulary power blackouts included. New Wifi password is tda41010.
Update Feb. 2013
The Palace hotel: 2km from the town 4km from the train station. A big building which is almost abandoned, a lot of dust everywhere, not used Spa (staff room), breakfast is almost ridiculous (only egg). 30-50$ x night. Tv, wi-fi (ok), hot shower.
The Royal Hotel: 25$ x night the cheapest option in Lashio just close to the market. No other info on my hand.