Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hsipaw - a Gateway for Trekking in the Mountains of
Shan State and a disappeared Shan Prince

See the locations on Hsipaw Trekking Google Map

Picture by Jonas Merian

Picture by Axel Drainville

Picture by Axel Drainville

Picture by Axel Drainville

Hsipaw (pronounced ‘See-Po’) used to be a quiet town. But lately "throughout the day and night heavily laden Chinese trucks roar through the edge of town on the Mandalay to Lashio road", notes So you have to be aware of that when looking for a quiet room for sleeping. What altough attracts more and more guests: Hsipaw, surrounded by farmland an mountains, is the gateway for trekkings to ethnic minority people living in the hills of Shan State.

What you discover when trekking from Hsipaw

Trekking around Hsipaw is not that much about landscapes along larger and narrower paths, ricefields or yellow sesamfields, it is more about the people you meet on your way and you stay with for meals and overnight in houses with bamboo walls and roofs made from straw. And it is about tea: "The village we stayed in lived from tea and on tea. Everyone drunk it at all hours and even had it in a salad. One of the traditional Burmese dishes is tea salad, and not surprisingly, it’s the village’s specialty. It’s a salad made of fermented tea leaves and spices", describes moko. And adds: "We saw tea plantations, watched how villagers prepared tea leaves and had afternoon tea with elderly ladies. Dry season was the best time for tea, we were told. Young leaves were picked for green tea, older leaves for black tea." But be careful: Too much tea prevents you from sleeping during the night...

One tea-destination is Namhsan (Om-yar in Palaung), west of Hsipaw, set at 5000 feet in tea plantations and overlooking an incredible mountainous area of ridges and valleys., populated with Palaung, Kayin, Lisu, and Shan people as well as Indians and Chinese, with a pagoda high above the village offering good views. The Palaung people are speaking a Mon-Khmer language, they are found also in parts of southern China and in Thailand. On a rocky and bumpy road your pickup takes six hours to Namhsan. But you can trek from Hsipaw to Nanshan in a couple of days. Or you could: Since June 2014 Namhsan is off limits for foreigners due to the conflict between the Myanmar army and armed Shan and Palaung rebels. In March 2015 Namhsan was still off limits, as Wiki Travel notes. See pictures of trip to Namhsan by mikehohman.

Picture by Franc Pallarès López
Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Franc Pallarès López

Picture by Jesse Lamarre-Vincent
Seen on trekking Namhsan to Hsipaw

Where you go if not to Namhsan? According to Rough Guides the most popular trekking route from Hsipaw leads to the Palaung village Pan Kam. It’s a 4–5 hour walk through fields and then uphill, starting at a Muslim cemetery on the western edge of Hsipaw and continuing through the villages of Nar Loy, Par Pheit, Nar Moon and Man Pyit. Read about the trek to Pankam on See route and elevation profile.

Picture by Lili The Home
Palaung village Pang Kha

And then there is Kyauk Me. Mike&Anne write about their trek to the mountains near Kyauk Me, south-east of Hsipaw. Other experience by

Picture by Tony Spencer
Spices in Kyaukme

Picture by Tony Spencer
Colors of Kyaukme

Picture by Shao Hui He
Sunrise in Kyaukme

Picture by Yoann Gruson-Daniel
Shan celebration in Kyaukme

Your tours you do with local guides, who organize overnigt stays. You can book them at guesthouses. Then the guesthouses take commissions. Wiki Travel has some tipps: "Mr Bike (,, Mr Bean (09 473118600), and Mr Sai (09 258325525/082 80183/ 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." You pay around 60 USD per person for 3 days with 2 nights and food with families.

What else than trekking in Hsipaw?

Shan Palace: The Sawbwas of Hsipaw lived in this palace at the northern end of the town. The last one - Sao Kya Seng - disappeared during the military coup in 1962. Today Mr Donald, a nephew, and his wife Fern take care of the palace, visiting hours are now 9 am till 12 pm and 3-6 pm.
Read more here and see this picture. And read more about Fern and Donald. You can also read the memoirs of the last Sabwa's austrian wife, Inge Sargent, called "Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess."

Picture by Clay Gilliand

The Central Market at Hsipaw, starting at 3.30 am and usually finishing by 6 am, is the melting point for Shans, Kachins, and other hilltribe people coming here to trade. Some farmers bring their goods on feet, walking to the market fro two hours and back for another two hours. More an more come with "Chinese horses": motorbikes overloaded with goods. The market serves the locals, so you will find food and fruits, Shan clothing (trousers, hats, sandals) and lyongi.

Picture by Clay Gilliand
Central Market in Hsipaw

At the southern end of the town you find the Mahamyatmuni Paya:

Picture by yeowatzup

Hsipaw Mosque:

Picture by Jordan Sitkin

The Bawgyo Paya: 8 km out of town in the direction of Mandalay, is a revered Shan pagoda. The pagoda has some ancient statues of Hindu origin.

Watch sunset from the top of Five Buddha Hill or Nina Buddha Hills: Were the tourists first to climb up for sunset, as a story goes? No matter: Now you will see locals up there too. Both hills are around 2 km out of town.

Half day boat trips and hikes to Shan Villages and nearby waterfalls: Mr Charles organises such trips from his guesthouse.

Rent a bike or motorbike: Around 40 km from Hsipaw, on paved roads, you reach Nawng Kaw Gyi Lake and Nawng Kaw Village. Once over the bridge on the main road heading for Lashio you continue for 10+ km to a junction a few hundred meters after a gas station. At the junction you have to go right, slightly uphill over a small bridge. Continue for another 20+ km to the village on Nawng Kaw Gyi. A small wooden temple is in the middle of the lake. Or you go to Nam Hu Nwe Waterfall (map) lies a few km south of Hsipaw. There is a small pool at the bottom for cooling off in the fresh water. Or you discover the Hot Springs: You pass Hsipaw cemetery or access by a road from Little Bagan and find a natural hot pool on a river. See map with directions to waterfall and hotsprings

How you arrive to Hsipaw

Train from Pwin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw. Read: By train to Gokteik and one of the longest viaducts of the world across a canyon

Where you stay in Hsipaw

Lily The Home Hotel: 108, Aung Thepye Street. The old guesthouse got adn addition: a new hotel with restaurant on the rooftop. Very good reviews on See Lily The Home on Facebook.

Picture by Lily The Home

Mr Charles Guesthouse: Awtha Street. It has a newly renovated section with better rooms and higher prizes. Quite good accommodation for backpackers, the reviewers tell you on See picture of Mr Charles 1 and Mr Charles 2.

Yee Shin Guesthouse: On the main street. You hear the noise of the road and of other guests and staff, because the walls are thin. Therefore mixed reviews on See video.

Picture by Yee Shin Guesthouse

Nam Khae Mao Guesthouse: 134 Bogyoke Road, near the clock tower and overlooking Burma Road. Can be noisy. Good place for budget travelers according to reviews on

Picture by Axel Drainville
Nam Khae Mao Gesthouse

Picture by looser oswald

Mr. Kid Guest House: Bogyoke Road.

Ever Green Hotel: Bogyoke Road and Thein Ni Road. Basic rooms for a low price according to reviews on

Hsipaw Resort: Large rooms overlooking the Dokhtawaddy river. Very good reviews on Picture of view over the river and of the resort.

Tai House Resort:

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