Family wait for a lift
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia) All the smiling friendly locals (Myanmar)
Having finally made it into Hsipaw
after a bone jangling bus journey, we checked our bags into Nam Khae Mao Guest House. It had taken the best part of a day to get there from Mandalay
, so we left sightseeing for the following day.
Whilst Hsipaw is only a small town, with no real star attractions, this is made up for by the great vibe that surrounds the place. Wandering through the morning market, we watched the cheerful vendors selling a range of cuisine, from chapatis to apples.
Locals playing a traditional game in the street
I think most of them seemed as curious about us, as we were about them, and everyone had a smile to aim in our direction.
One interesting spot within the town was the fire station, with its vintage collection of fire engines, although I think your house would probably have burnt down by the time they made it to the fire! There is also a quirky green clock tower and mosque within the centre.
Probably the most fascinating site within Hsipaw is the Maha Nanda Kantha Monastery, which translates to 'Beautiful Lake Monastery'. Built in 1848, today it is home to 5 monks and 16 novices, and we were lucky enough to meet U Panesa, who showed us around and chatted with us for some time. As you would expect, there is a beautiful lake there, and also a huge Buddha image made from bamboo.
Local smily kids in Hsipaw
We were told that it takes 12 people to carry it during a procession, which gives you an idea of the size and weight of it.
Leaving the town, we went in search of a place called Mrs Popcorns. This is a little family run place that used to make popcorn, until the Chinese put her out of business... some things never change. Nowadays, she has resorted to making different forms of potato chips, which are flavoured with garlic and ginger. It was an interesting insight into the Burmese business world :D
In the afternoon we paid a visit to the Nat Shrine, Shan Palace and Chinese cemetery, before walking for more than an hour through some beautiful paddy fields, in search of Nam Tauk Waterfall. On the way we passed 2 little kids, who seemed utterly perplexed at our presence, and just stood there, jaws dropped, like they had seen a ghost! The waterfall itself was pretty, but it had been the journey that will stick in the memory.
Sunset viewed from Thein Daung Hill
To finish the day, we walked back to town and then out of town in the opposite direction, to watch the sunset from Theindaung Hill. The path to the summit is lined by 17 stone monks and there had only been 9 visitors all day according to the guestbook. We enjoyed the last rays of light for the day, before heading back to town for a much needed rest.
The following day we got up at 07.30 and after a good breakfast, headed out into the cold, foggy morning air. We made our way to the train station, opting for train over the bus this time, for our journey back to Mandalay. Frustratingly the ticket office didn't seem to want to accept any of our US Dollars, so it took some time to get them changed and buy the ticket. Thankfully the train was delayed by an hour, so we spent the time watching the Burmese women walking up and down the carriages, with massive baskets of fruit on their head.
Fruit sellers at Hsipaw train station
The most interesting part of the trip was when the train crossed Gokteik Gorge over a rickety old bridge. Whilst it was slightly more comfortable than the bus, it was still a mind numbingly long journey, and there were also plenty of drunk soldiers on board. Thankfully there were also some kind locals, who insisted on sharing some small apples with us. Nevertheless, I was happy when we finally arrived after dark.
It was a shame that we didn't spend longer in Hsipaw, not because there was a lot to do, but simply because the people were so warm and welcoming. As time seems to have stopped still there, I wonder whether it will change much in the next century... probably not.