Is Hsipaw One of Northern Myanmar's Best Kept Secrets?

Our friends from Goats on the Road reveal the mystery of this charming, laid-back, mountain village in northern Myanmar. Set at the foot of snow-capped mountains and alongside the Duthawadi River, Hsipaw is surrounded by rice paddies, ancient payas, natural hot springs, and rushing waterfalls.

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Photo © iStock/Scott Biales

Day Hikes in Hsipaw

There are a few great day hikes around Hsipaw village. We’d recommend seeking out these little adventures:

Little Bagan

It’s not comparable to the UNESCO listed Bagan in south Myanmar, but it’s still stunning. You’ll discover mini payas (religious structures) wrapped in vines, dotting the landscape, rushing rivers, water buffalos feasting on grass, and pass locals going about their day-to-day lives. 

Nam Tuk Waterfall

Another quick day-trip from Hsipaw, hike to this is a beautiful spot in the jungle, where water cascades down a moss covered cliff into a bubbling pool – there’s nothing like a quick dip in a natural pool to cool you off after a long hike.

It takes about 2 hours to walk to Nam Tuk from Hsipaw town, and most guesthouses can give you an easy-to-follow map.

Natural Hot Springs

There are a few hot springs around Hsipaw that are an easy day hike from the center of town. Ask your guesthouse for a map, and head out to explore for yourself. These are great places to meet local people, who are often relaxing in the warm, clear water in the late afternoon and early mornings.

Cultural Experiences in Hsipaw

The best way to have an authentic cultural experience in Hsipaw is to simply walk around town (and the surrounding villages), and get lost in the slow-paced farmer life of the Shan State.

My wife and I found our way to a tiny village called Naloy (just a 30 minute walk from Hsipaw), where we joined a Taiwanese-run English school to teach children a bit of our native language.

You may not be able to find this school anymore (the Taiwanese who ran it only did so for three years), but simply walking around Naloy, you’ll meet local people, and you may just find that they know a bit of English – thanks to the temporary classes that were once held here.

For a more cultural experience, we recommend hiring a guide to take you on a multi-day trek to the nearby Shan villages. Make sure your guide can speak English so he can translate for you, and you can have meaningful and insightful conversations with the local people in the region. Their lives are fascinating and surely different from yours at home!

Children in Hsipaw. Photo credit: Goats on the Road

Getting to Hsipaw

There are a few ways to get to Hsipaw, but most people will be coming from Mandalay, which is the closest major city (six hours by bus).

By Bus

There are two services per day leaving from Mandalay. Both take six hours, and cost around 4,000 - 5,500 kyat (US $3–4).

One leaves the Mandalay bus terminal at 7:00am arriving at 1:00pm, and the other leaves 3:00pm arriving at 9:00pm.

There may be other services opening up, so be sure to ask your guesthouse or hotel for updated times when you arrive.

If you’re coming from Inle Lake, there’s a daily departure from Nyaungshwe that’ll cost 15,000 kyat (US $11), which departs at 5:00pm, and takes 14 hours.

From Yangon, there’s a bus that takes 14 hours, costs 14,500 kyat (US $10.50), and departs at 5:30pm. Note this service comes from Lashio, so it’s best if you book a day in advance to guarantee yourself a seat.

By Train

A slightly less popular option, the train leaves Mandalay at 4:00am, and arrives at Hsipaw station around 3:15pm. Given the early departure time and the longer (11 hour 15 minute) journey, the bus is a more convenient option.

To train all the way from Yangon or Inle Lake to Hsipaw, you’ll have to stop and change trains at the Mandalay Station.

Where to Stay in Hsipaw

Most people who visit Hsipaw stay at Mr. Charles Guesthouse (this is where I stayed as well). This little place feels a bit like a homestay, is in a convenient location, has excellent hand drawn maps, and the staff here can help you organize anything you want – including multi-day treks to nearby Shan villages, where you can stay in homestays.

There are plenty other great places to stay in Hsipaw, you can find some excellent options on Booking.com and on HostelWorld.com.

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