We spent about 12 hours in Mandalay, enough time for beer and dinner and a wee nap before our 4am train departure to Hsipaw. This journey is what Paul Theroux descibes in The Great Railway Bazaar, although when he did it no foreigners were allowed to do the trip.
The old narrow gauge railway is quite exciting: the cars rock and sway like ships in a heavy sea. Bushes scrape along the side of the slowly moving cars and the countryside changes from plains to high hills. One of the trip’s highlights was passing over the Penn State Steel bridge, where the train slows to a snail’s pace so as to not cause the bridge to collapse.
Hsipaw is a smallish town, known as a starting off point for treks into the surrounding hills. It’s situated along a river which produces cool mists in the mornings.
We spent a couple of days exploring the town, its markets and nearby surroundings. One afternoon I wandered up to the teak monastery and was invited in for tea at a small pagoda by an elderly monk who smoked a big fat stogie while we conversed via sign language.
For our last two days we went on a trek to a hill village and back. We spent the night in the village chief’s home, with his extended family, sharing their food (super delicious and lots of it!). Although it was a hot hike up the journey was well worth it. We learned lots from our guide and the stay in the hill village was beautiful.
The hike back down the next day was much easier and quicker. Along the way we passed through several villages and the scenery was… pastoral:
We left Hsipaw upon our return from the trek but would love to return to do more trekking, going further into the hills.