We thought we would mix things up a little bit and take a half day and full night bus to Hsipaw. 15 hours on the road. It should have been 11 hours from Inle but fog, traffic in Mandalay and a looooottttttttt of hair pin roads caused the little delay. We didn’t complain. We preferred a delay than arriving at 3:30am as scheduled.
On our arrival we already had a plan in our head – We wanted to stay at the Red Dragon hotel and we had a contact to rent a scooter from so we could explore the area for a few days. Our plan was based around what our friends, who we’d been trekking with from Kalaw to Inle had highly recommended both.
We had originally planned on trekking for 2 days but a lot people we’d met said it wasn’t worth the money and it wasn’t as good as Inle.
When we arrived in Hsipaw we were lucky. A young boy was waiting to invite people to stay at the Red Dragon hotel with a free taxi service there. We made no reservation so it was perfect.
We had the whole day ahead of us and headed out to explore the pretty colonial town. The first morning was perfect. Walking the hazy, quiet town before rush hour, having breakfast whilst watching people go about their everyday lives. It had a really nice vibe about it.
The locals were the friendliest we had come across in Myanmar.
We later walked to the local waterfall which was absolutely beautiful. After walking through a huge graveyard and the local landfill site we arrived to beautiful countryside with masses of farming land and small streams where the water buffalos were hanging out. We could see the large waterfall kilometers away and just aimed in its directions. 45 minutes later, passing no one except the farmers and buffalos we arrived at the picture perfect waterfall.
We went swimming, took photos and felt completely relaxed and refreshed even after a very interrupted night’s sleep on the bus.
We continued walking and walking following a hand draw map given to us at the hotel. We visited the few sites recommended on the map and then went to the famous Popcorn garden. We immediately met the friendly Mrs Popcorn herself and her daughters. The garden was cute with maybe 6/7 tables and comfy chairs. All the food was organic and local and very very fresh. It took a little while to get our food (or maybe we were just really hungry and desperate) but it was worth the wait. The best guacamole we had ever eaten!!
Our last task of the day was to organise the motorbike for the next few days. We headed to Boat Boat, a local restaurant who our friends had given us the name for. It was here that we met a very larger than life lady (called boat boat) and we asked to rent a bike that we could take into the hills for two days. We also asked for the ‘special’ hand drawn map.
Apparently we weren’t to show anyone because she had been getting into trouble with the local trekking guides. They don’t want people going off on their own because they’ll lose business. The treks follow roads and very obvious tracks which anyone can do on their own. At the moment people don’t know this so they pay for a guide. Not sure how long these guides will be in business!
We arranged both the bike and map for the next day with a plan to stay in a small village in the hills for 1 night. Boat Boat gave us a contact for this too. We were all organised and raring to go for our 2 day motorbike tour.
We packed two small day bags and left our backpacks at the hotel. We collected our bike, took a photo of the ‘secret’ map and headed on our way.
The day started easily and on comfortable roads. We stopped off at a very bling bling pagoda (Bawgyo Pagoda). Huge 4x4s arrived with some very important looking people inside. They were welcomed excitedly by those working at the pagoda. No idea who they were…..
Our first Shan village stop was in Pan Khi. We were driving slowly checking out the village when a lovely young man came out and very kindly invited us to have a drink with him and his family. They were so happy to meet us and the teenage boys seemed to enjoy practising their English.
They also had a random monk staying with them who was really interesting and tried explaining how a monk’s life works in Burma.
The road continued to be very comfortable up to the village of Ohmu. A stunning place set in the beautiful hillside (like all the amazing villages!) We stopped for a coffee and some biscuits before wandering around the village on foot. Each house seemed to have a beautiful garden and/or vegetable patch and the locals were so friendly and genuinely happy to see us. This was what we had hoped Myanmar to be like. We couldn’t stop smiling!
After Ohmu things started to get interesting – The roads turned into dirt tracks with stones, boulders, holes and trenches. We expected a little roughness but it was a little more severe than we’d been told!
The next village stop was Man Iwae. Another beautiful village. Difficult to get to but worth it. We’d been advised by Boat Boat to follow a particular road to the village and to take the same road back. The other road was too difficult. We thought we had taken the road she had told us but looking back on it now it was definitely the ‘difficult’ road and we took it twice!! There were huge crevasses and boulders the whole way – Fun though.
Whilst we were walking around the village we came across some girls playing. One came up to me and invited me to join in. We rolled some flowers on the floor with a stick. So cute. It was really nice to see how happy It made her. We’re not sure she had never seen a westerner before.
Our next village Pan Khar was also a little challenging to get to – everywhere was !!!! The road forked and wasn’t on the map. We used our maps.me app but for about 1 hour after choosing a route, we were still worried we were lost. The road was so rough and we came across no one. Not even a local farmer. I ended up walking a few times because it was either too steep or too rough for two people on the bike. I preferred JM doing going on his own!! I didn’t mind the walk either – Sitting on the back of the motorbike on these roads was pretty uncomfortable!
Hurray!! We weren’t lost and arrived at our destination all intact and the bike still working!! Pan Khar was different to the other villages – Very poor and the locals a little more timid. The village was very basic too. It stood on the top of the hillside with horses and livestock everywhere and a large monastery with young child ‘monks’.
Again the road forked out of the village, typical…, and communication was difficult with the locals. Maps.me showed nothing! We took our gut instinct and took a road we hoped ended up at Tan Saint. Eventually the road became a little more drivable or perhaps we were just getting used to it….
At around 3pm we arrived at Tan Saint pretty exhausted and decided to find the home of a certain Ma U, the name given to us by Boat Boat. The first person we asked pointed us in the right direction. The house was easy to find but Ma U was in Mandalay! No problem though, instead we were greeted by his parents, a very elderly couple who spoke very very limited English (not that we expected them to speak English.) They prepared a small sleeping area for us and organised someone to make us a late lunch. We felt extremely welcomed. The food was pretty disgusting but it was the thought that counted. The afternoon we arrived we could tell Ma U mother was rather ill. She was cold all the time and had severe headaches. We offered her some of our medicine to ease the pain and it seemed to help. She was on even better form later in the evening.
Early evening we explored the small village. Kids were running around and playing happily, the adults were very friendly and saying hello every corner we turned. We ended up sitting and writing some things for the blog on a stone wall when some cute, energetic kids came up fascinated by the iPad. We took a video of them so they could see themselves, they were absolutely ecstatic. They laughed so much. Unfortunately they then got a little carried away and instead of touching the ipad screen gently like JM showed them, they got a little carried away from all the excitement and all the kids wanted a go at the same time. JM had it firmly in his hands the whole time and almost had to run back to Ma U’s with his ipad above his head to escape them…. At least it made them happy for a while and the Ipad is still working.
When we returned to the house a lovely French family and Dutch girl, Laura, arrived to stay the night whilst trekking. We spent hours and hours chatting in the evening whilst eating pretty disgusting food again…. We discovered that Patrick, the dad, was on his 4th round the world tour, mum Christelle her 3rd and the two boys on their 2nd. The oldest hadn’t even turned 16!!! What a life!!
There’s hope for JM and I taking another sabbatical and another and another.
Our home for the night
The next day and after more pretty disgusting food for breakfast, we said au revoir to the trekkers, organised seeing Laura again for the train journey the next day to Pyin Oo Win, and continued our road trip.
The next village was Pan Kan, a half an hour descent on a relatively easy mud road. At last!
We realised we’d had so much luck that it didn’t rain over our two day road trip. If it had it would have been carnage. We probably wouldn’t have been able to complete the trip and with the state of the roads when it was dry, we could only imagine the mess when wet!
Pan Kan was our favourite village. So quiet and picturesque. We spent an hour just walking around taking photos and taking in the views.
Half way back down to Hsipaw we stopped for a coffee at a random café just hanging over the edge of a cliff and met some great people coming up from the town trekking for the day. 100m down the track we came across a truck which had broken down (for almost 12 days apparently) and blocked the road. There was just enough room for a scooter to pass by.
We finally headed back to Hsipaw. it had been so much fun and rather demanding for JM in particular we decided to reward ourselves and get some more incredible guacamole at the Popcorn garden.
With time to spare before returning our bike, and since the west of Hsipaw had been incredible, we decided to check out the other side of the town, direction Lasio to the east. After 40 minutes of riding it was clear not much was happening and we returned via Sunset Hill, a viewing platform next to a pagoda with beautiful views over the town. We met a travelling monk staying at the pagoda for a few days before heading to his next monastery. He was extremely friendly and interesting telling us a little about his life.
We stayed quite a while watching the view and enjoying the quietness. The sunset over the mountains and river was stunning. A perfect way to say goodbye to Hsipaw.