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Hsipaw, Myanmar

Cat and mouse

sunny 30 °C

We'd read a few travel blogs about Myanmar and people had recommended taking the bumpy train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw (pronounced tea-paw). It meant leaving at 4am on a very cold morning, on an extremely smelly and ramshackled carriage, complete with our very own mouse...ergh (this was despite being in upper class). The journey took 12 hours and for the most part isn't actually that scenic, but there is a creaky viaduct that makes the journey sort of worth it. The Gokteik viaduct was built in 1901 by an American steel company and cuts over a deep ravine, it is still in full use despite its age and probably lack of renovation. The train has to stop completely before it goes over and can only travel slowly, I mean snails pace over it, feeling every inch of its sway. It makes for a good photograph anyway.
Mr Charles Guesthouse in Hsipaw seems to be on most people's travel agenda, so didn't feel much like being of the beaten path as our guide book had promised. We had a twin room with shared bathroom, very clean and efficiently ran. The guesthouse also has hotel rooms too, so there's a mix of backpackers and the more luxurious of travellers there. The big draw of this place is that it organises tours/treks to the local villages, having the monopoly of tourism in Hsipaw. We chose to do an overnight trek to the Palaung village of Pankam.
The trek takes you through some beautiful scenery, rolling landscapes and flat fields. There were 7 people in our group and we spent a little of our time talking to a British man Ollie, 63years of age and he seems to have travelled most of the world. His 'thing' is to get a tattoo from each place he visits and his Myanmar one was of a leaf (but he didn't know why or what it meant?!). My 'thing' of collecting keyrings from each country didn't seem to impress him... can't think why? He was fitter than me and talked about some of the different treks that he'd been on over the years. The only reason he had to go back to the UK after Myanmar was because he had no more pages left in his passport.
Our guide, Aweso, was really nice and pointed out a lot of interesting things along the way; such as Shan noodle making, peanut plants and traditional production of sugar blocks from cane. He was really interesting to talk to, his English was brilliant and he enjoyed reading novels in English; and seemed to have his very own library at home. He spoke a lot about the political history of Myanmar and the need for change, and also about his hopes and dreams for the future; which included a cheap and tasty Thai food stall with organic produce. He'd worked in Kuala Lumpur away from his family for 7 years just to save some money for his wedding (a 3 day affair with over 2000 people on the last day) and said if things didn't change with money distribution in Myanmar he would have to consider working abroad again. It's tough for a lot of Myanmar people, the county's said to be the poorest in Asia.
We stopped for a lovely lunch break at a village and were offered an absolute feast. There was banyon leaf curry, cabbage salad, noodles, rice crisps, fermented bean bars (horrible), vegetable rice, and much more. All vegetarian and off the land, and all but one were delicious.
Unfortunately I keep having a problem with my hiking boots in hot weather and my little toe blisters. I was in quite a lot of discomfort for the last part of the trek and so couldn't wait to reach our village home to put my feet up. By the time we arrived at Palaung village it was already dark. We were staying in a large stilted house with a local family; parents, grandparents, 2 little boys. They were all really nice and friendly, but disappointingly there wasn't much interaction between us and the group considering it had been sold as a homestay. Nonetheless it was still lovely to meet them and see a little of their way of life. I learnt that 'hello' is 'cam-sigh' and 'thank you' is 'rock-main'. The family even offered me and Jason a private room because we were the only couple; it was small and cosy enough with a very firm rug to sleep on the wooden floor.
I had a pretty bad nights sleep... it was freezing and so uncomfortable. There was a lot of noise all night from the cockerels and their pet cat. In the middle of the night the cat got louder and louder, I turned on the torch and there at the end of my bed was the cat with a mouse in its mouth...OMG! I HATE rodents, anything with a tail and it was in my room! I woke Jason up with the words "Oh...My...God" (I couldn't shout or scream in case the cat dropped the mouse in the room). Jason couldn't believe it either. Some how I managed to slowly usher the cat with the mouse out of the room, but from then on there was no way I was sleeping in case it came back in.
The next day we got shown around the village, it has its own monastery, school and local shop. The kids at the school were so cute. We watched 6 lessons going on at the same time in one small room. Tom & Nicola, both teachers in England, there is no way you could teach properly in that environment. Each lesson involved children shouting and chanting at the top of their voices, every word that the teachers were saying was echoed back in loud chorus.
The next day I gave up on my boots and resorted to walking in my flip flops. My blisters were now really sore. The only problem was that I am so clumsy and tripped over a stone, stubbed my toe and am now pretty sure it's broken with thick purple bruising covering my toe. Let's just say I was far from happy during the final 3 hours of walking.

At the end of the trek we were picked up by a tuktuk and taken to some hot springs. I only dipped my toes in as it was really hot in the midday sun and appeared quite dirty, but Jason went fully in; as we were leaving several locals turned up and started doing their dirty laundry in the hot baths...gross! The food in the restaurant next to the springs was very good- the tea leaf salad and shan noodles were delicious and we all ordered double portions.
When we finished the trek we had one final night at Mr Charles Guesthouse to recover. We had a day of pottering around Hsipaw; including a visit to the market (I bought a beautiful handmade woven hat), fruit juice by the lake and we found Mr Shake smoothie bar. It's quite a pleasant town to spend a day or two in, but most people come here for the village treks like us and skip the town itself.
We really did enjoy Hsipaw and the people are extremely friendly, but for now I need some time off trekking to let my toes recover.

Posted by bloorsontour 17:35 Archived in Myanmar

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Love the blog, but now realise how much work goes into it after spending time with you.Thanks so much for putting all the effort in xxx

by mutsi

I will be heading to Hsipaw come September 2016 - anything else you care to share about the area would be appreciated.

Good blog - nice style of writing. It used to be possible to view the blog with different templates but I do not see that now.


by hasbeen

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