Hsipaw (also known as Thibaw) is a town in Shan State, Myanmar on the riverbank of Duthawadi River. It is 200 km (124 mi) northeast of Mandalay along the railway line to Lashio. Once an independent Shan State, the principality’s final decade under the leadership of its last prince, Sao Kya Seng, is documented in the memoir of his Austrian-born wife, Inge Sargent, in "Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess". Sao Kya Seng disappeared in 1962.
It is easy to get around walking or on a rented bicycle. Trishaws are available if you don't want to walk and taxis can be found on the Lashio Road. Hsipaw is accessible by train, bus, or car. Train is agonizingly slow. Leaving Mandalay in the pre-dawn hours it is supposed to reach Hsipaw sometime in the afternoon, but when it does arrive the locals all place bets as to what day's train it really is. Bus is cheap. Car is convenient. I opted to hire a private car making possible numerous stops along the way.
PLACE OF INTEREST
The Sawbwas of Hsipaw lived in the Shan Palace at the northern end of the town. The last Sawbwa disappeared during the military coup in 1962 and the palace is cared for by his nephew and his nephew's wife. 'Mr. Donald' (Sao Oo Kya), the nephew, was in jail, apparently for saying bad things about the military, but was released several years ago during a general amnesty. Since then he has had to be very careful not to give the regime a chance to re-arrest him. For several years after his release he and his wife lived in Taunggyi, the major Shan administrative centre, however recently his wife has returned to the palace in Hsipaw. She is determined to tell the story of the Shan State over the last 50 years or more and welcomes visitors from overseas. Just walk up to the building at any reasonable hour to be treated to the insider story. At the southern end of town (across the Lashio Road) is the Mahamyatmuni Paya.
The Central Market at Hsipaw is one of the best markets to visit in all of Myanmar. Shans, Kachins, and other tribals come here to trade regularly. Because so few tourists visit Hsipaw, the merchandise is primarily for villagers who go there to shop. Radios, spare parts, diverse foodstuffs, and of course, Shan clothing (trousers, hats, sandals) and the ubiquitous lyongi. The market begins and ends early, starting at 3:30am and pretty much wrapping up by 6am.
Sunset watching at Five Buddha Hill or Nine Buddha Hill is another recommended pastime. Both hills are about 2km out of town and are accessible by bicycle.
Peik Chin Myaing is a sacred cave filled with hundreds of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes and replicas of famous Myanmar stupas. Just for fun, count all the Buddhas in there. On second thought, don't. There is a nice waterfall about five hundred meters from the cave, though you might need somebody to show you where it is.
The Bawgyo Paya, 8km out of town in the direction of Mandalay, is a revered Shan pagoda. In addition to the usual complement of Buddha's, the pagoda also has some ancient statues of Hindu origin in the plaza outside.
Lying in a valley, Hsipaw is a good place for easy day hikes. There are few restrictions on moving around and, unlike in the Inle Lake region, you don't need to hire a guide.
Nawng Kaw Gyi Lake, Nawng Kaw Village (around 40 km one way from Hsipaw on paved roads. Once over the bridge on the main road heading for Lashio, continue for 10+ km to a junction a few hundred meters after a gas station. At the junction (the road forks) you have to go right, slightly uphill over a small bridge. Continue for another 20+ km to the village on Nawng Kaw Gyi (ask if unsure). You can rent your own motorbike in Hsipaw and visit this beautiful lake with a small wooden temple in the middle of it (a bridge connects to it) and a pagoda on the hill, close to a monastery. You probably won't see any other tourists and the locals are very friendly, waving at you all the time. Make sure you also drive around the lake on the dirt tracks. It is a nice day trip out of Hsipaw without any guides etc. For experienced cyclists (mountain bike), this could be done in a (very long) day, there are not so many hills to climb and gradients are ok.
Nam Hu Nwe Waterfall, (uphill a dirt road, past a couple of villages, from a junction on the main road to Mandalay, a few km south of Hsipaw). Rent a mountain bike (Mr Book rents on behalf of someone else for $5 a day) or a scooter, or walk to this beautiful waterfall that sees very few tourists. There is a small pool at the bottom for cooling off in the fresh water.
Hot Springs (past the Hsipaw cemetery or accessible by a road from Little Bagan): Rent a mountain bike, a motorbike or walk to these natural hot pool on a nice river.
WHAT TO BUY
Unless you're interested in Shan headdresses and clothes, there is not much to buy in Hsipaw. Troll the market to see if anything catches your fancy.