It was an early 3 AM start to catch our train to Hsipaw. Luckily our hotel was just opposite the train station in Mandalay.
The Myanmar rail system is dating back to British colonial times. The trains run on a narrow 3 ft 3 3⁄8 in gauge (for all you train lovers out there). With the little suspension, the ride often felt like a horse ride but that’s probably half the fun of it. All in all, it reminded us of the train we took in Sri Lanka a few years ago.
We treated ourselves to upper-class seats which cost about 7.50 USD for the two of us – including a few cents for life insurance… so we were all covered.
The train left at 4 AM in complete darkness. Soon it stopped for the first time and were able to get breakfast (fried snacks followed by super yummy noodles).
Soon after sunrise, the train reached the mountains. To manage the slope the train had to zick-zack its way up reversing back and forth.
After reaching the plateau which was about 1000m above sea level the journey continued through vegetable and flower fields. Very pretty.
At each station, the train stopped for 20 minutes or so and goods were loaded and unloaded.
After a few hours, we passed the impressive Goteik Viaduct and soon afterwards we reached Hsipaw. The 200km took us about 10.5 hours – definitely an experience.
Relaxing at lovely Kumudra Mountain View Hotel
The lovely Kumudra Mountain View Hotel was our home for the next few days. From nice views, huge rooms and last but not least super friendly staff the hotel had it all. It even came with a bunch of super friendly resident dogs. Really a gem in the mountains.
We spent the next few days relaxing at the pool, reading and sleeping (tough life I know).
One afternoon we wanted to walk to the nearby waterfall. Although we saw many pretty rice fields and even got our personal hotel guide dog with us we never manage to find the elusive waterfall.
Hiking up the Mountains
Hsipaw is a good base for multi-day hikes up to the remote local villages and so we signed up for a two days hike. Right away we loved Nepali our funny and very knowledgeable tour guide. It turned out he was apparently the best looking guide with an ex-girlfriend in every town.
We loaded our backpacks with all the stationery sets we had prepared in Bangkok. Soon after we started hiking, we came across the first kids. So after about two hours, our backpacks were empty again and we made more than 70 kids happy with some new stationery.
During the hike, Nepali told us about the still ongoing conflicts between the Northern Shane state army and the Myanmar government. Unfortunately, this is only one of the various ethnic conflicts still ongoing in Myanmar (most of them around independence movements of various groups).
In addition, more and more people are leaving the mountain villages as the army regularly sweeps them to draft men (apparently you need to send your sons to the army if you have more than two).
He also explained to us that the situation has a negative impact on the number of tourists visiting the region which hampers the opportunities to generate income for the local people.
One hope is that the 2020 elections will further limit the military influence and strengthen democratic processes. We surely hope so too.
In addition to all the discussions, we enjoyed the lush greenery all around us. First the sweet corn fields (exported to China as animal food) and later on the tea fields.
Once again, we met a lot of very friendly people during the various tea stops along the way. In the late afternoon, we arrived at the lovely mountain village for our overnight stay. The upside of being remote is the little light pollution which allowed a fantastic view of the night sky.
Broken finger – again
The next morning we started to hike downhill. The plan was to visit a waterfall in the jungle. Unfortunately, just before reaching it Hazel slipped and fell on her left hand. Unfortunately, this was kind of a deja-vu given she fell on her right hand in Salzburg (cynically one could argue it was at least balanced).
As the pain was quite bad and given we still had quite a bit of travelling ahead of us we decided to return to Singapore earlier to get a look at her hand and allow enough time for recovery.
Therefore we were heading back to Mandalay the next day by minibus (which only took about 5 hours versus the 11 hours train ride). Once again we saw a lot of beautiful rice paddies and a lot of jungle.
After a night in Mandalay, we flew back to Singapore the next day.
Beautifull Myanmar we will be back
Despite the rather sudden end of our Myanmar adventure, we love what we have seen of the country. People are super friendly and relaxed. The landscape with its rice paddies and pagodas at every corner is beautiful, to say the least. So we definitely will be back for a second view.
For Hazel’s finger, it turned out that it really was broken. Luckily, no operation is needed and it should recover in time which is a big relief.
Stay:Kumudra Mountain View Hotel is where you must stay in Hsipaw. For 40 USD a night you get it all. Nice pool, large rooms with a view, super friendly dogs and fantastic people. We even got invited to the birthday party of the manager’s son. Fantastic. Contact them via their website for a good rate.
Hiking: The hotel arranged the hiking for us. Nepali our guide was fantastic – he is a freelancer for Firefly Trekking. It’s about 40 USD per person for a two days hike. Definitely worthwhile (pls. don’t’ forget to tip generously).
How to get there: The train from Mandalay leaves at 4 AM. You can get the tickets one day in advance on the upper floor of the train station for about 4 USD per person. Passport is needed. Check out the man in seat 69 for more train information in Myanmar (or every other country in the world). Alternatively, you can also take a bus or minibus.
Eat:A Kaung Kyite serves nice local food – some kind of curry with side dishes.