In a nutshell
Hsipaw, also known as Thibaw, is a town in Shan State in the east of Myanmar.
Why go to Hsipaw
As a result, this is a good spot to visit if you want to know more about the Shan culture, and you can visit historical locations such as the Shan Palace. Other spots of interest in the town include some pretty hills that provide sweeping vistas over the countryside such as Five Buddha Hill and Nine Buddha Hill. In addition to the hills, there are also some engaging Shan pagodas here such as the Bawgyo Paya which is a famous place of worship that is known for its notable Hindu statues.
Another reason why Hsipaw is famous is that it lies on the main railway line from Mandalay which is said to offer one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
When to go to Hsipaw
The wet season in Myanmar takes place from June to October and it can rain heavily every single day which can also cause widespread flooding. On the flipside, the dry season sees soaring temperatures and it can get very dusty. One of the most pleasant times to visit is from November to December when the weather is more stable and temperatures are manageable.
Where to stay in Hsipaw
There are a few different accommodation options in Hsipaw and this is one of the few spots in Myanmar that also has established backpacker accommodation. This means that if you are on a budget you will be able to find something for under US 10 more easily than in many other places.
One of the options is the Nam Khae Mao Guest House which has rooms with shared bathrooms for USD 6 with breakfast included. If you want a room with a private bathroom then these cost around USD 7-10 depending on the season and you will get Wi-Fi and hot water included.
Slightly more expensive is Mr. Charles Guest House on Awtha Street which has rooms with a private bathroom that start at USD 8 or rooms with shared bathrooms for USD 7. This is one of the more established backpacker guesthouses in town and they can also organize transportation and tours here.
If you have a larger budget you can try Lily The Home which is the sister hotel of Mr. Charles and is one of the newer guesthouses in Hsipaw. Single rooms with a private bathroom are USD 20 while a bed in a shared dorm room will cost USD 9. Another option in the middle of town on Mine Pon Street is the Yee Shin Guest House which has double rooms with a fan for USD 13 and single rooms for USD 7.
Where to eat in Hsipaw
Hsipaw has a great street food scene, and you can spend the day sampling all the open-air delights here. Just some of these include deep friend vegetables as well as bowls of Shan noodles served street-side. This does however mean that there are not as many good restaurants in town, as many locals eat street food, but if you want a proper sit-down meal then there are a few options that you can try.
One of these is Mr. Food which is known as one of the main backpacker restaurants in town and is located on Namtu Road. You will find cheap Chinese and Shan plates here and you can also get draft beer. Another option close to Mr. Food is the San Restaurant which also has draft beer and a range of special beer promotions. They have an extensive menu with rice and noodle dishes aplenty.
If you are in the mood for some European food then you can visit the Club Terrace which looks out over the majestic Dokhtawady River and has Western, Chinese, Burmese, and Thai dishes and is a great place to eat while you take in the views over the water. Also known for its scenic setting is Mrs. Popcorn which is at the north end of the main road and has a number of pretty tables under leafy trees. You will find a comprehensive menu here including fruit juices and a mix of Western and Burmese plates.
How to get around Hsipaw
If you are staying in the downtown area of the city then you can easily get around on foot. Another way to explore a little further afield is to rent a bicycle which most guesthouses offer and should cost around MMK 500 per day. If you want to explore outside the town then you can get a trishaw or a regular taxi.
How to get to and from Hsipaw
One way to get to Hsipaw is to take the train from Mandalay which many people say is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. The train takes 12 hours to travel from Mandalay to Hsipaw and leaves at 4am at a cost of MMK 20,000. You can also take the train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw which takes 7 hours at a cost of MMK 15,000 for an Upper Class seat or MMK 6,000 for an Ordinary Class seat.
There is also the option to take a bus from Hsipaw to Yangon which is actually the bus that originates in Lashio and stops in Hsipaw on the way. The bus costs MMK 15,000 or MMK 18,000 if you want to upgrade to the VIP bus. It is also possible to get a bus from Mandalay to Hsipaw which costs MMK 4,500 for an air-conditioned bus.
Many people also use Hsipaw as a stop-off before traveling on to neighbouring Lashio which takes two hours and costs MMK 800. One final option is to get a bus to Hsipaw from Inle Lake which costs MMK 16,000 and should take between 12-14 hours.
Is Hsipaw a safe place to visit?
Many foreign governments advise against all but essential travel to Shan State although the town of Hsipaw is not included in this travel warning. This means that you can travel here safely but you should remain vigilant and review your security arrangements. Over the years, this part of Myanmar has experienced armed conflict as a result of in-fighting which can be unpredictable and you should not travel to areas that have been deemed unsafe in Shan State.
Myanmar has both malaria and dengue fever which means that you should wear insect repellent and cover up with long sleeved clothing at night to avoid being bitten.
There are some clinics and smaller medical centres in Hsipaw but health care standards in Myanmar are low. If you become seriously ill you will need to travel to Yangon or even fly to a neighbouring country like Thailand.