Trip Start May 01, 2010
90Trip End Apr 30, 2011
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After a couple of enjoyable, relaxing days in Pyin U Lwin, we followed in the footsteps of Paul Theroux and caught the '131 Up' train to Hsipaw. We were in First Class, distinguished from Ordinary Class by the fact that the upright wooden seats have a padded cushion to sit on. There are large military academies around this area and many of the other people in our compartment were Myanmar Army soldiers. The journey took 7 hours and we travelled through countryside of fields of maize, rice and vegetable plots. About half way we crossed the Gokteik viaduct, which was built in 1901 and crosses a deep ravine. Supposedly photography of the viaduct is banned for security reasons, but none of the military personnel in our carriage seemed to mind when Tom hung out the door taking pictures! Towards the end of the journey, the previously bare hillsides (Myanmar has a serious deforestation problem) became covered in trees
As soon as we stepped off the train, a man approached us from Mr Charles guesthouse, our intended accommodation for our stay here, so we both hopped into a bicycle trishaw and bumped along the back roads to the guesthouse. We warmed to Hsipaw's laid back feel right away. The main street is buzzing with motorbikes and roadside stalls but the back streets are quiet and sleepy and being here is like stepping back in time to the Asia of yesterday. It's the kind of place we would be happy to stay for a few weeks if we had the time.
In the morning we went for a walk with a trekking guide from the guesthouse. He spoke excellent English and we leant a great deal from him as we strolled through the rice paddies and several Shan villages. The Shan make up 9% of the Myanmar population, are mostly Buddhist and are related to people in northern Thailand, Laos and Yunnan province in China. Again we were made to feel very welcome and people were happy for us to enter their attractive bamboo homes and take photographs. After our walk we wanted to try some local Burmese food so went for lunch in a restaurant popular with locals. We were overwhelmed when they brought out a huge spread of various dishes. We feasted on la-hpeq dhouq, a crunchy salad of green tea leaves, pulses, garlic, dried shrimp, ginger etc. We also had hin-jo, a soup made with green squash, balachaung, made with chillies, dried shrimp and tamarind, various other pickles and a bowl of rice enough to feed about 8 people! We felt very greedy but were relieved to see that everyone else was eating exactly the same as us
The next day we hired a couple of ancient bicycles from the guesthouse. It was great fun and everyone we passed waved and said hello or sometimes goodbye! It was the Festival of Lights, an annual Buddhist event, and we popped our heads into a monastery to see the people chanting. Then we cycled out of town, left the bikes by the side of the road and walked for about an hour to a waterfall with a 100 foot drop into a deep pool where we went for a refreshing swim. The walk was lovely and took us through rice paddies and past a small banana plantation. A sweet boy of about 7 came out of his house and, for a small fee, led us to the falls, waited for us while we were swimming and then led us back again. On the return hike it started raining heavily and the path soon became a quagmire. We reached town completely soaked through and splattered with mud. Luckily we found a small cafe on the banks of the river and had a nice warming cup of Earl Grey tea!
Tomorrow morning we leave on the 5.30am bus back to Mandalay and from there we travel on to Bagan.