We’re the kind of travelers who don’t like to plan ahead. So we woke up that morning in Pyin Oo Lwin and decided to go catch that infamous train to Hsipaw which sounded like our cup of joe.
The train leaves at 8:20am, so we scarfed our breakfast down, packed our bags and arranged for our hotel to give us a lift to the train. We were surprised that instead of a car, they put each of us on the back of a motorbike, each driven by one of the young ladies who worked for the hotel. Both were wearing their hotel uniforms and were shy but smiling . They realized that we had no tickets and hurried us onto the back of the bikes. Soon we were zipping through town, a very “Royal Tenenbaums” moment Lena commented later.
We arrived at the train station and found the ticket office. We were too late. “Seat full!” the guy told us. We talked our options and decided we might as well get our personal Tenenbaum taxi to take us to the bus station. Again zipping through the streets, busy with morning traffic, we arrive at the bus station.
Our moto drivers found us the shared taxi to Hsipaw who wanted 10,000 kyat each. They also informed us that the minivan bus was 7,000 kyat each. We hopped on the minivan.
Heading to Hsipaw
The trip to Hsipaw took 3.5 to 4 hours. The road winds down and up through some big valleys and the hairpin turns require bigger busses and vans to make wide turns, thus blocking and holding up traffic, making the trip longer and less enjoyable then it could be. I began to get a little car sick and by the time I arrived I wasn’t feeling too good. They let us off the main road and we walked an easy two blocks to our pre-booked hotel “Lilly the Home.”
Lilly the Home turned out to be a good choice for us. Another large Burmese hotels with a nice lobby, decently clean overpriced rooms and very nice employees.
We went out and had a papaya milkshake at a place a couple of blocks away called Valentines.
We would end up coming back to Valentines and having many more milkshakes and ice creams during the next couple of days.
Later we had coffee at Black House coffee overlooking the river. Nice spot as well.
Our Full Day in Hsipaw: Nam Tuk Waterfall and bikes
Breakfast at the hotel was a variation on the usual: fried potatoes, toast, sticky rice ball and Mohinga, a fish soup with noodles.
We rented bikes from our hotel (2,000 kyat each from the hotel). Both of our bikes had a problem where the kickstand would slowly fall down until it was dragging on the ground. We stopped and tied them to the frame with a bit of string we found on the street. That now three bad bikes in a row for Lena.
We biked up to an area called “Little Bagan,” with some old ruins. It was early and the weather was nice. There were no other tourists around and we felt good biking the the country streets taking in the sighs and sounds.
Nam Tuk Waterfall
Our plan was to bike to Nam Tuk waterfall. Using our Map app, (Map.me) we attempted to avoid the main street and stick to a back trail. It lead us through the village and to the fields where we found a large group of laborers working on the river dike.
The trail seemed to end there and I asked a man if we could get to “Nam Tuk” this way but he motioned with his hands to go the normal route.
So we headed to the main road through town and biked uphill to the turnoff. We bought water from a small stand and biked through the cemetery and up past the burning garbage dump.
The waterfall was pretty dried up, this being late February. A thin layer of foam floated on the surface of the plunge pool. It was early afternoon so the heat was here. I got in the pool and laid down.
No one was there when we arrived but two small groups of tourists came up as we lay around. They didn’t look impressed and soon left.
The bike ride back was much better. Mostly downhill and much quicker. I had to keep kicking my kickstand back up from dragging on the ground as I rode.
We had a typical Burmese lunch at a very popular place that my map calls “Akaung Kyaik (like good) restaurant,” just off the main road. I had the pork curry and Lena had the chicken curry. They were in the usual small bowl of oil sauce.
The meal came with 8 side dishes, all very fishy and/salty. It was a good meal but we still haven’t learned to love Burmese food as much as we want to.
Avoiding the midday sun we lay around in our room, researching hotels and the slow boat from Mandalay to Bagan.
Back out at 4:30pm on our bikes. We took our bikes south, along the river and through the country. We passed Shan villages and lots of rice fields.
This bike ride was much more pleasant then the waterfall ride. It looped back to town where we headed to Sunset hill to watch the sunset. Some men were burning brush on the trail. The sky was hazy with smoke.
Next day we would catch the train back to Pyin Oo Lwin. From there we would get ourselves to Mandalay for the slow boat to Bagan.