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Friday, January 24, 2014

Hsipaw : Sunflower Fields and A Glimpse of the Resistance


Hsipaw, Burma
 early morning in Hsipaw

After spending three days trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, I knew I wanted to go on another trek. I wanted to spend more days in Burma’s countryside. Another famous trek in Burma is in Hsipaw.

Hsipaw, a town in the Shan state, is located further north of Inle Lake and Mandalay. One can take a bus or train from Mandalay, or a bus from Nyaungshwe if you’re coming from Inle Lake. It’s a relatively small town that sees fewer tourists than the other sites in the country. 

It was another long bus ride from Nyaungshwe to Hsipaw. We left Nyaungshwe at around 3pm and arrived in Hsipaw early morning the next day. Good thing we were able to call and book a hostel even before going there, and luckily it was near the bus drop-off point. We chose to stay at Mr. Kid’s house-turned-hostel. The hostel is very basic, but the family that owns it is very nice and accommodating. 

With our jackets and scarves on, Hsipaw during December was cold, we headed out to the early morning market where villagers from the mountains go down to sell their produce.

Hsipaw, Burma
Nine Buddha Hill

That afternoon, after a good sleep and having lunch at Mr. Shake, we rented bikes and explored the other parts of the town. Side note: yes, almost all establishments are named Mr. ___, there was Mr. Kid our guesthouse, Mr. Shake, Mr. Charles – another hostel, and Mr. Food – yes, it’s a restaurant. We rode our bikes further out of the town and made it just in time for sunset in Nine Buddha Hill. From there we saw a great view of the town.

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma
Hsipaw sunset

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma

It was the start of our 2-day trek which we booked with another hostel. I wasn't feeling too well that day because of something I ate the night before. But I pushed on and went on the trek since I didn't want to miss out on the experience. 

Hsipaw

We started our trek through rice fields, passed by villages situated beside the stream. But after that it was all uphill, and it was hotter than we expected. It didn’t have so many scenic views compared to the Kalaw trek, but it was still a good trek.

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma

Children, Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma

We made it to the village just a little after lunch. I was too weak and dehydrated to do anything, so I decided to skip the walk around the village. Which was a good decision since I was feeling a lot better during dinner. The rest of the night was spent playing cards with our guide.

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma

The next day I woke up earlier than everyone else. I was outside the house observing the people passing by when I saw our host talking to a guy in military clothes and was holding a rifle. He seemed young, probably not yet in his 20s. Then I panicked when I saw them heading back to the house. I was panicking because I left the book Finding George Orwell at the common area, and I was scared that the guy would see it and our hosts will be harmed because of it. I rushed inside and saw the guy looking at the book, reading the back portion. Soon after he put it down and began talking with our hosts. Our guide, Vio, and Wesley eventually went out to the common area. Vio attempted to take a photo of the guy, but our guide went to us and told us to delete the photo. I was confused. As soon as the guy left, our guide told us that he wasn’t from the military. I guess you all know what that means.

This for me was one of the most interesting and memorable experiences in all my travels. It spoke so much of what the country is going through, and that there are groups up there in the mountains still fighting and resisting. I found out after my travels, that the farther North of Hsipaw is where different rebel groups have been trying to fight off the military junta.

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma

After breakfast, we started our trek back to the main town. It was a more pleasant trek probably because I was feeling a lot better, but I think it was more of the fields of sunflowers we passed by and the children we encountered on our way down.

Hsipaw, Burma

Field of Sunflowers, Hsipaw, Burma

Sunflowers, Hsipaw, Burma

Little Girl, Hsipaw, Burma

Children, Hsipaw, Burma

We made it back to the town before lunch. A few of us wanted to look for the hot spring, while the others for the waterfalls. Both were farther out in the hills, so Mr. Kid suggested another hot spring, a half-hour ride from the town. We got a good deal with a mini-jeep to bring us there. We were all looking forward to it, a relaxing way to end our stay in Hsipaw.

As soon as we got there, we were surprised to see so many locals in sarongs and carrying toiletries. Until we saw the ‘hot spring’. It was a small pool, probably with hot water, where people were taking their bath. All of us have been in Burma for at least a week already, most of us have been traveling around Asia prior to that, so we all just laughed it off rather than complain to our driver. Instead, we decided to hang out and have coffee at one of the small restaurants nearby.

Hsipaw, Burma

Children, Hsipaw, Burma

I wrote about my travels in Burma as being unique, I wrote about Burma as such an intriguing and captivating country. Our 3-days stay in Hsipaw proved to be just that. Traveling through Burma, you will understand why it’s so captivating – the beautiful rolling hills of the countryside that people have likened it to the old Tuscany, the warm people, and the ancient temples of Bagan.

Sunflowers, Hsipaw, Burma

But it is intriguing and different from everywhere else I've been because beneath all of its charm, you will see its people’s desire to be free. That despite their mastery of putting on a face of contentment – all to protect themselves from the military’s harm, there will be moments when you’d see them fighting and resisting the kind of life they’ve been living ever since the start of the military junta.