After we left Bagan, we headed via overnight bus (such was our primary way of transportation – we had limited time and it quickly allowed us to get places without losing precious days) to Hsipaw. I immediately liked Hsipaw – it’s a small hill town and not overly touristy. Once we arranged a 3 day, 2 day overnight hike, we spent the rest of the day relaxing on the balcony of Mr. Charles Guesthouse. There, we were pleased to run into Beth, a Australian girl in her early 20s who was on our flight from Bangkok to Yangon. She decided to join us on our trek and we also got Jordy, also an Australian who we met on our bus ride to Hsipaw to join us as well. After a day of relaxing, Beth, Trish, and I walked through “the suburban part” of Hsipaw and visited a monastery, and stopped to play with children along the way. We ate a delicious dinner of Shan noodles and went to bed.
The next day, we woke up and began our trek. We hiked up and up and up into the mountains, and finally arrived at our first village. We stayed at our guides’ parents’ house. This trek was probably my favorite part of Myanmar, if only because it’s fascinating to see how others live. Their homes are designed with a raised roof (above the main roof) over the fire, so that smoke can escape. There was no running water, in fact, the UN’s development program had only built a central water spigot a year ago – prior to that, villagers had to walk down to the river to get water. All food was prepared from scratch (of course). We dined on rice and a delicious assortment of curries and tea leaf “salad”.
From here, we trekked on to our next village, which was interesting if only because most tourists do a one night overnight trek or a day trip and so these villagers were more in awe of us tourists. The children would stare while their parents encouraged them to wave at us. Jordy was smart and brought balloons in town to hand out to the children. Walking with him through the village was a slow, but very adorable process, as for those children, he was akin to Santa on Christmas Day.
At this second village, we girls decided to shower, since we hadn’t at the first place. Showering was in public, of course. We put on lokis (a tube of material that is worn as a dress or skirt) and bathed by dumping bowls of water that came from a large barrel on ourselves.
The most interesting thing about our trek to Hsipaw was simply experiencing a different way of life. Our meals were delicious, but consistent: rice and curries and veggies (usually tea leaves). My rough estimation is that each meal took about 3 hours to prepare. Privacy is fairly non-existent, as many people from one extended family will live under the same roof. From talking with our guide, it seems that 10-15 people living in one house is fairly typical. Houses are practical – a year’s supply of rice and wood take precedence over individual bedrooms, specific beds, and certainly privacy. All members work, including children – normally their job is to take care of livestock (boys), or help with the meals (girls). The people were incredibly kind and very hospitable.
At the end of our hike, we stopped by a sugar factory, which was fascinating. I love seeing work in progress for something which is foreign to me (I’ve never been to a sugar factory before), when it’s in its natural, non-touristy, environment. One of the men offered us sugar cane juice and some candies and when our guide offered money, he declined, saying it was a gift for the visitors. Genuine generosity is such a much-appreciated gift.