The night before leaving for Mandalay, the people I was travelling with and I had been up very late and as we had gone to the see the sunrise in the morning, I was super tired when we finally arrived in Mandalay. For this reason, I didn’t spent much time with the others drinking on the rooftop of our hostel, but went to bed early. That was better anyway, because in the morning, Bianca and I had to get up early (3AM) to get the 4AM train to Hsipaw.
Bianca had only a couple of days left before taking her flight to Thaïland; she had already changed the dates so that she would be able to join us to Hsipaw, but she couldn’t push it back any more. The others wanted to spend 1 day in Mandalay before going to Hsipaw, but I didn’t, because I was planning on coming back here after Hsipaw anyway, so I had promised Bi to go earlier to Hsipaw with her.
The train ride is something everybody wants to do when they visit Myanmar. I agree that it’s a very nice experience, because it’s a very slow train that you share with lots of local people and where you get to see the nature, but, honestly, it’s not that exciting. Bi and I were a bit annoyed in the morning because we couldn’t get a ticket for the upper class – there was only 1 ticket left and as we were 2, we decided to take 2 tickets for ordinary class and so Michael from the US – whom we would meet later – got the last ticket. In the end, we were pretty happy that we had gotten tickets to the ordinary class, because that was the «real local experience». All around us were bags with vegetables, local people either sleeping and cuddling or drinking lots of alcohol (and smoking local cigars) to keep warm against the freezing cold wind that blew in (there were no windows). It was a very interesting and fun experience that definitely brought us much closer! 😄
Also, there was no restaurant or shop to buy any food, only local «street food» sold on the train station and we had no choice but to eat this. Well, of course there is a choice; our friends who would come the next day just didn’t anything that day, but I’m all for trying local street food. Honestly, I think that food is often better than restaurant food or chips from a shop and here that’s definitely true. We ate hot corn, lots of fried vegetables and we had some fried noodles. If you see how they sell it, you might think that it would make you sick, but it didn’t, it was really good! 🤤 During the lunch stop – there was a 30 minutes stop in the morning to buy breakfast and a 30 minutes stop for lunch – we met Michael from the US and Holly who seemed quite nice, but they were traveling in the upper class, so we only got to talk to them briefly.
When we finally arrived to Hsipaw at 3PM (after 12 hours on the train!!!), we were picked up by a truck that brought us directly (and for free) to Mr. Charles guesthouse where we had booked 2 beds in the dorms. We were a bit tired, but it wasn’t too bad, so we walked around town (it’s really small and there is nothing to see or to do) and we enquired about the different options to do some jungle trekking. Initially, Bi wanted to do only a 1 day tour, but I convinced her to do the 3 days jungle trekking with me and the others and fortunately she agreed!🤗
Michael and Holly were staying in the same guesthouse as us, but we didn’t really spent any time with them. Michael is a very intense person and if you don’t know him, he seems a bit overwhelming: he talks non-stop and he is very american. Besides, Michael told us they were looking for people to do the trekking with them the next day, but since we were waiting for Jule, Lukas and Thereza, we didn’t want to go with them. They gave us the tip to do the tour with Mr. Bike instead of the company in the guesthouse and when we went there, it turned out that Mr. Bike really had a much better offer.
For dinner we went to Mr. Shake (all places here are called «Mr. or Mrs. something»), a place with really good food!
The next morning, Bi and I got up late and had a very nice breakfast in the guesthouse before walking to the waterfall that was about 1.5h away. The first part of the walk wasn’t nice, because it was only main road and we had to cross a garbage disposal site which was digusting! Fortunately, then we came to the countryside and there it was really beautiful! Small local houses in the middle of nowhere it seemed and from the distance we could see the waterfall; so different from the first part of our walk!
The waterfall was quite high and we were the only people there, so we enjoyed it very much and we stayed there for 1 hour or so until more and more people came and we decided to go back to town to have lunch somewhere.
In the end, we went back to Mr. Shake because there really wasn’t much else and because Mr. Shake had very good – and not too expensive – food. The chinese fried noodles we had there were really tasty.
After lunch, we went back to our guesthouse to wait for Jule, Lukas and Thereza and it turned out that Iver had changed his plans and joined the others (he had a flight on the 18th). Unfortunately that meant that he couldn’t do the 3 days trek, but only a 1 or 2 days tour and the others wanted to follow him instead of doing – like planned – the 3 days jungle trek with us. In the same time as them, many other people arrived and we were hurrying them a bit to go book the tour; we were afraid to not get a spot for the next day’s trekking since the maximum is 12 people. Unfortunately, they hadn’t eaten anything all day (which was their own fault, but okay…) and all they wanted was to eat something. We told them it would only take a couple of minutes but they insisted on going later, so Bi and I went to Mr. Bike alone, because for Bi it was no option doing the trek a day later.
Mr. Bike is a very nice man and he made us a fantastic offer: if we are 6 people, we get our own group with our own guide, we get a discount and we only join the big group in the evening. Indeed, now there were already 9 other people registered for the hike the next day! His offer sounded perfect to us and we called the others to hear what they think, but they were like: «Oh, we don’t know, we can’t decide now, we want to get more offers and see later…». Bi and I were pissed, WTF!? We decided that they can do whatever they want, we’ll do the 3 day tour! We didn’t see much of the others for the rest of the day; Bi had to finish her application for her visa to Australia and I was reading. Later we went back to Mr. Shake for dinner. When I texted Jule to know what they had decided on, she told me that for them the 3 days trekking was too expensive – imagine! only 40$ for 3 days, 2 nights incl. food, transportation, tubing and guides; it’s ridiculous! – and they prefered to go hiking on their own. That is obviously a stupid idea, because this region is very much affected by the internal conflicts between separatist groups and the military and it’s not safe to go hiking on your own (we saw quite some military on our hike), but hey, it’s their decision and their loss. Bi and I were going with the other 9 people who had signed up and that’s it. We suspected the others were just following Iver who had only 2 days left and couldn’t do the 3 days trek, but who knows.
On Tuesday morning, January 16th, Bi and I got up early to have breakfast before starting our 3 days jungle trekking tour with Mr. Bike that started at 8AM. We were 6 people doing the 3 days trek and 5 people doing the 2 days trek; both groups were together for the first 1 1/2 days and then we would split up. Our group consisted of Bi and myself, Michael from the US, Holly and Toni from the UK, Daniel and Sarie from Spain and Norman, Felix and 2 others girls (can’t remember their names) from Germany. I must say, in the beginning I was a bit sceptic, because Michael and Norman just didn’t stop talking for a second and because the 4 Germans walked in one separate group in the front, only speaking german. However, later it turned out that they were all super nice and that our group was really cool!🤗 First impressions are often wrong and even though I have traveled a lot and I’ve met many people who showed me how wrong first impressions can be, I’m not above judging people too fast; especially in this case with Michael and Norman who would become very good friends and I must say, I’m a bit ashamed of it. Well, I guess judgments are part of human nature, but I feel that traveling opens your mind a lot and makes you more likely to get over these first impressions and change your mind about a person. 🙂 Norman is a very nice guy, just like Michael and after he told me some parts of his life, I must say that Michael impressed me a lot!
The first day was pretty intense in what concerns the hike. The first part was very relaxed; we walked 1.5 hours from our starting point to a Shan village where we visited a small local school that Mr. Bike built the year before (2018). The school year had just started and all the kids were super excited. It’s the first time they get to go to school; before, most kids either didn’t go to school or were send to monasteries in the cities or towns to get free education there (many people in the villages are too poor to pay for sending their children to a school in town or in a city) which implies them becoming monks. It’s an amazing thing Mr. Bikes has done there, very impressive; that makes me happy I spent my money in his company! Michael is a teacher and he is very good with kids; he animated them for some time, singing and playing with them and they had a lot of fun, just like us who were watching them. 😊
From the school, we walked another 30 minutes to our lunch place next to a small river. We had some rice with different kinds of vegetables, one of them a kind of bean that looked very much like a larva… It was very good though and that was the moment our group started bonding. Like Gaur Gopal Das says, eating together is a rather intimate act that brings people closer and in this case, that was true. 🤗
From there on, the real hike started and it was constantly up, up, up; quite intense. There was not much of a view, because we were always in the jungle, so I wouldn’t do this trek for the view; it’s more about the trek itself. It took us about 2.5 hours to get to the peak of the mountain and from there it was another 30 minutes to the tree house where we would spend the night. During the hike, Michael and Norman entertained us and we had a lot of fun. The tree house itself was really cool, it had an amazing view over the land! Our guides, Jack and Yan Le, told us that there was a stream where we could have a shower and Michael, Norman, Bi and I were keen on going there. What we didn’t know is that this stream is a 10 minutes hike down the mountain (what means that it’s 10 minutes hike back up to the tree house!). Still, it was worth it; the water was fresh, but not too cold and we had a good laugh with the guys complaining about how cold the water is, just like girls! 😄
That night, we got rice wine to drink, more rice and vegetables to eat and we did karaoke. That night was a lot of fun! 🤗
The next morning, we woke up for the sunrise at 6AM and it was really beautiful! ❤️ After breakfast (again, rice and veggies) we continued our hike, today mostly down or level hiking, but this time in the jungle. Huge plants, bamboo trees, butterflies and strange plants that made us feel like we’re somewhere in Alice’s wonderland and not in Myanmar! I enjoyed this hike a lot, it was exactly what I needed after having been in very touristic places for the last couple of weeks.
Just before lunch, the group that did only 2 days split up with us and only Bi, Michael, Norman, Holly, Toni and I continued with our guide Yan Le. It was a bit uphill again in the afternoon, but it wasn’t too bad and afterwards it was downhill for 2 more hours until we reached the bamboo huts at the river. Mr. Bike had built them, just like the tree house, and he employed a family of local people here to take care of the place and to cook for the hikers. We had a nice shower in the small stream that went into the river (the river itself was too dangerous to swim in, the current was very strong) and then we relaxed in the sun until the sun went down. Just like the night before, it got pretty cold and we were happy we could warm up at the bonfire!
No sunrise the next morning because we were too low in the valley, but the view was spectacular enough for us to not need a sunrise in order to have a wonderful morning. 🙂 It reminded me a lot of where I volunteered in Ecuador, the river, the small huts, showering in a stream and no electricity. 🙂
For our last day, we only hiked for about 1.5 hours, but it wasn’t a nice hike. The stupid Chinese are building a road along the river to the dam and they are destroying everything! We were quite upset! We don’t believe that this road will ever be finished though, because the construction is very bad; they blow parts of the mountain away with dynamite to build the road but they don’t secure the rest of the mountain, it’s very steep and during the first rainy season the whole thing will most probably crumble down… Anyway, stupid Chinese!
At some point, we reached the end of our hike and started the tubing. The current was super slow that day and it took us about 1.5 hours, whereas usually it takes less than 1 hour. It didn’t matter though, because we had such a good time! We stayed tied together (which is probably why we were so slow…), had a beer and enjoyed the few rapids, the sun and the time together. 🤗
Our 3 days trekking ended with a Shan noodle soup lunch in a small village and a present: Mr. Bike offers a T-Shirt with a group pictures of all hikers at the tree house, a fantastic surprise! ❤️
When we came back to Hsipaw, we had a good shower, went for dinner and said goodbye to Bi. She had to take the nightbus to Yangon because the next evening she had a flight to Thaïland. I was very sad to say goodbye to her. We have become good friends in the last couple of days; we are super similar, not only because we have the same name and were born in the same year: we both lived in São Paulo, we did a world trip starting in the same time, doing almost the same countries, etc. We were meant to meet and to become friends! I really hope we’ll see each other again some day.
At the end of the night, I also had to say goodbye to the Michael, Norman, Holly and Toni, because we would all continue in different directions the next day and my bus would leave at 5:30AM, so I wouldn’t see them again. Michael invited me to go with him and Norman to the «paradise beach» in the South of Myanmar, but unfortunately it didn’t fit in my planning… Hopefully I’ll see them again someday somewhere, it had been a wonderful time with them and the 3 days jungle trekking with them and Mr. Bike has definitely be the highlight of my time in Myanmar! ❤️
And that’s almost it for my time in Myanmar. From Hsipaw I took the 5:30 AM bus to Mandalay where I spent my time relaxing and being quite anti-social. The only things I did were relax, watch movies and series, sorting pictures and writing my blog. The only social activities I joined were going out for dinner (well, I did that alone), going to the Dee Dote Waterfalls – where I met some really nice peple like Ludivine and Severine from France – and going to see the sunrise at the famous U-Bein bridge with Ludivine and Severine. It was a time out I was in dear need of after 7 very intense weeks after my last relaxing days in Sigiriya (Sri Lanka) where I had met my friends Arielle, Denise, Hannah and Romi….
In total I stayed 3 weeks in Myanmar and I enjoyed my time there a lot. Myanmar is a very beautiful country, the people are super nice and it’s much less touristic than other countries in Asia. I feel like the main thing we did was go see sunrises and sunsets, but of course we did many other things as well. I can definitely recommend you go there, but you should do it in the next couple of years, before it gets too touristic.