Hsipaw is a strange little town in the Northern Shan State. Most people visit for the trekking and hill tribe villages. This was on our agenda too but first we wanted to pay a visit to a man we’d read a lot about online, Mr Shake.
It seems in this town everyone is a Mr or Mrs, named after what they do. There’s Mr Food..he serves Chinese food. Mr Book, well he sells books. Mrs Popcorn…actually she doesn’t make popcorn anymore, then our guy Mr Shake, who apparently makes the best fruit shakes in Myanmar.
We found him quite easily, although the restaurant is now called Yuan Yuan Fruit Shakes. It’s a Mr and Mrs team, Mrs Shake makes a delicious chicken rice and a few other simple snacks, while Mr Shake gets on with the fruit shakes. This place is so popular we waited almost half an hour just for one shake, but it was so worth it. The list is endless but he’ll happily make up any concoction you ask for. At 1000 kyat (60p) including the alcoholic ones we could have sat and drank these all day!
We wanted to do some trekking and our hostel set us up with a very enthusiastic guide called Mr Sai. Parts of the Shan State are closed off to tourists due to ongoing fighting and of course, the opium fields which are protected by armed guards, so it’s best to get a guide. We agreed on a 2 day 1 night trek with an overnight stay at a Palaung tribe homestay. Our group of 7 set off early the next day and we started on the first 15km of the trek, mostly uphill and in sweltering heat, to Pankam village. The scenery was fantastic and we passed through villages on the way. These were proper hill tribe villages, none of the tourist traps you get in other places where they dress up in their traditional clothing and try to sell you silk scarves.
Mr Sai was a very knowledgable guide and had some great stories. I think his enthusiasm may have been contributed to by the fact he was continuously sipping on a suspicious looking bottle that definitely wasn’t water, and chewing copious amounts of Betel!
We reached Pankam village and Mr Sai showed us where there had been a gun battle just two weeks before! The Shan armies are still engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Burmese government so occasionally fighting breaks out. He assured us tourists weren’t at risk, but after his breakdown of the politics between all the divisions, it really hit home what a corrupt country this still is.
We had lunch with the family we would be staying overnight with. Delicious food all cooked over an open fire, washed down with green tea. The Palaung people live off their land, so although they are not strictly vegetarian, they rarely have meat. This meant we got some fantastic veggie food. Lunch consisted of cucumber curry, tea leaf salad, a mustard soup, rice and fish crackers. We’d tried a tea leaf soup already in Bagan and it was vile so we weren’t expecting much from the salad but it was one of the tastiest things we ate in the whole country! Really hard to describe the flavour as it was like nothing we’ve tried before, but the texture was great, really crunchy. The fish crackers were just like prawn crackers and the cucumber curry with chilli also delicious.
After lunch we visited the village school which had just finished for the day. The kids were playing football or helping tidy the classroom and loved posing for photographs.
We then set off on another trek to the next village and shortly after we got there, Mr Sai disappeared, so we chatted to the mischievous kids who wanted to pose for photo after photo. They were obviously used to tourists and their cameras but still falling into fits of giggles when they saw the pictures of themselves.
Not long after that, Seth also disappeared and I found him, along with Mr Sai and a couple of the village folk, enjoying a few rice whiskeys. We think this was probably the reason Mr Sai wanted to come here as they only sold beer in the other village! He also refilled his mysterious bottle here!
We got back to Pankam after dark and had another great veggie meal waiting for us. The fried sweetcorn dish was the star of the show, creamy consistency with a perfect blend of mild spices and fried onion. As soon as a bowl of anything on the table was finished it was instantly refilled until nobody could eat any more!
We slept pretty well, in a room with the rest of our group on piles of blankets and were up early the next day for the downhill hike back to Hsipaw. Luckily the weather was cloudy so it wasn’t quite as tough as the first day. All in all around 40km of trekking in two days – knackering but so worth it. A beautiful part of the country with lovely, kind people. What a way to end our epic Myanmar adventure.