Two cities with names that are almost impossible to pronounce and that are totally different. Pyin Oo Lwin was a summer retreat during British rule because of the cool climate. You can still see the influences of the British here. Hsipaw is a charming and laid-back town that has dusty streets, traditional buildings and is known for its trekking opportunities.
The connection between these two cities is an amazing train ride that crosses the Gokteik Viaduct and gives you views to the most beautiful surroundings we've seen in Myanmar. Some people even say it's one of the best train rides in the world.
Getting to Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay is easiest to do with a shared taxi. We shared a taxi with 2 local guys and payed 6.500 Kyat p.p. This took about 2,5 hours and we got dropped of in front of our guesthouse. The bus and train wil cost less, but will take longer.
The trip to Hsipaw from Pyin Oo Lwin was one of the highlights of Myanmar and we will tell you all about it in the ‘what to do’ part.
PYIN OO LWIN
We had a simple but delicious lunch at Khrisna South Indian Restaurant, a small restaurant near the Purcell Tower. For 3.000 Kyat we filled our stomachs.
There is a small ‘restaurant’ close to the guesthouse where you can get breakfast. The guesthouse will give you directions to this place since they didn’t serve breakfast themselves.
The Hotel we stayed at serves good and cheap food, and is very lively as well. We had some struggles ordering, because the staff doesn’t always understand, even if you use the menu to point out what you want. It looks like this is the local hangout, which was not a bad thing. It seems everybody comes here to drink beer, at any time of the day. And we have to say, the beer is good!
PYIN OO LWIN
In Pyin Oo Lwin we slept at Royal Flower Guesthouse for 27.000 Kyat (breakfast not included), in high season they have breakfast, but the prices will be higher as well. The rooms are vintage but clean, the aircon does his thing and the wifi is pretty good as well. No complaints there. You only have to try to avoid the older men, he can be a bit annoying with his know-how. Next to that, great place to place.
** You can find them on booking.com
In Hsipaw we stayed at La Residence, just like the Royal Guesthouse in Pyin Oo Lwin the name of the place sounds really promising. To bad for us that the booking did not came trough and their rooms with ensuite where fully booked. They almost begged us to stay in another room, with air-con. We agreed for the price of 20.000 Kyat including breakfast. It was a spacious room and the breakfast was simple, with a, omelette and some toast, coffee/tea and some fruit, but good. The wifi was sometimes great and at other times nowhere to be found.
** You can find them booking.com
PYIN OO LWIN
We rented a motorbike at the guesthouse for 12.000 Kyat a day and after a short round inside the city were we drove past the colonial houses, Chinese temple and the market we headed to the Anisakan Waterfall. This waterfall is just 10 kilometers from Pyin Oo Lwin and really worth going to. From the parking spot, it is still a 30 minute walk down which is not easy and very hot. But the waterfall is worth it and they say it has water all year.
TRAINRIDE PYIN OO LWIN TO HSIPAW
The whole reason we came to Pyin Oo Lwin was to take the train to Hsipaw. Our guesthouse brought us with a taxi (1.000 Kyatt pp) to the train-station at 7.30 am where we bought an upper class ticket to Hsipaw for 2.750 Kyat p.p. (ordinary class is 700 Kyat). A life insurance of 87 Kyat is included in this price.. Didn’t really sound assuring. When buying the ticket, they ask for your passport. We asked for the seats on the left side of the train, because this way we could see the viaduct better. The train arrived at 8.15 am and after an extra carriage was set on, we departed around 8.45 am.
After some hours going trough beautiful scenery, we arrived at the Gokteik Viaduct. This bridge is 102 meters high and 689 meters long. This is the highlight of the trainride for most and almost all the tourists get out the first stop after the viaduct to head back to Pyin Oo Lwin.
The train ride is very comfortable, there is lots of leg space at least when you get an upper class ticket. The other wagons have wooden benches. Getting welcomed by green rice paddies, we arrived in Hsipaw around 3.30 pm. Al in all quite a long and exhausting trainride but so beautiful. If you did not book a guesthouse or hotel in advance, don’t worry. There will be a lot of people waiting at the doorstep of the train who are more then happy to help you find a good place to sleep. We expected a sleepy hillside town, but it is not!
Hsipaw is well know for its beautiful trekking opportunities, but after our 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, we had enough of walking and blisters and therefore we hired a motorbike for 8.000 Kyat instead. We drove around the surroundings of Hsipaw through the rice paddies which is really nice. The hot spring (1 by 1 meter) and the Shan palace (which just looks like a normal house) were both a disappointment but our last stop, sunset at Sunset Hill, was a real treat!