Hsipaw, the royal capital of former sawbwas, is one of the long-established towns of Northern Shan State in Myanmar. For those who would like to do trekking around the villages and mountains, attractions around Hsipaw could be one of the best destinations in Northern Shan State.
From Ohn Baung to Hsipaw
Hsipaw was one of the four royal capitals of the Ohn Baung dynasty. As they established royal capitals in these towns- Hsipaw, Mongton, Minelon, Thone Sel, you will feel the royalty of Sawbwas when you visit there.
It was established in 59BC by Ohn Baung Sawbwa Saw Hkan Zaw. It is said that it has been called Hsipaw from Ohn Baung since the early Kon Baung period. It is also said that the Ohn Baung Sawbwa moved the royal capital from Ohn Baung to Hsipaw.
The reason for being called Hsipaw is that a ruby stone was found when digging the ground to build the palace and it was called Hsaing Paw in the Shan language, and then, the name has become Hsipaw many years later.
The town has become popular among local and foreign travelers because of ‘Twilight Over Burma’, a book about the love story of Shan Sawbwa Sao Kya Hseng and his wife Austrian Madi Devi during 1960. Hsipaw was ruled by Shan Sawbwas traditionally until 2nd March 1962.
Although it is a hilly town, it is not always cold. It is usually cold from November to February, and it is hot starting from March throughout the rainy season.
How to get there?
It will take around 4 hours to get Hsipaw from Mandalay. It can also be reached by plane from Mandalay or Lashio. As it takes only one hour’s drive from Hsipaw to Lashio, it is faster to come back via Lashio flight. It took three hours from Pyin Oo Lwin by car and could make a day trip to Hsipaw.
There were only people crossing the Lashio-Muse highway road, but there are more tourists than local travelers who visit villages and natural places in Hsipaw. During the Bawgyo pagoda festival, Hsipaw has become alive and crowded.
Historical Bawgyo Pagoda
The Bawgyo Pagoda will be seen if you come from Pyin OoLwin. Therefore, it can be said that the pagoda is far from downtown. The pond near the pagoda is said to have appeared while digging for salt, so it is assumed to have been a salt-producing area in the past. It is also said that the name was derived from Maw Kay (salt pot) or Pawt Kyo (the place to welcome the father).
There are 4 Buddha images donated by Nayapati Sithu Min:
Yadana Man Aung Buddha image (Eastern entrance)
Yadana Nyan Aung Buddha image (Southern entrance)
Yadana Yan Aung Buddha image (Northern entrance)
Yadana Zan Aung Buddha image (Western entrance)
These 800 years old Buddha images can be found in Bagan handicrafts. The pagoda festival is held annually from the 10th waxing of Tabaung to the first waning of Tabaung before the Thingyan festival. You need to come before 5 pm to pay homage to the Buddha images inside the pagoda because the door inside is closed at 5 pm.
Hsipaw Haw Nan
Hsipaw Haw Nan, a must-visit place, is the palace of Hsipaw Sawbwas. One can visit during the opening hour only. Three Sawbwas built three Haw Nans. Sao Hkun Saing, the 85th Sawbwa, constructed the first Haw Nan in 1888. He was the one who established Hsipaw, too. In 1922, 86th Sawbwa Sir Sao Khe built Sakhanthar Haw, and 87th Sawbwa Sao On Kya made Hsipaw Haw in 1924.
The first two Haw Nans were destroyed, and only Hsipaw Haw Nan has been standing tall for 95 years now. This Haw Nan was the place where the last Sawbwa Sao Kya Hseng and his Austrian wife Mahar Devi Sao Thu Sandi, lived with their two daughters. Their love story was portrayed in the book “Twilight over Burma”. The book was also filmed. After Sawbwa Sao Kya Hseng had disappeared, the wife and two daughters moved abroad in 1964. Then, the nephew of the Sawbwa took care of the palace, and it has been opened to the public till today. Also, Sawbwa’s family members occasionally tell stories about history.
Visitors must pay special attention to the opening and closing hours because the Haw Nan is open from 3 pm to 5 pm every day and the gate will not be open for any reason except those hours. There is no entrance fee for both foreigners and locals.
For those who visit Hsipaw on their itinerary, little Bagan can be found on Google Maps. A group of pagodas with some deterioration can be found as a little Bagan. I think it needs some conservation. The place is one of the photo spots.
Mahar Nanda Kantha Bamboo Pagoda
Right before the little Bagan, there is a lotus pond where Mahar Nanda Kantha Monastery is a beautiful Shan monastery. Above the monastery, there is a Bamboo Pagoda, and in front of the monastery, there are also groups of pagodas similar to the pagodas in Bagan.
Among the visiting places in Hsipaw, Chaung Sone is the place where young people enjoy the most. It takes 40 minutes to get to the confluence of Namatu creek and Nama creek where Dotehtawaddy River starts. The confluence seems like multi-layered small waterfalls, and it is stunning if it is seen from above.
Holy oil pots
The visitors should not miss the sacred oil pots whenever they go to Hsipaw. Don’t think they are just pots. They are well constructed with brick and cement. They are placed underground at four corners of the city as yadaya or shaman visitation and are refilled to date. But it is a little difficult to find them. They can be seen under the banyan tree at the boat gate of the Dotehtawaddy river. It is not much farther from the way to Hsipaw. It can be easily reached to the one near the compound of the Customs Department. The 85th Sawbwa Sao Kyar Khaing made such yadaya. The holy oil pots are located –
(1) at the northeast corner of the town- Shwenyaungbin,
(2) at the southeast corner of the town- the compound of Customs Department,
(3) at the southwest corner of the town- Oakkyin Ward
(4) at the northwest corner of the town- Myanamryat Lodge.
It is about 2,706ft far from each oil pot. There is a saying that if the oil pots dry up, the city will become to face diseases and damages. If they are not, the city will be more prosperous.
Nam Hu Nwe Waterfall
Most of the people make trekking to the natural waterfalls in the southern part of Hsipaw. They can be reached by passing through the Shan villages.
The visitors can enjoy the sunset by climbing up Thein Taung. They can proceed to the top of the mountain on foot or by motorcycle.
Hsipaw market offers a variety of traditional handicrafts, including bamboo hats, costumes, and traditional food. The Hsipaw market is an excellent place to buy souvenirs and food.