The route crossing the north of the Shan Plateau towards Kunming in southwest China – a stretch of the old ‘Burma Road’ of World War II fame – is punctuated by a succession of lively market towns, the most picturesque and interesting of which is Hsipaw, on the Tu River. A two to three-hour journey by road from Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo), it serves as a hub for the Danu, Shan and Lisu minority people who inhabit the area, and who flock to the atmospheric fresh produce market every morning before sunrise.
The main reason to come to the area, however, is to walk in the minority villages around the town. Attracting fewer foreigners than those between Inle Lake and Kalaw, the settlements are far less commercialized and more authentically traditional than the hill-tribe villages of neighbouring Thailand. Several are home to communities of Palaung people, who live from tea cultivation in wooden stilt houses.