Escape to the Caves: Visit Hpa An
Once in a while we feel the need to be immersed in nature and recharge our batteries. Hpa-An with its wonderful landscapes is the perfect escape from the buzz of city life in Yangon. Since it is only a 6-hour bus ride away, Hpa An is an easy getaway and definitely worth a visit.
The city itself has not lot to offer- it is a typical midsize town with a market and shops in the downtown area. But the surrounding landscapes are remarkable and near enough to explore on one-day excursions. One of these day trips is to Mount Zwegabin, a 723-meter high mountain offering awe-inspiring views on Hpa An valley and Thanlwin River from the top. We heard it was a challenge to hike to the top- especially in May where temperatures are approaching the 40 degrees- but we were determined to give it a try.
We woke early and devoured a hearty breakfast in preparation for our adventure. A 30-minute tuk tuk ride across villages brought us to the western side of Mount Zwegabin, the most difficult route according to many testimonies. We thought it would be better to tackle the harder side going up whilst our legs were still strong and take the eastern route, which is less steep, on the way down. At 9 am we begin our way up the mountain under a cloudy sky. The path was partly sealed with stairs but mostly dirt track and we passed several local tourists who exclaimed “Mingalabar” despite being out of breath from the effort.
Half way through we took a rest as our legs are burning. But a cheerful cry from one of our hikers of “No pain, no gain” got us back on our feet again. After 1.5 hours of sweaty climbing we reached the top where a small monastery offered a place for a much-needed break. A few grey clouds appeared and brought with them rain which was refreshing and so we refueled with Burmese tea and snacks while waiting for the clouds to float away. It was only a short shower and as the clouds cleared we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the eastern side: lush jungle and rice paddies as far as the eye could see. We could even catch a glimpse of Kyauk Kalap monastery in the distance. A dozen or so photos were taken and then we descended the eastern side- a much easier walk!
At the bottom our driver was waiting and whilst our hike was completed we were still on for more exploring. Near the base of the mountain we visited Lumbini garden where 1150 statues of Buddha statues are perfectly lined up. As well we went to Kaw Gon cave, a natural formation who’s walls are carved with thousands of Buddha images. Our legs were sore but we climbed the cave’s staircase to enjoy more fabulous views- Hpa An’s countryside looked stunning with the limestone karsts jutting out from the rice paddies and Mount Zwegabin looming in the distance.
Exhausted and hungry- yet full of great stories of the day- we headed to dinner with our tuk tuk driver. We devoured a great meal of rice, curry and salads and had a chat with some local children. They got the chance to practice their English with us and we learned a few words of basic Burmese. It reminded us how special Myanmar is: we had a day full of exploring wonderful nature followed by an evening interacting with curious, friendly locals.
The next day, we opted for something more comfortable and hired a car and driver to return to the countryside. Although the roads are in bad condition it actually allowed us to enjoy the scenery more as we drove at a leisurely pace. We arrived at Kyauk Kalap, a stupa perched on the top of a rock that we had spotted from the top of Zwegabin the day before. It was equally impressive up close and we enjoyed being their in the early morning before other tourists and pilgrims arrived.
Next was Sadan cave, one of the most talked about places in Hpa An. We took flashlights with us- within a few meters of entering the cave we were in total darkness. But with our lights on we realised we were surrounded by beautiful statues and Buddha images carved into the walls of the cave. We continued on foot to a stream where a small row boat took us back to the entrance. Our last stop was Kaw Ka Thaung cave which, compared to our earlier Hpa An excursions, was easy to find thanks to its dozens of monk statues leading to the entrance.
It was now mid-afternoon and we wanted to wrap up our trip with a final lasting image. We headed to Hpar Pu Mountain which is located across the Thanlwin River. After an easy walk up we were treated to stunning panoramic views of Hpa An, the river and the surroundings. We soaked in the peaceful atmosphere, snapped loads of images and headed back to town for a quick dinner. As we boarded the night bus to Yangon we felt calm and relaxed from our trip to beautiful Hpa An.
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