Little Known Hpa-an

Bikes of MyanmarSawtooth mountains, serpentine rivers, grotto-filled caves, and golden stupas peppered throughout…Hpa-an has all the makings of a popular tourist destination, but it’s still flying under the radar. The locals are going about life as they always have and when they see a tourist they aren’t trying to squeeze a dollar out of him, they want to chat, take photos together, and share a cup of tea. We heard about this lovely town, two hours north of Mawlamyine, and though there isn’t much happening in the city itself, there is natural beauty and kindness everywhere you turn.

 

Motorbike tour Hpa-AnAfter checking into the Soe Brothers guest house, we rented a motorbike for 8,000 kyat ($8) and followed a hand-drawn “tourist” map in a thirty mile zigzag loop. Little Xs marked the best sites, all of which seemed to be mountains, caves, temples, or swimming holes. Fine by us. This plaster monk guardrail let us know were approaching the holy Kaw Ka Thawng cave.

 

Kaw Ka Thawng swimming pool and caveFor us, the cave was not the main attraction at Kaw Ka Thawng but its spring-fed pool and unique locals’ scene. Monks walked the edge while teenagers (fully clothed) swam around with floatie toys.

 

Saddar Cave, The next cave on the list was Saddar or as it translates, “Gates of Hell.” Despite the name, we paid the guy 2,000 kyat to get in and we quite enjoyed it. Walking through the darkness for fifteen minutes with our phone flashlight, we began to see the teeth-like stalagmites open up to lake. A few boatmen awaited our arrival and offered us a ride through the grottoes. Laying flat in the dug-out canoe, we slid under the mountain through the dark ponds and popped out of the back of the cave. Magic.

 

Ox of MyanmarThe limestone mountains, fields of sugar cane, rice paddies, and scenes on the side of the road were just as good as the attractions on the map. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, that the oxen are pulling this volume of hay or the dudes who were able to stack it this high…

 

Shweyinhmyaw Paya, at sunset, Hpa-An, MyanmarBack in town we went to the main temple and popular hangout, Shweyinhmyaw Paya. It’s the best spot for sunset and viewing the temple-topped mountain across the way.

 

Bathing in the river MyanmarFrom the temple balcony, we couldn’t help but notice the bathing session below. Modestly wrapped in longyis, men gathered in this small section of the big river to soap down. For the record, our guesthouse had bucket showers; running water is not the standard in these parts.

 

Volleyball court in MyanmarWe explored the waterfront and came across this awesome volleyball court. We have made a habit of photographing all the manifestations of soccer fields and volleyball courts around the world but this one with its bamboo poles and even bamboo lines, plus a fantastic view, was too good not to share.

 

Dinner at San Ma TauWe went to dinner at San Ma Tau and ordered chicken curry and these were the sides! Four types of fish paste, fried soy sesame with garlic, mango chutney, fried onion with shrimp, a mound of veggies, and a monster bowl of rice, followed by a free desert of coconut jaggery and tamarind balls. A dinner fit for a king, for $4 total.

 

Sunrise at Kan Thar Yar Lake bridgeThe next morning the Soe Brothers owner motivated us to wake up for an epic sunrise. Walking 20 minutes down Thitsa Street, we arrived at Kan Thar Yar Lake. The pagoda-style bridge and majestic mountains were mirrored perfectly in the water of ever-changing colors.

 

Sunrise at Kan Thar Yar Lake bridgeMike took a solid hour worth of photos while I enjoyed the peace with a yoga session on the bridge.

 

Boat to Mt. Hpar Pu After meditating on the beauty of holy Mount Hpar Pu all morning, we had to climb it. To get there we went to the make-shift harbor below Shweyinhmyaw Paya, hopped on a boat across, and found the trail-head to this short but wonderful hike to the top.

 

Happy Monks of MyanmarCommunities of monks live on the mountain and on top there is a golden stupa. As we hiked the thirty minutes up the steep rock with the aid of bamboo ladders and ropes, we caught glimpses of the daily monastic life—washing crimson robes, tending the garden, and taking strolls. We said our Myanmar language Hellos and How Are Yous and got nothing but warmth in return. Love this little monk!

 

View over the Hpa-an river townWe reached the stupa at the top and enjoyed some PB&J breakfast with these stellar views of Hpa-an. We were only people at the peak for over an hour and we wondered how soon it would take tourists to find this beautiful place.

 

Hpa An Photos
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12 thoughts on “Little Known Hpa-an

  • August 25, 2014 at 12:18 pm
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    I never went down this side of Myanmar and it looks gorgeous. I think you guys have inspired the destination of my next trip.

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    • August 25, 2014 at 1:26 pm
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      Tim, we can tell you are a real deal traveler and would love Hpa-An. Yea it doesn’t have much infrastructure but that’s what makes this beautiful place such a gem! So glad we could push Myanmar to the top of your list!

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  • August 25, 2014 at 6:09 pm
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    Great photos, guys! Now I want to go back to Burma and see for myself 🙂

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    • August 25, 2014 at 7:59 pm
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      Thanks, Anne! The whole process of editing our Myanmar photos and recounting all the amazing memories has made us want to go back too! Let’s go!

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  • August 26, 2014 at 5:56 am
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    I’ve always wanted to go to Myanmar — I just haven’t made it there yet. This place looks so peaceful and beautiful!

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    • August 26, 2014 at 8:33 am
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      We weren’t originally planning on going but after talking to enough travelers, we were convinced! So glad you enjoyed the post and let us know when you had that way!

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  • August 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm
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    Did you play any volleyball in Hpa-an?

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    • August 28, 2014 at 4:23 pm
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      We wish! There weren’t any games going on that day. Though we managed to play volleyball in Peru, Nepal, Laos, and Vietnam…we’ll have to go back to Hpa-an to get some court time in 😉

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  • September 19, 2014 at 7:15 am
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    I will plan to go to Hpa An in high season ( late November, 2014), i tried to contact Soe Brothers GH to booking my room by email, but it did not work because Mr. Soe did not answered. I would like to know how did you contact GH ?

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    • September 19, 2014 at 8:56 am
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      When we went in March we just walked right in and got a room at Soe. Keep trying him but also know there are other small guest houses that don’t advertise their information but are in the center of town and you’ll VERY likely be able to just walk in day of and get a room…that strategy always worked for us!

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  • February 19, 2015 at 8:30 pm
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    What time of the year did you guys to Hpa-an?

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    • February 19, 2015 at 10:43 pm
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      March. It was quite hot but driving on a motorbike was natural air conditioning. We’d recommend that and the watering holes.

      Reply

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