We decided to take local bus to Hpa An rather than the expensive (ish) boat trip along the river. 1€ instead of 10€. After a good 3/4 hours (it was meant to be only two) of cramped conditions we arrived in the very friendly and buzzy community of Hpa An.
Homeless for the first time….?
First as always on the itinerary we needed to find a place to stay. We had been recommended a number of places and went to check them out. ALL FULL FULL FULL. Whilst walking around trying to find a place we bumped into a lovely couple from Germany who we had met the previous night. They were also struggling to find a place. We’d never had this problem before and it was a little frustrating when there were so many places and all full. It must mean it was good we hoped! Finally we asked the famous Soe Brothers Guesthouse if they knew of any places we might have missed. They gave us a few more names to try. They also explained that there was a religious festival nearby and that’s why everywhere was booked up. We finally arrived at a hotel where communication was a little difficult but they were very friendly. They initially proposed us rooms for €40. No way. We asked for standard, no AC, just a fan. They had one left and a very good price. Not wanting to leave the Germans we asked for more rooms. The only ones left were two singles. Perfect for at least a night. We were then told the single rooms were for men only – No women. Weird……. As we returned to the reception after seeing the rooms, we saw around 10 backpackers searching for rooms too. We immediately snapped them up quick and said we would take all 3 of the rooms!! Regina and I shared the twin and the boys had a single room each. More rooms became available the next night so we all changed for the following nights.
After this little episode we headed out to see the town and ate some very cheap and very yummy food at the cheapest of prices.
The perfect afternoon
With no plan for the rest of the afternoon JM and i decided to take a little boat across the river to Hpa Pu. A small limestone mountain with beautiful views of the whole of Hpa An, the river and its surroundings.
There was absolutely no one – The views were awesome and we had it all to ourselves except for the locals in the village at the base of the mountain. The only disappointment was the stinky, polluting factory smack bang in the middle of what could have been the best sunset we had seen in Myanmar!!!!!!
We’re going to climb to the top soon! (Mount Zwekabin)
That evening we found another great little restaurant and bumped into the travelling french family from Hsipaw again. A lovely chance for a quick catch up and more story swapping.
Our first organised tour!
The next day we had booked a tour with Soe Brothers Guesthouse to visit the famous caves and temples around Hpa An. A day in a pickup tricycle. It was great. 6 stops were planned. 6 people in the pick-up and off we went.
The whole day was brilliant and go go go. The caves were really impressive, with the added touch of our favourites – a Buddha or pagoda inside.
We had a delicious lunch for a great price right next to the natural swimming pool. The ambience was great because it was the weekend and all the locals were there having fun.
The creme de la creme of the caves was the Saddan Cave. It was here that there was a huge ‘party’ of either a funeral or just a religious event. We couldn’t work it out. We think it was a funeral of a monk……There were thousands of people, all singing, dancing and blocking the roads. After eventually passing the party procession and taking 100s of photos, we arrived to the huge cave.
Security for the funeral……..?
Although there were minimal stalagmites and stalactites just the size of the enormous cave was impressive. The best part was the fun little boat ride around the back of the cave, underneath a very low archway and out onto paddy fields. Stunning! One of our favourite moments in Hpa An. I think we took a few photos………
Climbing Mount Zwekabin
Our plan for the next day (climb and stay at the monastery on top of Mount Zwekabin) was cancelled due to my dodgy belly. Obviously that great little food stall we found didn’t agree with me and i spent the whole day in bed or on the toilet. JM was the perfect nurse and it gave him some time to play around with our photos.
Still feeling very weak but desperate to do the climb we got up early the next day and hit the road. A stunning 40 minute scooter journey with the morning fog still on the ground, we arrived to the base of Zwekabin. We were advised to go early before the heat of the day kicked in.
After 2 hours walking up 1000s of steps and muddy paths, with legs feeling like lead, and probably the most i have ever sweated in my entire life, (i’m blaming the latter on my little illness the previous day, not me being totally out of shape!!) we arrived at the top – 800m high. The views were spectacular and well worth all the suffering! The monastery and pagoda weren’t worth the effort and we were glad we didn’t stay there the previous night.
After a gruelling decent we went out to explore more of what Hpa An had to offer. Picturesque villages, paddy fields and limestone mountains.
We ended the day on a high visiting the bat cave. On the way to the cave we ran out of fuel but we were on a hill and could roll down for 300m. We only had to push the bike for another 400m before we found fuel. Lucky!!! We arrived at the bat cave and waited 15 minutes before incredibly, 1000s upon 1000s of bats left their cave (the same time every evening) and flew out over the river and off into the distance. It lasted almost 20 minutes and something we will never forget. Definitely not to be missed if in the area – be careful though. A family who live under the cave and who don’t at all own it tried to get money off us and everyone else for the ‘show’ – as if it was them who had created it. The cheek! Sorry i don’t have any money on me!
We had a spare day before our flight out of Myanmar, so we decided to take a bus the next day to Kyaiktiyo and visit the famous Golden Rock on route to Yangon. A final little adventure.