Hpa-An is oh-so-close to being the perfect travel destination. Surrounded by jungle-clad karst peaks and green rice paddies, Hpa-an is a busy town with a prime position on the Thanlyin River. The nearby mountains are dotted with Buddha-filled caves, golden stupas, strange monk statues, and working monasteries. It is a stunningly beautiful and interesting region.
Although I selfishly lament the inevitable change that tourism will bring to Burma, this is one place that could be greatly enhanced by some tourist infrastructure. Hpa-An is a bustling, working town where tourism is an afterthought. The shoreline of the river has exactly one bar – a little shack really – where you can drink a beer while watching the sunset. There are a few great places to eat in town, but they are scattered along busy roads. The southern part of town is dominated by Kan Thar Yar Lake, a beautiful retreat that needs a few more cafes and park benches to become a truly great spot.
Having said that, the real highlight of any visit to Hpa-An is the caves, monasteries, giant buddhas and surreal sites in the countryside. We signed up a for a day tour at the Soe Brothers Guesthouse and cruised around in the back of a tuk tuk with five other travelers. This is the best way to see the area since all the sites are scattered.
So, do you want to see Hpa-An? Let’s take a little photo tour.
Kaw Ka Thawng Cave
The Kaw Ka Thanwng Cave is best known for the hundreds of monk statues that lead to the monastary. It is surrealistically beautiful.
Some of the artwork in the cave dates back to the 7th century! The open face of Kawgun Cave was littered with Buddhas of all shapes and sizes in assorted poses. A hike up the side of the mountain led to stunning views.
If there was one disappointment on our tour it was the monastery at Kyauk Kalap. It looks cool in photos, but visitors aren’t allowed to go to the top of the rock so a visit was a bit underwhelming.
The entrance to Saddar Cave is large enough for a basketball arena and features a golden stupa and several Buddha statues. A hike through the cave leads past intricate stalactites, stalagmites and beautiful cave pools. Once through the cave, visitors hire a water taxi and cruise through a subterranean river back to the parking lot. It was pretty cool, I guess.
I realize that most visitors to Myanmar focus on the famous triumvirate of the north – Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake – and for good reason, it looks awesome. I am glad we stayed in the south and went to Hpa-An. It is an off-beat destination with friendly locals and interesting sites that won’t stay unnoticed for long.
An Eventful Week in Hpa-An – Legal Nomads
Hpa-An Travel Guide – Travelfish.
On Small Towns and Small Adventures in Hpa-An – A Little Adrift