I only had 4 full days in the area, as my schedule had to be re-arranged at the last minute due to Mrauk U being closed. I had a lot of ground to cover, so I decided to hire a driver to take me from Yangon-~Hpa An, then on to Mawlamyine.
The driver picked me up at the crack of dawn and we were on our way! Stopped for breakfast and a bit later stopped in Thaton to see Shwe Sayen, a lovely temple in the middle of town. We arrived in Hpa An a little after 10:00 (Yangon-Hpa An normally takes 5 hours) As we entered the area, the scenery was stunning- karst rock formations and craggy mountains springing up in the middle of fields! I wanted to climb them all!
We visited the following sights that day-
It seemed every cavernous opening was an excuse to set up a temple, and this was the first of many I visited. Plenty of local people, some stopping to swim in the natural hot spring at the foot of the cave. A majority of the caves are not deep enough to do any significant “caving”, but the various Buddha images were rather interesting.
This was by far my favorite, not because of the temple cave but the craggy precipice which commanded spectacular panoramic views of the area. To access it, pass through the entrance gate and look to the left. You will see a narrow path that will take you up a steep rocky trail to the top.
Lots of monkeys, lots of locals feeding them.
Headed into town after calling some guesthouses, they said come and see them (didn’t want to give us a price). When we got there at around 2:00pm, the hotels were all full. We finally found “Tiger Hotel” and they had rooms, but wanted $25. I bargained them down to $20, I was staying 2 nights. (In case you need a list- Green Leaf Hotel $20~$25, Zwegaben Hotel $85, Golden Star Hotel $25, Parami Hotel $60~.)
After securing the hotel and washing up, we went out to Kyauk Kalap, and I climbed up there to see the sunset.
Very fortunately my driver shared my fondness for authentic Burmese food and drink, so we had some fantastic curries for lunch and dinner every day, and Grand Royal whisky with the evening meal! (1,000~2000 kyat)We had breakfast at tea houses in the morning (700 kyat). According to my driver, the Kayin people eat a lot of dog meat, but I didn’t notice it being served at any of the local restaurants…
Headed out of town at 6:30am the next day to climb Mt Zweibagin. The views on the way up are incredible, but so is the amount of litter. This was quite appalling! Including time to stop and absorb the breathtaking views and take a zillion photographs, it took me two hours to get to the top. At the top was a non-descript monastery, some sluggish-looking primates, and a unique view of Kyauk Kalap. Walked down with wobbly knees (I am in good shape but it’s like 20,000 steps to the top!), this only took 45 minutes, and we drove past “Ronmani Buddha Park”, with some 1,150 buddha images dotted across the vast field.
After this, we visited the following:
Kayin Village (the people weave their own clothing)
U Na Auk (ornate temples in a large complex, intriguing teak carvings depicting the life of Buddha et al, cool teak statues)
Saddar Cave (I followed some local teenagers to the other side, it was completely dark in there even with my headlamp!) Took a boat around the lake, under a cave and to the other side.
Kawkataung- another temple cave, hundreds of monk statues lining up around the outside. Don’t forget to go find the cool little “meditation room” in the back of the cave while you’re there.
Wanted to take the boat to Mawlamyine the next day, (my driver would drive there & meet me) but it wasn’t leaving until noon, and I wanted to spend the morning seeing the sights in Mawlamyine so we just left after breakfast the next day instead.
This day we visited-
Kay Yun Gu Cave- More like a “Buddha Park Fantasy” place, very colorful, statues depicting the life of Buddha.
The ”Hindu Kyauk Talon” (I walked to the top, lots of funky monkeys, great views)
Win Sein Taw Ya- Massive reclining Buddha image. You can actually go inside. They are creating life-size dioramas of the Life of Buddha.
U Zi Na Pagoda- This was spectacular, if you like alluring Buddah images.
After this, we headed up to the hillside where all the popular temples are- Kyaut Ma Yaol (marble Buddha), Mahamuni Paya, Kyalkthalan Paya (large, gold stupa) and Kyaut Kathaun to see the sunset.
The last day we stopped by the market, then took a boat to “Shampoo Island” (3000 kyat round-trip), which was very interesting. Very quiet, a few nuns here and there tending their vegetables or orchids. We were heading back to Yangon this day but I wanted to see the craggy mountaintop temple/rock “Nwa la bo”, so we went directly there. (It is on the way to Yangon anyhow!) This happened to be a weekday, and not many locals head up there, so after waiting about 30 minutes for a truck that never appeared, I decided to hike up there. After about 90 minutes of hiking in the hot sun (I was 4/5 of the way up), a truck full of locals pulls up “Hop in!”, so I did and went the additional 5 minutes by truck to the top (truck is 2000 kyat, camera fee 500 kyat). They let you mill around for about 90 minutes, then the truck driver calls for everyone to head down.
The drive back to Yangon was uneventful but the sunset was amazing!
For photos of all of the above, see the link below.