I’ve been wanting to go to Hpa An ever since I saw photos of the Buddha filled cave there. We saved the last three days of our trip in Myanmar for Hpa An.
It isn’t as touristy as some of the other parts of Myanmar that we visited, so I’ll break down the trip, what I’d recommend seeing and even where I recommend staying.
There is a small airport in Hpa An and another in Mawlamyine, and there are a ton of busses on the road. However, we hired a driver for about $300 for three full days and two nights, and we felt like it was money well spent. He was super sociable, knew a lot about the local area and we were able to stop in places such as Bago and the Golden Rock on our way to and from Hpa An. We also had really interesting conversations (in as much as our English allowed, as he was very good but not fluent) about politics in Myanmar. Since most people don’t speak English really at all, it was interesting to hear a local’s perspective on that, too.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Thiri Hpa An, which was a little bit outside of Hpa An (about 3km outside of town), but closer to all the main attractions.
The rooms were HUGE, but the quality was a bit like Motel 6 or a roadside hotel- not awesome, not bad, though, either. It also had fairly good internet and a good Asian breakfast (no eggs, though, so you’ll need to really immerse yourself in the Asian breakfast experience for this one!).
It also had an amazing view of Mount Zwe Gabin. However, since it was far out of town, every night after our driver dropped us at the hotel, we had to take tuk tuks to and from dinner.
Tuk tuks are pretty cheap but have no shocks, so you’ll be bumping along in the back, just beware! The good news with tuk tuks is that you can always have a great sunset view, though.
Hotels in Hpa An were actually quite expensive because there are so few of them, so be aware of that when planning your trip!
What to See
Hike Mt. Zwe Gabin
Most people take 2-3 hours to hike Zwe Gabin, we did it in 1.5 hours and I felt like I was going to throw it. It is quite a physical challenge. However, we saw locals carrying motors, weights and other things up the mountain in groups of six, which was quite motivating considering I was struggling to just get, you know, myself up there! Plus, the view from the top is phenomenal.
The view walking up is truly amazing, and you really feel like you’re at the top of the world at the very top.
One really disappointing this about Mt Zwe Gabin and the adjacent Lumbini Gardens is the sheer amount of trash all over. People in Myanmar seem to liter quite liberally, we saw our driver throw multiple things out of the window. It is very sad.
See Lumbini Gardens, Hpa An
Lumbini Gardens are on the way to the Zwe Gabin trailhead, so you can’t miss them if you’re hiking up. Its a garden of thousands- literally thousands- of Buddhas. Each has a different face and orientation. I shudder to think how long it took to create all these Buddhas. The devotion is truly amazing, I can’t imagine being committed to anything enough to have the patience to create something like this.
Trek Sedan Cave, Hpa An
The entrance to this sacred cave is beautiful. There are a ton of Buddhas and lots of people (including monks) exploring the mouth of the cave.
After you get through the entrance, you need to walk through a pretty dark bit where you hear (but don’t see) hundreds of thousands of bats all around you. There was even a part where you needed to walk across a sketchy looking bridge over a very dark cave precipice. Don’t let this stuff get you down- at the other side of the cave is a beautiful lake where you can take a boat through rice fields.
Just make sure to take your shoes with you through the cave (you need to take them off since its sacred) as you’ll be dropped off about a kilometer from the car park, and have to walk shoeless through a dusty road track back if you’ve left your shoes at the mouth of the cave. I wasn’t 100% thrilled about that, but the boat ride is so beautiful I promise its worth it.
Kyaut Kaw Latt, Hpa An
This pagoda. Oh my gosh. It is probably the most picturesque thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Enough said.
Bring some bread to feed to the fish in the pond surrounding the pagoda. They’re HUGE and very hungry.
Kawgoon Cave, Hpa An
This was my favorite place on the whole trip. Its a small cave from the 7th century, filled with carved Buddhas of all sizes.
On top of the cave is a monastery, you can walk to the top up a VERY steep set of stairs (we did this the same day as Zwe Gabin, which I would not recommend as you’ll burn your legs out!) to see the view from the top, which is also stunning.
Uzina Pagoda, Mawlamyine
This was a really beautiful pagoda that we drove about an hour outside of Hpa An to see. It is located in a Myanmar’s fourth biggest city, Mawlamyine, which was interesting to drive and walk around. It has a much smaller and provincial feel than Yangon.
Chantalan Pagoda, Mawlamyine
The view over Mawlamyine was phenomenal here. It was also one of the only pagodas where I saw Buddhas with different facial expressions and more than four mudras.
Tuang Pak Bamboo Buddha, Mawlamyine
This buddha is made completely of bamboo. The pagoda is also a monastery for young monks (everyone in Myanmar must be a monk twice in their lives, so many young boys are monks for a few weeks or months before returning to their normal lives). We heard them chanting in Mon, the state in which Mawlamyine is located and the local dialect that people speak there. It was very cute.
Zina Thukha Yan Aung Chanther Payagui, Mawlamyine
This pagoda, housed inside a giant reclining Buddha, also seemed to double as some kind of theme park or educational centre. It was filled with different scenes, I’m assuming from the story of the Buddha. Some were quite graphic.
You can walk all through and behind the structure. Walk behind to see some ancient Buddha carvings…
We got super lucky in that we were there on a day when there was a huge festival going on. People flooded the streets, and were super curious to see two Western tourists walking around. We got loads of free food and drink, and wandered the stalls, which were mostly clothes and local food. My favorite was rice cooked in coconut milk in a bamboo shoot. SO GOOD.
I also really liked a mango with spicy peanut flakes on it. My least favorite was what appeared to be milk with bits of jelly in it.
Note all the rubbish. There were no bins anywhere!
Where to Eat
Our first night we ate at Thitt Phu in Hpa An. To get there we took a tuk tuk along the river, which was beautiful.
I really liked this place- we tried a tea leave salad, which I LOVED but C. didn’t, and some local fish.
After dinner instead of desert C. wanted to try betel, which everyone seems to chew in Myanmar. Its a nut and some lime and other things wrapped in a leaf. It stains teeth a red color that doesn’t seem to come off, so I passed.
I’m not ashamed to admit we ate at the same place two days in a row. Thai Village, right across the bridge from our hotel in a little settlement right near the university, was phenomenal, and had the best reviews on TripAdvisor and Maps.Me. For about $10 you can get two salads, three beers and two mains. The quality was fresh, and it tasted fantastic. Everyone who worked there had really good English, too, and was super friendly.
Its situated right at the edge of the town, so you can literally sit next to the fields where your food came from. Pretty neat.
I just loved Hpa An. It was my favorite place that we visited in Myanmar.
Hpa An was seriously magical in a way that is hard to describe, and that nowhere else I’ve ever been is. You MUST go to Hpa An if you’re in Myanmar.