Myanmar

A Quick Guide to Hpa-An

The small, riverside capital of Kayin state, Hpa-An, is a great base from which to explore the stunning surrounding area. Tree-covered limestone hills rise above iridescent green paddy fields and small villages dot the landscape. If you’ve ever been to Krabi in Thailand or Ninh Binh in Vietnam, the scenery around Hpa-An will surely evoke memories.

Sights in Hpa-An

Although the highlights of a visit to Hpa-An lie outside town, there are a few sights in town that are also worth stopping by.

Shweyinhmyaw Paya

This golden pagoda sits close to the riverfront off Thida Street; it’s a popular place to be at sunset and offers great views of Mount Hpa-Pu opposite. Longtail boats to Hpa-Pu leave from an area to the right of the pagoda (500ks/person one way). When we last visited in February 2020 Shweyinhmyaw was undergoing renovation, the golden paya concealed.

Shweyinhmyaw Paya

Morning Market

Also located off Thida Street, the morning market (5am-11am) is vibrant and colourful in the early morning; it’s worth a wander to see local life in action.

Clock Tower

You’ll likely get dropped off near the clock tower if arriving from Yangon or Mandalay; it sits in the centre of town on Bogyoke Road. Lit up at night like a gaudy lollipop, the digitised clock tower is painted pale green and is very Myanmar in style.

Kan Thar Yar Lake

About 1.5km south of the clock tower, Kan Thar Yar Lake is a large body of water with Mount Zwegabin serving as an impressive backdrop. A wooden footbridge runs across the lake, which has a roofed seating area in the middle. There’s a tree-lined pathway around the northern edge of the lake, starting near Kan Thar Yar Guesthouse and Royal lake Inn.

Kan Thar Yar Lake

Sunset Viewpoint

From Kan Thar Lake, head west to the riverside, where a night market is set up every evening. This is the perfect spot to be at sunset, watching the sky turn a magical orange as the sun slowly sinks behind the hills, its reflection cast on the Thanlyin River.

At the northern end of the riverside road, follow it as it curves round to the right; from here you can turn left to get back to Shweyinhmyaw Paya and the town centre or right to reach Martyr’s Square.

Sunset over the Thanlyin River

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Sights outside Hpa-An

The beautiful countryside outside town is the real reason to visit Hpa-An. You’ll need two or three days to leisurely visit most of the following, or for those with limited time, full-day tours can be arranged at most guesthouses. Alternatively, with just one day to spare, pick a few of the highlights and explore independently.

Kyauk Kalap

One of the most impressive sites around Hpa-An, Kyauk Kalap is a tall finger of sheer rock that stands proud in the middle of a pretty, artificial lake. Surmounting the rock is a small white pagoda that, as of February 2020, wasn’t possible to approach.

Stairs climb part-way up, stopping at a small shrine that only Buddhists are allowed to enter. This vantage point, though not especially high, does offer impressive views over the surrounding countryside and nearby Mount Zwegabin.

The compound is a working monastery and is, therefore, closed every day from noon-1pm to allow the monks to meditate. The monastery is also where well-known monk, U Winaya, first resided; he was a solid supporter of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. U Winaya passed away several years ago and his body was entombed at Thamanyat Kyaung, another monastery about 25 miles southeast of Hpa-An, until it was stolen in April 2007.

Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to Kyauk Kalap: 12km
Kyauk Kalap

Mount Zwegabin

Admission Fee: 4,000ks/person

At 2372ft, Mount Zwegabin is the tallest of the limestone mountains around Hpa-An; it’s a sacred mountain believed to be home to spirits. The summit offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside and there’s also a small monastery and golden stupa at the top. If you make it up here before noon, the monastery offers a complimentary lunch and, at 11am, it’s feeding time for the many monkeys that call the place home.

The hike up Mount Zwegabin begins from behind Lumbini Garden, a large green area that contains over 1,000 identical Buddha statues lined up row after row. Follow the track past all the statues to a small carpark and temple, where there are also a couple of restaurants; the trail begins directly behind.

Lumbini Buddha Garden

It took us just over 1.5 hours to reach the summit. Aside from a few short, mildly flat sections, it’s uphill all the way. Most of the trail consists of stairs; whilst some are in good condition, others have been worn away over the years. Some sections have handrails for support but in other sections you may need to grab hold of a tree branch or trunk; watch where you step and make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear!

Views from Mount Zwegabin are most impressive at sunrise and sunset. Be aware, however, that foreigners are no longer allowed to stay at the monastery at the top. Try to avoid hiking up in the middle of the day; it’s a tough climb and the intense midday heat will only make it more challenging! Our legs were in agony for days after climbing the mountain, so intense and steep are the stairs up and then all the way back down again!

Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to Lumbini Garden: 15km
Distance from Kyauk Kalap to Lumbini Garden: 5km

Sadan Cave

Sadan is the largest and most popular cave around Hpa-An, a huge cavern filled with Buddha statues, a couple of pagodas and some newer clay wall carvings. Follow the pathway through the cave, past towering stalactites, to emerge on the other side opposite a small lake. Nestled in a pretty bowl of craggy peaks, fishermen’s boats sit at the water’s edge.

Continuing a short way past the lake, you’ll see a concrete bridge stretching across the rice fields to another small cave (Hai Sin Cave). It’s worth wandering this way for views of the limestone peaks and to see the surreally green paddy fields.

To get back to the entrance, you have two choices. You can either walk back the way you’ve come or you can arrange with one of the boatmen to take you through a water-filled cave that connects the first lake to another on the opposite side. The journey takes around 10 minutes and costs 4,000ks/boat.

Upon reaching the shore of the second, not-so-pretty-lake you’ll need to walk back to the cave entrance (to retrieve your shoes) via a dirt path that skirts the edge of luscious rice fields. Alternatively, bring your shoes with you when you enter the cave, saving your feet at this point!

Distance from Lumbini Garden to Sadan Cave: about 15km
Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to Sadan Cave: 28km (via Eindu village)

Kaw Ka Thawng Cave

Kaw Ka Thawng is a very kitschy cave, filled with an ensemble of lit-up Buddha statues and shrines. It’s an easy complex to explore with mostly tiled floors. Even though the cavern has been gentrified beyond belief, it’s still worth stopping by for the photogenic setting and the entertaining collection of Buddhas; one even has a psychedelic halo of flashing lights around his head.

Continue along the road, past the stairway to another cave that’s not normally open, to reach a spring-fed swimming hole and a collection of restaurants advertising Thai food.

If you continue along the road (past the turn-off to Kaw Ka Thawng) you’ll reach a long bridge that leads to Lakkana village. A picturesque Kayin village, Lakkana has been featured in many Myanmar films and videos; Mount Zwegabin features in the background.

Distance from Sadan Cave to Kaw Ka Thawng Cave: 18km
Distance from Kaw Ka Thawng Cave to Hpa-An Clock Tower: 11km
Kaw Ka Thawng Cave

Yathaypyan Cave

The drive to Yathaypyan Cave winds past wide stretches of impossibly green rice fields backed by tree-covered limestone peaks. Stairs lead up to the cavern itself, which contains several pagodas, as well as many Buddha figures and some clay wall carvings. From just inside Yathaypyan there are expansive views over the surrounding countryside and the two rectangular water tanks near the parking area.

Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to Yathaypyan Cave: 15km
View from Yathaypyan Cave

Kawgun Cave

Admission Fee: 3,000ks/person

Kawgun Cave is worth visiting for its amazing 7th century artwork that’s plastered all over the walls and roof of the open cavern. The artwork consists of thousands of tiny clay Buddhas, as well as carvings in intricate detail. There are also many larger white-and-gold painted Buddha statues at the site.

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Retracing your steps past the ticket booth, climb a stairway past marauding monkeys that leads to two hilltop viewpoints. The panoramas from up here are worth the climb! Gaze out over wide open fields, dotted with trees, to the Thanlyin River and beyond.

Distance from Yathaypyan Cave to Kawgun Cave: 4km
Viewpoint near Kawgun Cave

Mount Hpan Pu

Mount Hpan Pu is a craggy peak that offers astounding views over Hpa-An and the surrounding countryside. To get here take a small boat across the Thanlyin River (500ks/person, 6am-6pm) from the riverside area near Shweyinhmyaw Paya. Once you reach the other side, walk through a quiet village before taking the steep but relatively short trail up the mountain.

You can’t actually ascend all the way to the top; the trail peters out just before at a small set of steps that leads to a flat concrete viewing platform. Come here in the early morning or late afternoon for the best views!

Mount Hpan Pu

Other Sights around Hpa-An

  • Mount Taung Wine – Another peak that you can climb for stunning views
Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to the base of Taung Wine Mountain: 15km
  • Bayin Nyi Cave – Another limestone cave full of Buddha statues
Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to Bayin Nyi Cave: 33km
  • Bat Cave (1,000ks) – Come here at sunset to see thousands of bats fly out of the cave
Distance from Hpa-An Clock Tower to Bat Cave: 11km
Distance from Kawgun Cave to Bat Cave: 4.5km

Where to Stay in Hpa-An

There are many budget guesthouses, as well as more expensive hotels and resorts, located in and around Hpa-An. Recommended budget options include Galaxy Motel and Soe Brothers Guesthouse.

We stayed at Thanlwin Pyar Guest House on Thida Street. Although the location was excellent (a short walk from Shweyinhmyaw Paya), our room was dark and suffered from a cockroach infestation as well as a lot of street noise. We paid $18/night for a double room (breakfast included). In all honesty, we wouldn’t recommend the place.

View over Thanlwin Pyar Guest House and Mount Hpan Pu

Getting to/from Hpa-An

Although Hpa-An’s bus station can be found about 4 miles east of town, tickets can be purchased and buses boarded at the ticket stalls near the clock tower on Bogyoke Road. This is also where you’ll likely be dropped when arriving in Hpa-An.

Example destinations to/from Hpa-An include:

  • Yangon: 5,500-19,000ks, 7-8 hours, daily 6am-9pm
  • Mawlamyine: 1,500ks, 1.5 hours, hourly 6am-4pm
  • Kyaikto (for the Golden Rock): 5,000ks, 4 hours, daily 6am-9pm
  • Mandalay: 17,000-25,000ks, 12 hours, daily 5pm and 6pm

If you’re heading to Ye, you’ll need to change buses in Mawlamyine first! Check out our post: Experiencing Small-Town Myanmar in Ye to find out more!

Rice Field Scenery around Hpa-An

Getting around Hpa-An

The best way to explore the numerous sights and beautiful scenery outside Hpa-An is to rent a scooter (8,000ks/day) from one of the guesthouses or from Good Luck Motorbike Rent.

Alternatively, guesthouses can arrange full-day tours by motorbike taxi or thoun bein (motorised trishaw) that cover all the major highlights. Expect to pay around 30,000ks for a full-day tour by thoun bein, less if taking a motorbike taxi.

Do you have any questions about Hpa-An? Leave us a message in the comments!

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