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Mount Zwegabin

The twenty four hour loud speaker voices from the temples had us up far before our 7 a.m. tuktuk to Mount Zwegabin. We had some taro cookies for breakfast and a few oranges. On our tour, there was a woman from Calgary and another man from the US. He was a bit hungover, but still wanted to climb the mountain.

We drove through Lumbini garden again then up to the corridor that led to the path to the summit. We started climbing right away while the others stopped at the washroom. We knew we didn't have much time to summit and return and wanted to make the most of it. Our other tour mates had set an 11:00 deadline and it was already 7:30.

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The first section was a challenge with a steep climb up many stairs. We kept stopping for water breaks even though it was early and not overbearingly hot yet. From that height, we could still see some of the Buddha statues below though they grew smaller and smaller with each step.

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By the time we reached the first yellow and blue two story temple, twenty five minutes had elapsed and we'd climbed a fair bit. There was a bit of construction being done but overall it was a pretty relaxed atmosphere.

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The climb continued, but grew more horizontal for some sections as we crossed a ridge. Then we climbed even higher. The countryside was beautiful with green karst mountains in hazy shadows and cliff faces lit up in the sun perfectly. Agricultural land spread far in the other direction and the roads wound around. There were dogs up this high as well.

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The last leg of the journey was hot and sunny with plenty of uphill sections. On the way we encountered a monkey or two but kept our distance. The other two members of our climbing party met us near the top, making better time. We managed the summit in an hour and 45 minutes instead of the estimated two. Not bad for two people from the prairies that rarely climb anything.

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At the summit, there were a few pagodas and small community with a coffee shop/restaurant. One of the gold pagodas sat near the edge of the mountain, overlooking the land below. There was a gong and Buddha statues as well. We took off our shoes as it was a temple and the tiles cooled our feet. Around the back, we found shade and a great view of a few other pagodas on the mountain range. Monkeys stirred below us, playing, eating, and watching until a man with a slingshot came by to scare them off.

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Many people asked to be in photos with the woman from Calgary. We and the American guy posed with a friendly monk from Yangon who spoke great English.

Monkeys did attack in the end when we started eating our corn puff snacks. We gave one to the woman from Calgary but soon a monkey came at her. She threw it away but then it grabbed at her bag. She went to scare it but it hissed at her before it took interest in the coffee glass she had yet to return to the shop. It left in the end and Ryan snatched up her things before it could go after them again. They're scary creatures.

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We had another look at the pagoda and rested more before tackling the trail down. The sun was quite hot now, but many people were making the trek up at this time. A few groups of Burmese guys wanted a photo with Ryan and I before they ran off hooting and hollering. Everyone seemed quite happy.

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At the first rest stop, we found some adorable dogs who were a little scared of us. One of the black ones came to play with and chew on my camera bag strap. Ryan and I were slower on the way down too since we kept stopping to take pictures, but we made it down in an hour for 11:15. Chatting on the way back, we got some restaurant recommendations for lunch like the chicken salad or tomato for me. The woman from Calgary had also been trekking in Nepal and spoke very highly of her six weeks there. Everyone we talked with seemed to love it, so we were itching to go even more.

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Back in Hpa An, Ryan and I headed out to Khit Thit restaurant to try the chicken and tomato salads. They were alright, pretty basic, not really living up to the hype. We wandered the market for fruit to find oranges and bananas. The rest of the afternoon was meant for relaxing, reading and lying down. We had climbed a mountain after all.

For supper we had sweet and sour dishes at Lucky and fireworks followed. Music played from the nearby temple. It was a celebration, of what we weren't sure, and we forgot to ask about it the next day as well.

Posted by Sarah.M 07:33 Archived in Myanmar Tagged monkey climb mount_zwegabin hpa_an Comments (0)

Amazing Hpa An tour: caves, temples and bats

semi-overcast 30 °C

We managed to sneak in breakfast before our early tour left. I had rice and lentils, similar to what I'd gotten in Yangon, but with less flavour. Ryan had some toast. We also had what was left of our tasty market fruit.

Our tuktuk had three others, a man from England, a woman with a British accent that said she was American and went to school there but was now living in Thailand and writing articles, and Wendy an Australian-Chinese woman who was travelling with her daughter. Her daughter had done the tour yesterday and really enjoyed it. She'd travelled around Mandalay and Inle lake as well during her time here.

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The first stop on the bumpy tuktuk tour was Kaw Ka Thaung Cave. Accompanied by a temple and reclining Buddha statue, this cave was a good starter size. There were gold robbed Buddha statues and colourful fences outside. The Buddha statues continued along both sides of the cave, usually wearing gold. If you looked up, there were thousands of small Buddhas carved into reddish stone on the cave ceiling.

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Some of the larger statues had yellow cloths around their bodies or umbrellas. Toward the back, there was a narrow pathway to more Buddhist figures including a small green Buddha statue. We ran into the British family from the guesthouse yesterday here who lived in Australia and recognized us as the ones who got the rooftop room. They found another place to stay, Golden Sky who offered tours with comfier looking tuktuks.

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Outside the cave, a procession of red-robed monk statues collecting alms led us past fields of rice, a pond, rock shrine and adorable dogs. There was another cave to reach via stairs but the pathway to it was closed off. Rumour had it that a monk found a condom there and locked it. Ducks ran around the bright green fields. As we waited for the tuktuks to go, one blasted Eminem's Slim Shady which was the last thing I expected to hear at a temple.

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Next was Saddan Cave which required a 1000 kyat donation for the long walk through the cave. Definitely worth it. There were plenty of statues at the beginning, neat when mixed with natural cave formations like flowstone and curtains. There was a Golden Rock with a face on it. Some of the small Buddha statues mounted to the walls created patterns like elephants, temples or frogs. As we went further into the cave, there was a golden stupa lit up wonderfully with the sunlight coming in and statues of monk dressed in gold.

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Luckily, the cave was lit up artificially for the rest of the walk so we didn't lose our footing. There were some man-made staircases too. We came out the other side near another small temple replica built on a rock. There was a wait to see that one.

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Through the cave arch sat a calm lake, fig tree and wooden boats to take back to the parking lot for 1500 kyat. Our paddler was a young boy. He took us through a cave area that lit up quite stunningly and through flooded rice paddy channels. The fields were bright green. The British family with two kids joked that they'd paid their driver an extra 1000 if he beat our boat. In the end, the little boy thanked the driver with the extra 1000 since they indeed won the 'race'. It was sweet to see him insist his parents shell out the cash for their joke. Many locals wanted their photos taken with the young blond kids in the parking lot afterward.

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Our third stop was the lake and waterfall at Yae Ta Khon where some local people seam and we waited an hour for our food to be prepared. That time wasn't exaggerated either. I just wanted a simple egg fried rice. We all ate in the end and we found out more about Wendy's trip.

Lumbini garden came next and it was a nice tranquil spot. A thousand Buddha statues were in rows on either side of the road as we walked. The close ones had pillars and a roof structure while the rest were left to the elements. Some retouching was being done by the locals. We got back into the tuktuk after walking the trail. Our guide pointed out the mountain that we wanted to climb tomorrow, Mount Zwegabin.

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We headed on to Kyauk Ka Lat Temple which looked pretty darn cool from a distance. Across a large manmade moat sat a tall rock. As we've noticed in Myanmar, they tend to build temples on these sites, especially if the rock looked unstable like this one.

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We crossed the bridge, went around and climbed the temple, most impressive from afar. A monk tied pieces of string around people's necks while reciting a blessing. The British boy got one but wasn't too pleased about it. Rabbits hopped around too. An ice cream vendor was set up back at the road and it was too good to pass up. I had strawberry and Ryan's was a white colour.

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The next cave, Kwat Goon, had a 3000 kyat admission charge and online we'd read that the price wasn't worth it. Wendy's daughter had echoed that sentiment to her mom. Out of eleven tourists, only two chose to go in and were out in 25 minutes. If we hadn't already been to so many temples and caves we might have considered it, but instead we snacked and relaxed.

Ya Thae Pyan cave was up a set of stairs. Some of the articles in here dated as far back as the 13th century. Other votive tablets, images and statues were donated in the 17th century. The front had a tiled floor and plenty of statues of Buddha. We walked the different levels and admired the ceiling carvings as well. Toward the back, there was a long path to follow to the end of the cave where rice farmers worked from their boats. This cave had beautiful natural formations as well.

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After braving a bruise inducing tuktuk ride our final stop was the bat cave. We walked a long corridor along the river barefoot before coming to a high temple.

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There were some stairs with very questionable welding to climb. We made it up there safely enough, though the metal would come away from the rock and itself. From the top, we sat around the stupa to watch the sun go down near the steel bridge and mountains.

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Before it got too dark, we climbed down the scary ladder and got a tour of the bat cave. Far too much feces for a barefoot tour, plus the low lighting meant we were in and out. We waited opposite the cave until the locals began to beat on plastic containers and sweep to get the bats out. Thousands or not millions flew out in a black line that slithered on past the river and toward the mountains. They flew over our heads and the lines on either side of us would converge. As the locals hit their 'drums' the bat lines would jump too. The line went on for at least twenty minutes with bats still streaming out full force before it began to thin out. We couldn't believe the number of them going out to hunt. They switched directions later on, heading all the way to Mawlamyine, a tour hour bus ride away for us, and returned at dawn.

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Although it was a supercharged tour that started early and finished late, we were really happy we booked it. It had been run through Soe Brother's Guesthouse but others ran similar ones too. It was probably the best value tour we had during our whole Myanmar adventure, highly recommend it if you get a chance. The driver also offered his services to take us up to Mount Zwegabin tomorrow, which we decided to do.

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For supper, we dragged our exhausted selves to Lucky restaurant for some tasty sweet and sour pork for Ryan and fried kale and mushrooms with lemongrass and ginger. Very tasty. We good cookie snacks from a random shop since most were closed. They'd come in handy for breakfast.

Posted by Sarah.M 11:49 Archived in Myanmar Tagged sunset beautiful tuktuk tour bat_cave soe_brothers kaw_ka_thaung_cave saddan_cave lumbini_garden kyauk_ka_lat_temple ya_thae_pyan hpa_an Comments (0)

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