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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)

Krabi kayaking and ants

semi-overcast 31 °C

The next morning we learned why the guesthouse had a no food in the rooms policy. I went out on the balcony to make myself a breakfast sandwich only to find nature had added its own protein. The jar swarmed with tiny ants so I put the lid back on, left it on the ledge and went back inside.

"I hope you like plain bread."

"Why?" Ryan asked.

"Go look at the jar."

Ryan walked over to it and had a similar reaction. That thing wasn't coming near our room if it wasn't it a Ziplock. Some ants had escaped and were crawling around the ledge too.

We didn't think they'd get up to the fifth floor. Crazy buggers.

We packed up our bags and lastly brought out our rule breaking offense. We found a trash bin in the lobby to dispose of it. Soon we were in the van with a few other tourists as our guide briefed us on our half, or full for others, day of kayaking. He had a lot of information and zest. No one in our group had kayaked before either.

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At the site, they walked us through the basics of paddling forward and back in our two-man sea kayak. I sat in the back as 'captain' since I'd been kayaking before. An Indian couple were in our group as well as a Canadian woman who went with our guide.

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Our first stop was an oyster farm and around the time I realized the different memory card we brought was corrupted and wouldn't allow us to take more than 10 pictures, so apologies for the poor quality. Essentially the farm was our guide picking up a crate with oysters attached then putting it back in the water.

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Next we paddled to Lod cave with impressive stalactites. The neat part was that we were able to paddle the canoes all the way through and back. Our group was more interested in getting photos of themselves kayaking in these places than moving around too much. Very recreational tour. They kept telling us to slow down. The mangrove forests that we traversed were quite beautiful and the root structures showed as the water was low.

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We paddled a short distance to the second cave that featured ancient cave paintings. According to our guide, they were done in blood and still remained today. The water levels then would have been much higher, given the location of the paintings. Some paintings were of men, animals, and even aliens. Jury's out on whether he was joking or not. He did also tell us that the people used the caves to hide from dinosaurs in all seriousness. Ryan found this quite amusing.

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We kept walking around the dry cave to admire the stalactites and stalagmites. The caves were quite large, a couple stories high and we explored the different levels. Lighting was a bit bad for photos, but we all snapped away anyway. We found out the other Canadian woman had been studying in Australia so she shared some information about it with us. Partway through the chat, it was already time to paddle back and have lunch.

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The Indian couple's boat got towed back behind the guide's since they were struggling. We raced them all to the starting/ending point. The guide complimented our kayaking skills. I'd wished we'd done a little more real kayaking, but maybe next time. The caves were cool.
We had a lunch stop on the way back, delicious cold fried rice, but meat-free and that's all that mattered to me. The van dropped us off at 3 Bees guesthouse which was a bit tricky since neither us nor the driver had been there before. When we saw the Italian flag on the sign, we got them to stop and we were there.

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We walked up the fifth floor, again. The Thai guesthouses really had it out for us and settled into our room. We took our time showering, washing some clothes and cooling off until we realized there was no wifi in the room. When we asked about it, they explained it would work a floor down or we could switch rooms. We weren't sure why we didn't get the other room in the first place, but it all got settled. The other room was in a different building but luckily only on the fourth floor.

We booked another tour for tomorrow, rock climbing, inspired by our false attempts in China, and then tried to make it down to the beach for sunset. We got easily distracted with the supply of cheap fruit shakes, little markets and even a nearby mosque in passing. In theory, twenty minutes of walking down this street would reach the beach.

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Near sunset, we finally made it to the gorgeous beach, even in time for a quick swim. The clouds were epic against the lightly coloured horizon. With working memory cards we took a lot of photos. Some settings are more fun than others. We found a dramatic one we enjoyed.

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For supper we found a tiki style restaurant where we shared pineapple fried rice which came in a half of a hollowed out pineapple and Ryan's favourite, Penang curry. On the walk back, the pancake stalls were so tempting we topped up our supper with an apple cinnamon pancake each. Thailand was a land of wonderful snacks and treats.

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Posted by Sarah.M 01:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged sunset beach krabi cave kayaking painting ants butter peanut Comments (0)

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