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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)

Great Wall: Mutianyu

Nothing but blue skies!

sunny -2 °C

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Monday, time for the reason most people come to China: Great Wall! Our tour even included breakfast, if we could find Saga hostel again. It had been tricky enough yesterday, but we had it in memory now. We were the first ones there and ordered two American breakfasts. Despite that fact, our food came absolutely last and was a bit cold. We broke down and bought drinks that they failed to include in the 'complimentary but not really you paid for it in the tour price' breakfast.

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Our minivan of tourists drove ten minutes to reach a larger bus full of even more tourists. Unlike what we'd encountered in most of China, the bus was full of nearly forty foreigners. 'The most whities we've seen since leaving Canada,' Ryan proclaimed. Our guide found the number of people quite large as well.

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He gave us some background on the wall itself which spanned from the sea, past mountains and to the desert. Emperor Qin Shi Huan had decided
that they needed a wall to keep the Mongol invaders from pillaging villages. People today recognized his role in unifying China which was a collection of smaller locally governed communities prior to his rule. He unified the people with language and religion. He built the Great Wall to have a physical barrier and keep out the Mongols. But during his era, people were more likely to think of him as a tyrant who enslaved millions, a sizable chunk of the large population, and ran up large expenses building the wall and an elaborate tomb. People at the time had very few provisions as a result.

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Once we arrived at the wall, we opted to pay to take the cable car up as we only had three hours and wanted to make the most of them. Since it was early, the wall wasn't busy at all and the only line came from our busload. We got on our gondola with one other traveller. Mountains rose all around us and the Great Wall soon came into view. We were really there!

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Starting at watchtower 13, we began our journey. The temperature was rather pleasant and the skies were a perfect blue, nearly Asian-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) blue like when the government shut down factories and closed everything when the Western leaders held the conference in Beijing earlier that month. If the trees leaves weren't dead the pictures would have been even more phenomenal.

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The wall was narrower than we imagined, smaller than a lane of traffic. New bricks had been laid to make walking easier. Eventually, the photogenic winding wall became an uphill challenge. A woman along the way had forgotten water. We would have shared if we weren't running on a low supply ourselves.

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We passed the 'No tourists' sign as our guide had instructed. The woman selling snacks there didn't say anything either. There was another vendor past that point anyway so the sign was more of an 'at your own risk thing'. That's what travel insurance is for, just kidding.

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The bricks' placement became sporadic with some sideways, others missing and other parts reclaimed by vegetation. It got easier to walk on soon after and there were always people in front of us which had to be a good sign. We kept walking just past the halfway point time-wise. After a few more pictures, we ventured back.

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We met an American man on the way who was teaching ESL an hour South of Beijing. Monday and Tuesday were his weekend so he was just visiting. He had wanted to teach abroad elsewhere but got quite a few offers from China after uploading his resume. He worked with quite a few Canadians too, mainly from the Maritimes. We ended up chatting about travelling and working abroad the rest of the way back. We made much better time than anticipated.

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Ryan and I explored the other side of the wall on our own, not ready to leave just yet. The wall kept winding and winding. Off in the distance, we could see small watchtowers. It felt like we were in Middle Earth or something like that. The walls themselves had interesting drainage systems running down the sides too.

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Even though the walls were quite high, in the past the Mongols had been able to scale the walls, but getting back with the goods they'd pillaged from the villages was much more challenging, so it served as a deterrent. Guards in the watchtowers also kept the country safe.
China's flaw with the wall had been spreading themselves too thin and not providing supplies to their guards. The Mongol leader, Genghis Khan, bribed the cold, hungry guards, overtook the wall and became the emperor of China.

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Nearly lunch hour, we rode the gondola down and walked to Mr. Yang's restaurant. We joined a table of ten or so other tourists from our bus and waited for plate after plate of food to be placed on the table. There were at least a dozen different dishes and I could even eat half of them. The highlight for me was the spicy cabbage and greens. I hadn't eaten this well with Chinese food in awhile.

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It was nice to actually have a ride back to my friend's neighbourhood, although the walk back from Saga was brutally cold. Ryan and I ventured back to the dumpling place for supper with the translation and Chinese characters for eggplant saved on his phone. We couldn't find the dish in the English menu so we asked for the Chinese. They were quite surprised. We managed to order what we wanted and while it wasn't exactly the same as the dish we had on our first day, it was still delicious and meat-free. The Chinese couple next to us ordered the same thing afterward.

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Posted by Sarah.M 23:32 Archived in China Tagged china great hostel beijing tour wall moutain khan genghis saga mongols Comments (0)

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