Misty peaks and scenic treks in Hpa-an
Mountains and caves, pagodas and monkeys are among the many attractions of Hpa-an, Kayin State, one of the country’s most beautiful – and accessible – tourist areas. And antiquarians who dream of lost civilisations will find as much to interest them there as hikers and trekkers will.
About six hours from Yangon by bus, and close to the Thai border, Hpa-an’s most prominent attraction is the 732-metre Zwekabin Mountain. Deep beneath are the natural caves sheltering votive tablets inscribed more than 2000 years ago.
Those ready to brave the trek to the peak of Mt Zwekabin will be treated not just to a panorama of the town below, but also a monkey feeding event every day about 11am. Less intrepid hikers, like me, can climb Mt Phar Pu, which is about half the height of its neighbour peak.
To reach Phar Pu village, across the Thanlwin River from Hpa-an city, you need to take a boat from the yard near Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda, the most famous in Hpa-an, and a favourite spot for viewers of the sunset.
To climb Mt Phar Pu you follow the red-brick road which, after about 10 minutes of climbing, leads you first past a monastery, and then to a wayside public rest house made of wood beside a small pagoda. Be sure to carry your own water on this trek, since none is available en route. The path ends in a viewing platform atop one shoulder of the mountain, the other being inaccessible.
Hpa-an, which aims to become a tourist destination, boasts many hotels and guest houses, as well as fair weather. I stayed at the Golden Sky guest house (K10,000 a night for locals, K18,000 for tourists in the low season) near Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda. Nearby restaurants offer inexpensive Chinese, Kayin and Thai food. Needless to say, Myanmar traditional food is also available, notably at San Ma Tu restaurant downtown, a big attraction for locals and visitors alike.
As for getting around town, a tuk-tuk can be hired for K40,000 a day, though prices will rise during the high season. April and May prices will be more reasonable. The bus fare back to Yangon will cost a tourist K6500.