Spelunking in Hpa-An
17-19 March 2014 The bus journey from Bago to Hpa-An was ‘just’ a little more than 4 hours. A fairly short trip compared to other bus rides I’ve taken. This little riverside town in the southeast part of Burma has not that much to offer itselves. On my first evening, I did went for a wander. Afterwards I positioned myself at the riverbanks reading a bit, doing some diary, watching the local farmers offloading veggies, watching the sunset…in 1 word ENJOYING it all!
But the real hightlights of Hpa-An are to be found in the surrounding lush countryside and limestone mountains. Together with 7 hostelguests, we left by tuk-tuk arranged by the Soe Brothers for some cultural highlights around Hpa-An. I wouldn’t call it a tour as there was no guide. The driver only drove us to the several sights and there we could take as many time as we wanted to see each sight. I’m not complaining, I liked it that way
We started with the Kawgun Cave, with loads of Buddha statues and thousands of tiny clay buddhas carved into the rock in impossible places. Mining in the area with dynamite had brought some of the cave crashing down, so it was past its original glory but still very impressive.
Back on the road, and we stopped at the Yathay Pyan Cave. We climbed the steps to the entrance for a lovely view and ventured into the gloom of the cave. There were small lights scattered here and there, which although not enough to light the way, helped a little. This cave didn’t have buddha statues inside but you’ll find some nice stalactites and other big kind of drippy formations on the walls.
We set off towards the next stop, a big pillar of rock in the middle of a lake with a pagoda on it, called Kyauk Kalap. Lonely Planet said that the monks at this monastery offer free vegetarian food but we didn’t see any free stuff handing out And we were hungry, so we quickly set off to our lunch stop, which also had an outdoor swimming bit. We didn’t went for a swim in the ‘pool’. We only wanted to relax a bit in the shades.
On our way to the next cave, we made a quick stop at the Lonebini Garden, a park area with about 1150 sitting Buddha statues.
The final cave, the dark massive Saddar Cave surprised us all! Bigger than any cave I’ve seen, where relatively small tunnels linked several more caverns in the cool, dank, darkness under the mountain. After a time in the bowels of the mountain (barefoot!), we emerged to a scene straight out of a dream. The cave opened up to a small, picturesque lake with ducks quacking and paddling away on the surface and wooden canoes moored to take people on a ride. We took the canoe ride, moored at the other side of the lake and walked about 10 minutes along rice paddies back to our tuk tuk. It was awesome!
We ended this wonderful day with a last stop at the Kaw Ka Thawng Cave. The cave itself was not that wow. We especially liked the hundreds of monk statues lining along the cave and the swimming hole near the end of the path!
The next morning, before leaving for Mawlamyine, I took the ferry crossing the river to a tiny village on the other side. In the distance, I could see my objective: a limestone mountain known as Hpa Pu. It was a pretty steep hike up lots of steps and although it was only 8.30 am, the sun was ‘working’ very hard. In the intense heat, I dragged myself up to the mountain, step by step. And although a bit clouded, I got rewarded with a georgeos view!