We were heading to the north of the country but wanted to stop somewhere between Mawlamyine and Inle Lake. We got to the conclusion that Hpa An would be our best option after talking to some people and reading some stuff about it. It’s only 60 hours distance and we thought it might be interesting.
The city itself is small but very crowded. There are motorbikes everywhere and the roads are dirty. There are stores, mini markets, some restaurants, buddhist temples and mosques. We found easily the Soe Brothers Guesthouse that a fellow traveller with whom we visited the Ogre island recommended. It must be the most famous place amongst backpackers, as it was full with westerners with their backpacks. Our reference point was the green clock tower in a roundabout right in the center.
People wear colorful clothes and women have their faces painted with a yellow paste. Almost everybody has their own business selling fruits in the streets, carrying people on tuk tuks or fixing cell phones or other electronics.
Hpa An is worth visiting mainly for its surroundings. We knew there were some caves not very far from the city, so we just rented a motorbike and got on the road.
The first cave, Kaw Ka Taung, full with Buddha images is located 10 km away and can be visited in twenty minutes. It is very humid inside and the water flows from the stoned walls. The entrance has tiled floor and it is very slippery. As you go deeper in the cave it gets narrower to a point when you have to squat to go through the hole. On the other side there is a small chamber with a few more images of Buddha. I do not recommend this place for a claustrophobic person.
The second cave, Sadan, is worthy of this fame. It’s huge and you can cross it from one side to the other. After climbing the many steps we got to a big chamber with water flowing everywhere. We were barefoot as we weren’t allowed to enter with shoes and the truth is the flip flops wouldn’t have help at any point. A bit deeper into the cave and the darkness was almost absolute. If it wasn’t for the small led lamps we had with us we wouldn’t have been able to continue. The floor was very slippery and almost impossible to walk. I ended up falling but very lightly. I got only dirty and not hurt. We could hear thousands of bats flying up near the roof of the cave. At some point I thought it should be better to go back. We couldn’t see anything and I thought it was the end but Magda insisted and we kept going. There are some ropes that help in the most difficult parts and we went slowly until we saw a light in the end of the tunnel.
It took us about an hour to cross the cave and had our reward by the end with a beautiful lake where we could wash ourselves and had some canoes waiting to take us to the very beginning where we’d left the motorbike and the flip flops.
We paid 4000 kyats for the transport and shared it with 3 other people plus the “driver”. They were all locals and two of them were monks and lived in a nearby monastery. The waters were shallow and the man drove by using a stick that he hit in the floor to change direction. We had to go under the mountain literally. There is kind of a hole with no more than a metre high which is just enough for a boat with people to go through.
Back to the motorbike we had 20 km to get back to Hpa An. We were in the countryside and could see many farmers and some fisherman in the lake.
The road that would lead us to the main street was only dirt for a few kms and I must have blown up a tire in one of the many holes. Only when we were back in the paved street i noticed I had a flat tire. I thought it might be just an empty chamber so we stopped in one of the many motorbike mechanics and he pumped some air into it and refused to accept any money for it. It wasn’t more than two kms ahead when the tire was again flat. It was really dead. I found another mechanic a couple of hundred metres ahead and he changed the chamber very very quickly and off we went.
I knew I had little gasoline in the motorbike but since I was going to give it back as soon as we arrived in the guesthouse, I decided to give it a shot. It didn’t work. We weren’t more than two kms away from home when the engine failed. Fortunately almost all the stores and supermarket sell home made gasoline in 1 litre bottles, so it was easy to find it.
Back in the centre we still visited one temple, but it is difficult at this point in our trip to pay attention to all the temples. They all seem very identical by now.
It was great to visit Hpa an as it gave us the opportunity to visit a place that is not in the normal tourist circuit.