Mount Zwegabin is the highest climb you can do in Hpa-An. It takes from 1h30 up to 2 hours to complete the journey up, and people advise doing it for sunrise. That’s what I did.
I don’t like to wake up early but I decided that I will do this challenge of watching the sunrise from Mount Zwegabi as I will probably not have another chance to do it. It is just one day- I convinced myself. I woke up at 4.30 am willing to start climbing at 5 am. It didn’t happen. The distance to Mount Zwegabin is not so short and it doesn’t take much less than 30 minutes to get there. It’s very cold at 4.30 am, so take some warm clothes with you. You will also need it after finishing the hike as your body cools down.
Which side should you hike for sunrise
The motorbike ride to Mount Zwegabin is in the dark, completely alone. I thought I would see some other crazy foreigner around but I didn’t. I did the way up by the shortest but steepest way. I’m not sure it is the best for sunrise, but it was the closest by motorbike. If it was now, I would do the hike on the other side, through the Lumbini Garden side. That side is the side where the sun is coming up. From my side, I couldn’t see anything until I got to the very top.
Anyway, half of the way to the very top of Mount Zwegabin is done in complete darkness. I see only two locals starting the same time as myself but they were super fast and I lost track of them very shortly. I’m going up totally alone, but the staircase has some lights, so don’t worry. You will not be in the dark. I started to climb at 5.30 am and arrived at the very top later than 7 am, which means after sunrise. After all, the purpose of watching the sunrise at the top of Mount Zwegabin wasn’t accomplished…
On my way up I come across only 2 more people. Two young local boys that are carrying groceries all the way up on their back in a basket that they carry with their forehead. I was overwhelmed. Do these people do this every day?? It is so hard for me to go up and I don’t have anything to carry, I can’t even imagine how hard is it to carry kilos and kilos of food and drinks. OMG! That is how they bring things up there to the monastery and shops at the very top. It’s crazy!! It’s a 1h30 minutes climb!!! I was just after them and could see their sweat drops on the stairs. They were super muscled, I couldn’t imagine them any other way as this is a hell of a morning exercise. And those two guys were the only people I saw on my way up to Mount Zwegabin. From time to time I look at the map to see how far I am from the top. I’m glad I’m doing it during nighttime when the temperature is pleasant, I can’t say the same about the temperature on the way down. Also, from the side I went up, I have shade all the time.
I stop several times while climbing around 3600 stairs. Yes, those were the highest number of stairs I have ever climbed in my life. You can see the numbering written on the stairs as you go up. I have no idea how many stairs on the Lumbini Garden side, but maybe more because my side was steeper.
Sleeping at Mount Zwegabin
I was actually willing to sleep at the monastery at the very top of Mount Zwegabin, but that is not possible anymore. A foreigner committed suicide here and since then monks didn’t allow more foreigners to sleep there. It would have been a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t need to climb stairs at 5.30 am. To conclude, you can no longer sleep at the top of Mount Zwegabin. What a shame!
Reaching the top of Mount Zwegabin
The closer I look on the map, the longer it seems to take to the top. I’m tired and super sweaty and wondering where the hell is the end of this staircase!! Finally, I reach the very top of Mount Zwegabin and the sun is already up high. I just wanted to reach a viewpoint and sit there to take a rest, but I can’t. I go all the way to the pagoda and besides having no people, this place is not empty. It is filled with monkeys and two dogs. Do the dogs hike up the mountain? I’m amazed.
The monkeys look aggressive, they are fighting between each other, messing the trash bin up and trying to attack the dog. I’m scared of them, so I don’t get close. And the worst part is that they are all over the best viewpoints, so once I reach the top I can not even enjoy the view. Oh, I hate monkeys.
I notice that the dog is following me everywhere I go. He was acting like a bodyguard showing aggressiveness every time a monkey was trying to get close to me. I think he was actually protecting me from the monkeys. I honestly think they will come to me and try to get to my small backpack and steal something. Now that I am at the top of Mount Zwegabin I can’t even drink water because of them. And that’s all I wanted: Just sit, relax enjoy the view, and drink water until I can no more. But, because of the macaques, I can’t do any of it! Luckily, about 15 minutes later they left and the dog too. The dog was really protecting me!! Of course, I pet him but couldn’t even make a move towards my backpack to give him a treat otherwise I would be attacked by the starving monkeys.
Finally, and only after they left, I can enjoy the place. I sit and take my camera out, and enjoy the silence around and the highest viewpoint I have ever hiked. Things down there seem so small. The view is so wide!! There are temples in the tip-top of the mountain surrounded by trees and rocks, how the hell did they end up there? I’m amazed at how Burmese people can build pagodas in every single place, even when it looks impossible. I have no idea how do they build these things up here so high. I’m sure the pagoda at the top was built with things brought to the top by manpower. Incredible just to think of that possibility, and crazy too!
I’m starting to feel hungry, but will only eat once I’m far away from the monkey’s spot. I don’t want to attract any of the animal’s attention. So, before going down, I walk around to enjoy the view that is different from every angle. I just pity the air thickness that, maybe because of the hight, only allows a whitish landscape. The view is magnificent and I enjoy it from different angles for long periods. I also went to the other side of the climb to check the view, and it’s confirmed. The view on the way up would be much better from the Lumbini Garden side. I can see mountains and mountains, endless ones, so majestically standing. What a magnificent view. I would like to go down from this side of Mount Zwegabin, but my motorbike is parked on the other side where I started. And I don’t feel like walking for more than 30 minutes after hiking down to get to the motorbike. Being that, the way down was made on the same path as the way up.
My legs are sore and my feet too. I change to flipflops to do the way down as I’m sure my toes will hurt from the pressure on them in sneakers. My legs are too shaky on the way down, so I also need to stop many times, but this time the temperature doesn’t help. It’s getting hot, and the path is not so shady at this time. Surprisingly, I see many locals going up to the top of Mount Zwegabin while I’m on my way down. The climb up was so lonely that I thought not many people visit this place, but I was wrong. I saw many, many people going up and they brought food. So probably these people are enjoying lunch up there. I occasionally see two other foreigners hiking the mountain during my way down.
Going down is faster but still painful. My legs are even shakier, so when I finally reach the bottom, I sit for long minutes and give a long break to my legs knowing that we have a long day ahead. I know that waking up that early would make me tired sooner than usual. The rest of the day I was basically dragging myself around haha. I eventually slept for a while in a not crowded part of a temple. I was desperately needing a nap, and going back to the Hotel to do it was out of the question as it is too far.
If the hike was worth it?
Yes, it was. I would just probably not do it for sunrise as you would need to start before 5.30 am. But if for sunrise, then do it from the Lumbini garden side. I still pity I haven’t seen the view from this side…
The first 30 minutes of the hike, I was accompanied by the prayers of a monk that sits down at the entrance to collect the fee. Take plenty of water with you as there is no one selling things on the way up, and at the top things are expensive, but I totally get why. I’ve seen how they end up there…
But this day is far from ending so I visited other things in Hpa-An.