Hpa-An is a cute little town in Myanmar where you can easily spend three nights without getting bored. Just like the rest of Myanmar, don’t expect a very tourist made place full of foreigners and parties. In fact, you will not see many foreigners here. And you don’t either have fancy western-looking spots where all the foreigners gather avoiding any type of contact with the local culture or getting to know the local lifestyle. At least in the area where I stayed, I saw nothing like it. And I’m glad for it.
You will still not see tour operators selling organized tours, so my option was to rent a motorbike and explore the area on my own. I’m more confident about riding a motorbike and rode it for 2 days. There are many things to do in Hpa- An, a city within the mountains and cliffs that hide numerous marvelous caves. That’s the most common thing to do in Hpa-An, the capital of Kayin State where the Karen people are originally from. I’m very excited to ride around as every traveler I met told me only great things about this still not very explored place.
Mount Taung Wine Hpa-An
My first destination was the Mount Taung Wine, a promising viewpoint that was worth the 40 minutes climb. The street to get here is actually not bad and before getting to the point where the climb starts, you will cross a very photogenic village surrounded by mountains.
I parked my motorbike just before the staircase that looks very steep from the beginning. I am the only foreigner, but did the climb with 5 more Burmese guys that I thought would be much faster than me but actually weren’t. The way up is very steep but easy to do. And as you go up you cross beautiful rock formations in the company of nature sounds such as birds and insects. It is a very quiet climb up very nature connected. But the best is at the very top.
A somehow scary staircase makes the final path to the pagoda on the very top. The staircase looks strong, but the fact that you can see through it makes it scary. I don’t know if very appropriate to people scared of heights. I’m sure this construction wouldn’t pass on European standards of safety…
The view from the top is rewarding. You can see the nearby cliffs and all the surroundings clearly, despite the fact that high altitudes always have this “foggy” view. Once on the top, I just sit and admire the view of Hpa-An. The pagoda is very simple, not an impressive one and the area on the top is also not that big. Luckily there is some shade provided by some plastics around. I didn’t go up for sunrise, but I’m sure this is a great spot for sunrise watching. The alternative is Mount Zwebabin, but trust me, you will enjoy this one better as you don’t need to climb for 2 hours or split the spot with aggressive monkeys. Just do the Mount Taung Wine for sunrise. If I knew that before, I would do it instead. I didn’t pay anything to go up. I started to climb at about 10.30h and it was very hot. So, be sure to take enough water with you! There is nothing to buy on the way up.
Kaw Ka Taung Cave Hpa-An
After some pictures in the top and resting a while from the climb it’s time to go to the next destination: Kaw Ka Taung Cave. The cool thing about Hpa-An is that just by riding a motorbike you get wonderful views. It’s great to ride a motorbike here and traffic is not a problem at all. If you keep on the main streets you will also not have any problems with road quality that might slow down a lot the journey.
To visit Kaw Ka Taung Cave you also don’t have to pay any fee. That’s what I love in Myanmar. You will find a very different scenario in Vang Vieng, Laos, for instance, where every single cave has an entrance fee. I mention Vang Vieng because they have so similar landscapes. I could also compare these two to Ninh Binh in Vietnam.
The cave is not that big and actually didn’t impress me that much. There are a lot of statues and some really nice sculpting on the walls, but in case you don’t have that much time, there is no need to visit this cave. I didn’t spend much time here, but there is a nice garden area to chill.
Saddan Cave and Hai Sin Cave Hpa-An
My next destination this day was Saddan Cave, a truly impressive cave that you need to pay to enter and park the motorbike. Not a big amount anyway. The cave is huge and magnificent. You can clearly hear that too many bats live in there as you can listen to their sounds along the way. In some parts, they are very loud! I have no idea how many bats live here but it is cool to know that people aren’t destroying their habitat and they can still live in the cave.
When you start to see natural light, it means the cave is coming to an end, and on the other side, you find a different landscape: rice paddies. It’s a mesmerizing landscape even though you are riding among lush green rice paddies to get to the cave. It’s soooo beautiful! I visited Saddan Cave at the beginning of January and I’m not sure that this will be the best time. Once I reach the other side of the cave, I see many boats stopped, but no water. I believe that during other months, the water level is high and the landscape is even more overwhelming, but this time, it looks very dry. I read before that you can hop on a boat here to discover other caves and have a very pleasant boat ride with stunning views. I didn’t do it cause I was alone and didn’t see another foreigner to join for the ride. I would actually love to do it, but paying the whole boat by myself was out of the question. Besides being very low, the water level still allows the ride. I can see some water and there are a few boats waiting there.
A little bit further there is another cave, a small one: Hai Sin Cave. There is no one in this one, completely quiet. Clearly not many people proceed with the path to visit it, although it is 2 minutes away from Saddan cave. The moss is growing freely as well as other plants. It was good to visit and sit admiring the surrounding landscape. Saddan Cave is truly a must on a visit to Hpa-An. Be sure to take your shoes with you (I didn’t) if you wanna go on the boat. You must however walk barefoot inside the cave.
Bat Cave Hpa-An
After seeing the stunning cave, I head to Bat Cave to see the sunset. The road till there was very scenic so I stopped many times for a picture. I advise you do this street on a motorbike. The views are wonderful. Another advice is to keep the main roads. Many times I didn’t, and then regretted because the streets are so bad that it is not possible to be fast. Just way too slow!!
To go to the Bat Cave you need to cross the bridge to the other side of the river. The view from the bridge is awesome. I actually think it would be a great spot for sunset watching, but you can’t stop in the middle of the bridge. To get to the cave you turn the first right you see after the bridge. There is an entrance fee to the Bat Cave.
Be sure to go there a bit before sunset as this place gets crowded. And all the crowds are here for one reason: see thousands and thousands of bats leaving the cave at the same time for a night hunt. It is actually a BBC kind of show because as soon as the bats leave the cave, the eagles show up and the hunt starts. You can see the birds catching bats during flight and a feast starts. It is a wonderful show to be seen and an impressive one. The huge number of bats form a black line in the sky all the way across the bridge, I wonder where they go… The bats start leaving the cave after sunset, not much after 6 pm. Locals are downstairs beating some drums and screaming “shhh”. I read many theories about this, but the only thing I could see was that the bats make a different movement every time the locals hit the drum. Just like if they feel it in the air. It’s weird, and I’m no specialist to give explanations about why this happens. The show lasted for longer than 20 minutes and opinions differ about the best spot to watch it.
There is a staircase to go all the way up to the pagoda. At the very top, at 5.30 pm, the place is already full of people waiting for the right time. The view from the very top is really nice, so climb it even if just to look around. There is not much place left at the very top at 5.30 pm. So I sat in a place with no one just before the steep staircase to the very top. It didn’t take long for other people to join me, and I actually thought it was a great spot to watch the bats. The very top is definitely not the best. As soon as the bats leave the cave, people from the very top rush downstairs to have a better view of the show. The very top is not the best spot because it is kind of far from the place where the bats leave the cave. If you stay before the staircase begins, you will be closer to the bats. The cave exit is very low so the lower you stay, the closer you are from them. But I enjoyed seeing the bats from my spot as I was above the line they draw in the sky and could see clearly the patterns created in the sky by the animals.
Anyway, the show lasts long enough for you to move and view it from different perspectives. It was a really nice show, and something I have never seen before. Mother nature is incredible and this was the most genuine nature event I have seen so far. After it, I go back to Hpa-An city center already in the dark, thing that I don’t actually like, but it’s doable. Be prepared to have many crashes with mosquitos that actually hurt when they hit your face. For that reason, I put my mask on.
I did all this in one day in Hpa-An and can’t wait for the next one.
See my video of this day: