Travelling in Burma: 5 reasons to visit Hpa An

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Hpa An may not be a destination that springs to mind when you think of Burma, but I hope I can persuade you otherwise – as it’s definitely worthy of anyone’s Burma bucket list. Hpa An is a small town in southern Shan state, a beautiful area of the country characterised by rivers, lush green fields and tree-covered limestone peaks. I travelled there during a research trip in September, and was very glad I made the journey south.

Here are some of my top reasons to make Hpa An part of your Burma itinerary…

1. Caves

Bat Cave is located on the banks of the Thanlwin River, and – as the name suggests – it’s home to tens of thousands of bats. Pay a visit at sunset to witness the bats coming out in their droves – quite a sight.

Sadan Cave starts off as a typical Burmese cave, full of Buddha images and even hosting a reclining Buddha inside. However, after following a row of lights through to the back of the cave, I arrived at a hidden lake!

Kaw Gun Cave
Kaw Gun Cave
Sadan Cave
Sadan Cave
Sadan Cave
Sadan Cave

2. Views

Getting the ultimate view over Hpa An requires an early start! Mount Zwe Kabin is the highest peak in the area and the best vantage point, at 722 metres high. It took nearly three hours to reach the top, passing through the clouds to the monastery perched on the summit. As the clouds parted I was rewarded with spectacular views, and these only got better as I descended down the many, many steps on the other side of the peak.

View from Mount Zwe Kabin
View from Mount Zwe Kabin
Looking out over Hpa An
Looking out over Hpa An
Clouds skim the hilltops over Hpa An
Clouds skim the hilltops over Hpa An

3. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda

This pagoda is a pretty amazing sight – perched atop a limestone pinnacle, set on a tiny island within a lake at the foot of Mount Zwe Kabin, Kyauk Ka Lat almost seems to defy gravity.

Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda defies gravity
Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda defies gravity

4. Buddhas, Buddhas everywhere

Commonly known as Buddha Park, Lumbini Gardens lives up to its namesake. When I visited, I found myself in a field of seated Buddha statues (1,150 to be exact), each identical and aligned in neat rows!

Every conceivable inch of Kaw Gun Cave, meanwhile, is covered in Buddha images, many dating back to the 7th century. One inscription is so ancient that, to this day, no scholar has been able to interpret it – and I definitely couldn’t!

"Buddha Park"
“Buddha Park”
Lumbini Gardens
Lumbini Gardens

5. Hpa An Lodge

One of the pleasant surprises I had in Hpa An was my stay at the Hpa An Lodge. This wonderful accommodation at the base of Mt Zwe Kabin has great views of the peak from each of the lodge’s private wooden villas. With an air of relaxation and comfort I instantly felt at home – I just wish there was more accommodation like this in other remote areas of the country! here’s hoping…

Hpa An Lodge
Hpa An Lodge
Hpa An Lodge
Hpa An Lodge

Hpa An and the countryside of Burma is at its most stunning and green at the end of the monsoon season, from September onwards. If Hpa An has caught your interest, get in touch with one of our expert Burma consultants to plan a trip tailored to your personal needs, preferences and budget.

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