Exploring the Riverside Town of Hpa An, Myanmar

Surrounded by dramatic limestone mountains and with a host of impressive caves to explore, Hpa An has secured itself a place on Myanmar’s must-visit list.


Photo © iStock/ichywong

Not long ago, you’d have been hard pushed to find another western tourist in Hpa An, but the unassuming riverside town is fast becoming a firm favorite with independent travelers, thanks to its friendly budget accommodation options and limitless opportunities to explore.

There is little to see in the town itself, though its laid-back charm and friendly locals make it a pleasant base to explore the surrounding countryside. Plus, there’s plenty to discover – from vast caves filled with ancient Buddhist art to sacred mountains and steamy hot springs, Hpa An is sure to satisfy even the most adventurous traveler.

The best way to explore is by renting a motorbike from one of the shops in town, but if you’re more comfortable on three-wheels ask your hotel to arrange a tuk-tuk tour of the main sights.

Exploring Hpa An’s Caves

Hidden away in the mountains that surround Hpa An are several impressive caves, which can be easily explored over two days.

The most remarkable is the colossal Sadan Cave. It spans the entire underside of the mountain, and takes you right through to the other side via a network of dimly-lit tunnels and cavernous chambers filled with Buddha images.

Once on the far side, you’ll discover a secret lake covered in water lilies. From here, a small wooden canoe will take you back under the mountain with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. 

Other caves worth exploring include the impressive Kawgun Cave, which contains thousands of 7th century Buddha images; Yathaypyan, where you can indulge your inner Indiana Jones wihtin its narrow tunnels; or the elaborate Bayin Nyi Cave, filled with steaming hot springs inviting you to take a dip in.

At sunset, be sure to visit the Bat Cave, where thousands of bats streaming out over the mountains make for a mind-boggling spectacle.

Bayin Nyi Caves, Hpa An. Photo credit: Charlotte Rose

Around Hpa An

The steep, four-hour climb up Mount Zwekabin is a popular Hpa An excursion – though it’s not for the faint-hearted. Wear proper walking shoes, leave at sunrise to escape the heat, and enjoy magical views of the mountains shrouded in mist.

Mount Zwekabin. Photo credit: Charlotte Rose

If that sounds like too much hard work, the rows of Buddha statues that surround the base of the mountain still make for a breathtaking sight, minus the effort.

After a long day of exploring, the riverside Shweyinhmyaw Pagoda in the northwest of town is a popular place to sit and watch the sunset. Alternatively, take a ferry from the jetty next to the pagoda and cross the river to Mount Hpar Pu, where a thirty-minute hike uphill will take you to a pagoda, where you can enjoy fantastic views over the surrounding rice fields and limestone hills.

In the evenings, locals gather at the serene Kan Thar Yar Lake on the outskirts of town, where you can enjoy sunset views over the mountains with a cold beer, and BBQ snacks served up by various mobile vendors.

Coffee With a Conscience

Conveniently located on the south side of Kan Thar Yar lake, Veranda Community Café is a great spot to refuel with a light lunch and fresh coffee after a morning of sightseeing.

The café operates as a social enterprise, with the proceeds going to support local youth. The friendly staff are always happy to chat, and share little-known travel tips.

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