The Must-Do $5 Caves Tour in Hpa-An
I usually motorbike when traveling to see all the sights on a DIY tour. This is mostly because I like the freedom of riding around and exploring on the cheap. At the Soe Brothers Guesthouse in Hpa-An, Myanmar, I tried something different and actually joined a tour. So many people had joined up that it only cost $5 per person, which was cheaper than renting a motorbike and buying gas.
Hpa-An in eastern Myanmar is blessed with a natural beauty that was unlike any other place I saw during my trip to the country. Even in the height of the dry season, everything was remarkably green, and the landscape is dotted with enormous limestone mountains. There are also a number of caves to explore. The tour took us to all these places and more in the back of a hybrid between a pick-up truck and bus. There weren’t any guides, as we were just dropped off to explore on our own. That worked fine with me.
The first cave of the day and it was a pretty good one. It’s a religious site, complete with Buddhas, a chedi, and other holy images inside. There’s a short walk to a viewpoint that overlooks the countryside.
One of only two caves that charged an admission (3000 kyat/$3). It’s not enormous but it is unique, with thousands of small buddhas and other artwork carved into the well. Very atmospheric.
Wow, this place was something. This pagoda on top of a sliver of rock is a sight to behold. It’s also the sight of a very active temple. The lake was partly dried up since it’s the end of the dry season, but it still looked nice.
Next, we went to the base of Mt. Zwegabin, which is the highest mountain in the area. We were told not to climb due to time reasons, but after looking at the height I had little desire to go up anyways. Before the climb, there are more than 1000 identical Buddha statues near the entrance.
We went to a local man-made swimming hole for $2 noodles and a quick dip. Girls aren’t allowed into part of the pool, as some people on the tour found out.
We saved the best for (next to) last. This cave is enormous. At the end, the cave opens up into a beautiful lake and another cave. You could pay to have the lights on in this second cave, but we explored with only our phones. There was a short boat ride and a long walk to get back, Otherwise, you can just go through the main cave again
Kaw Ka Thawng Cave
We were caved out by the end of the day. This is a uniquely garish temple with an incredibly tiny cave in the back. There’s a staircase next to the temple that leads to an amazing viewpoint. It’s well worth the climb.
The daily tour from the Soe Brothers Guesthouse costs $30 if only one person joins, but just $5 if at least six people join. They have decent rooms ranging in price from $6 to $16. They’re located on Thitsar Street not far from the market in the middle of town.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?