Hpa-An

WIT: Things to Do Hpa-an: Caves, Pagodas, & a…

The number of things to do in Hpa-an means that you would be crazy to skip it on your Myanmar trip.

With outrageous limestone mountains, seriously rewarding hiking, vivid green rice terraces, and caves crammed full with more bats than you’ll believe, Hpa-an is an enjoyable extension to the typical backpacker ‘kite’ itinerary in Myanmar. Leave the sweaty cities behind and find the destination that combines all of the best of Myanmar. Hpa-An can also act as a perfect gateway to Thailand or the beaches of south Myanmar.

Spend a few days exploring here and you will not regret it. Our guide to the best things to do in Hpa-an will help you make the most of your time and plan what to do.

Getting There

BUS

Hpa-an is reachable by bus from locations across Myanmar – namely Inle Lake (night bus around 14 hours), Yangon (6-8 hours) & Mandalay (night bus around 15 hours). It’s always a good idea to travel by night bus – saving you a night’s accommodation. As always, check out Myanmar Bus Ticket here for bus ticket booking online.

BOAT

Perhaps the most scenic way to arrive in Hpa-an is by boat along the Than Lwin River from Mawlamyine. You can arrange the trip with one of the many travel agents situated along the river – just remember to check that this option hasn’t been cancelled for tourists due to safety concerns.

Things to Do in Hpa-an

Caves, Caves & More Caves

Hpa-an is a cave haven – you can literally spend days exploring them. From the hidden depths of Saddar Cave, the impressive buddhas at Kawgun Cave to the natural swimming pool at Kaw Ka Thaun, there’s something for every backpacker in Hpa-an.

WEE TIP: bring a torch! Most of the caves have well-lit paths, but eventually, they lead to an area of total darkness. Bring your torch and make the most out of exploring each of them.

You can either rent your own motorbike from Lucky (see below) or join a day tour. Both Soe Brothers and Galaxy Motel organise these for under $5 per person. We did it ourselves and found the following caves the most impressive:

Yathaypyan (Ya Thae Pyan) Cave

entrance fee: free with 500MKK motorbike parking

Normally visited along with Kawgun cave, this cave is roughly a 30-minute scooter ride from town. There are some picturesque pools outside the entrance and the views from the top are great. To be honest, though, the attraction for most visitors seemed to be the playful monkeys at the entrance.

Large buddha statues in Yathaypyan Cave, Myanmar
The buddhas judge every passer-by
Monkeys at the entracne of Yathaypyan Cave, Myanmar
Watch out for your food…Emma lost a packet of crisps in the fight with this particular monkey
Kawgun Cave

entrance fee: 3,000MKK 

Kawgun cave features thousands of buddha sculptures, and thousands of tiny buddhas carved in to the cave walls, some of them as old as the 7th century.

Buddha statues in Kawgun Cave, Myanmar
Buddhas everywhere you look in Kawgun Cave
Saddar Cave

entrance fee: 1000MKK (+ 1,500MKK for the optional boat ride back)

We visited Saddar cave after our sunrise hike up Zwegabin, so the next backpacker might not find that such an appealing idea when in Hpa-an. Admittedly, we were lacking energy and the hour drive seemed particularly long, so we weren’t exactly blown away by Saddar.

Dubbed the ‘number 1 cave’ to see and one of the best things to do when in Hpa-an, it’s apparently a must for any visitor. You’ll get a fascinating packet of bat-shit when you pay your entry, which apparently heals all things from constipation to flatulence.

Light illuminating the exit of Saddar Cave, Myanmar
The light at the end of the tunnel

A 15-20 minute walk through the colossal cave and some walkways lead you to the end, where boats await you. When there are enough people, you’ll be on your way and yes, you’ll somehow make it under that crack to the light on the other side.

For the 1,500MKK we spent each, and the 10-minute bare-footed walk back to the entry, we were pretty underwhelmed.

Boats ready for the boat ride at Saddar Cave, Myanmar
See the gap in the cave? That’s where your boat is heading…

WEE TIP: Saddar Cave is really slippy underfoot and closed entirely during the rainy season. You will also be required to take your shoes off at the entrance …but remember to keep these in your bag if you plan on getting the boat back. We learned the hard way by having to walk back from where the boat drops you with bare feet.

Kaw Ka Thaun Cave

entrance fee: free

Finishing your circle of caves from Kawgun to Saddar, Kaw Ka Thaun is the cave you should visit on your way back to town. The caves themselves are pretty ordinary, but around the corner you’ll find this long row of buddhas leading to a wonderful natural pool, incredibly refreshing for any visitor after a day of hiking and exploring Hpa-an caves.

Buddha statues line the road outside Kaw Ka Thaun Pagoda
One of the many buddhas leading to the way to the natural swimming pool at Kaw Ka Thaun
Bat Cave (for sunset)

entrance fee: 1,000MKK

Not too far from Kawgun, Bat Cave is a great spot for sunset. Shortly after sunset, you’ll see bats stream endlessly from below. The show lasts a good 30-45 minutes, and the views of the water over the other side are pretty spectacular too.

Bats circling Hpa-An after flying out Bat Cave, Myanmar
Endless amounts of bats escaping from Bayin Nyi Cave

These were all of the caves we visited in Hpa-an, and they tend to be the most popular stops. Although there are even more caves you can see (seriously, there are so so many), a lot of them involve going off-road and pretty far from town. We think this is a sensible amount for anybody visiting Hpa-an.

Hike Hpan Pu for Sunset

It’s only a short (but sweaty) hike to the summit of Mount Hpan Pu (around 20 minutes) and the 360-degree view of the Hpa-An landscape and Thanlyin River is more than worth the effort.

To get there, you can either cross the river by boat or drive your motorbike over the main bridge. The river crossing is shorter and more scenic. So unless you’re already over that side of the river during the day, it makes sense to continue by bike.

o catch the boat, head to Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda and catch a local wooden boat for around 500MKK.

Word of warning – the boats stop running pretty much as soon as the sun sets. So try to arrange with your boat driver to take you back across after your hike or risk that another boat will be at the dock. Either way, you don’t have too much time to take in the sunset at the top.

Get On Your Bike

Rent your bike from Lucky Bike Rentals (cost: 8,000MKK/$5 per day) and happily spend the day exploring the rice fields of Hpa-An – it’s best to tie this in with your visits to the caves.

We actually had an issue with the battery on our bike, so always remember to take a note of the contact number for the rental shop– Lucky’s husband brought us a new working bike to where we were stranded on the side of the road!

Landscape views in Hpa-An, Myanmar
Pretty standard bike view throughout Hpa-An
Hike Mt Zwegabin At Sunrise

Brace yourself for a sweaty but rewarding hike – Mt Zwegabin (or Zwe Ka Bin as it is also known) is a must-do for everybody visiting in Hpa-An. It’s steep, sticky, and it’s certainly not the easiest climb, but the sunrise views are out of this world.

It should take around 2.5-3 hours up and down, but plan for extra time with rest stops.

Sun rising over Hpa-An from the peak of Mount Zwegabin, Myanmar
Pink skies over Hpa-An

You can either make your own way there by motorbike (this is what we did) or organise transport with your hotel. Galaxy Motel can arrange tuk-tuks at a reasonable price.

It’s a 30-minute drive from the centre clock tower. Make sure to start at 3.30AM (time of year dependent) and you’ll be at the top to witness the sky turning pink over the jagged mountains.

There’s a working monastery at the top as well, so if you want to visit, make sure your knees and shoulders are covered…and watch out for the monkeys! You used to be able to sleep in a small dorm in the monastery – however, this is no longer permitted (correct as of November 2018).

WEE TIP: It costs 4,000MKK to enter Mt Zwegabin through Lumbini Gardens normally, but if you’re going for sunrise, the desk isn’t yet open. The gates were closed when we arrived, however, they weren’t padlocked. So we didn’t have to pay the fee.

Just make sure you have a flashlight so you can find the path leading up behind the official motorbike parking area, passing the 1000 Buddha Park on your left-hand side. This will lead you to steps which means you’re going the right way!

When leaving, the ticket office was open but we weren’t asked to pay the fee on our way out. We heard there is another entrance with no ticket office (on road 85), but the way through the Buddha Park seemed the easiest to find in the dark.

Impressive views from the sunrise of Mount Zwegabin, Myanmar
360 view from the peak of Mt Zwegabin
Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda

No your eyes aren’t deceiving you – this pagoda really is teetering off the edge of a rock. You can even go to the top and help the monks practice their English. Worth a visit, even just to see it from the ground at sunset.

Birds eye view of Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda from the summit of Mount Zwegabin, Myanmar
Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda from above

Where to Stay

Lil Hpa-an our choice

Described by the owners as a ‘boutique’ hostel, Little Hpa-an is a great place for any backpacker to stay in Hpa-an. The dorms are 4-bed rooms with amazingly comfy single beds (no need to shotgun the lower bunk here!) and a clean private bathroom.

They have s0me scooters to rent, the reception team is helpful, and beers from the fridge are cheap! Buffet breakfast is included and they even prepared us something before we left for our sunrise hike of Mt Zwegabin at 3am – much appreciated!

Dorm from 16,500MKK/$11

Soe Brothers Guesthouse

The original backpacker choice, this Soe Brothers is one of the cheapest finds in Hpa-an. Located in the small centre next to the daily market, this social hostel is an ideal base to meet other backpackers for exploring Hpa-an and the family that run it are extremely helpful.

Dorm from 8,000MKK/$5

Thanlwin Pyar Guesthouse

Commonly known as the Purple B&B, this place is also a popular backpacker spot due to the affordable prices and great location – it’s just 5 minutes from the clock tower in the of Hpa-an.

Dorm from 12,000MKK/$8
Privates from 21,000MKK/$14

Galaxy Motel

If you’re looking for affordable private rooms in a clean guesthouse, this is the one for you. The friendly owner can also help organise day trips and motorbike rental.

Privates from 27,000MKK/$20

Impressive views over Hpa-An from the peak of Mount Zwegabin, Myanmar
Impressive views from Mount Zwegabin

Where to Eat

Wadee Restaurant

Located down the lane from Lil Hpa-An hostel, this restaurant is popular with tourists and locals alike due to the cheap prices, tasty food, and convenient location. We recommend the pumpkin and potato curry – deeelicious.

Hpa-an Night Market

Hpa-An night market down by the Thanlyin River is a great place to watch the sunset with some tasty local delights. From crepes and Thai bubble tea stands to classic Burmese noodle dishes it’s definitely worth a visit – we ate here two evenings in a row. Perfect for any backpacker on a budget in Hpa-an.

Spectacular colours over the bridge at the night market in Hpa-an, Myanar
A spectacular sunset at the night market

And there it is! Our Top Things to do in Hpa-an, Myanmar. If you’d like to add to our guide, please get in touch using the Comments section below. If you’re heading the other way to Yangon, then check out our Top Things to Do in Yangon, and our more creative RAG article here.

Hpa-An Summary

Example Plan:

Day 1:

  • Check in
  • Rent bike and head to Yathaypyan and Kawgun Caves
  • Hike Hpan Pu for sunset

Day 2:

  • Saddar Cave
  • Kaw Ka Thaun Cave
  • Wadee Restaurant for an early dinner
  • Bat Cave for sunset

Day 3:

  • Hike Mt Zwegabin for sunrise
  • Kyauk Ka Lat
  • Short nap
  • Food and sunset at Hpa-An Night Market
Accommodation:
  • Lil Hpa-An
  • Soe Brothers Guesthouse
  • Thanlwin Pyar Guesthouse
  • Galaxy Motel
Restaurants:
  • Wadee Restaurant
  • Hpa-An Night Market

Hpa-An Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • Nyaung Shwe (May Gate) – Hpa-an (Clock Tower)
  • 16:00-08:30 with Shwe Loon
  • Normal (2+2)
  • $26.20pp

Total: 80,000MKK ($52.40)

Accommodation:

Lil Hpa-An Hostel

  • 4-bed mixed dorm (breakfast included)
  • Hostelworld deposit £5.40
  • 16,500MKK ($11) pp pn x 2 nights

Total: 99,000MKK ($66)

Attractions:
  • Yathaypyan Cave 500MKK
  • Kawgun Cave 3,000MKK
  • Saddar Cave 1,000MKK
  • Saddar Cave boat ride 1,500MKK
  • Bat Cave 1,000MKK
  • Hpan Pu boat 500MKK
  • Mount Zwegabin 4,000MKK

Total: 23,000MKK ($15)

Local Transport:
  • Scooter hire 8,000MKK per day

Total: 16,000MKK ($11)

*excluding gasoline

Moving On:
  • Hpa-an (Clock Tower) – Myawaddy Border
  • 07:00 – 12:00 with shared taxi organised through hostel
  • Shared taxi
  • 10,000MKK ($6.50)

Total: 20,000MKK ($13)

Total for 3D/3N: 238,000MKK/$157.40

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink are not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.

*all currencies accurate at the time of writing*

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