Hpa-an (Karen ဖးအါ၀့ၢ်ဖိ; Burmese ဘားအံမြို့) is a city (population 421,575 as of 2014) in Kayin State (Karen State) in Southeastern Myanmar. Hpa-an is the capital of Kayin State. It is surprisingly underdeveloped given its relative proximity to Mawlamyine and Yangon but this can be explained by the fact that the area has been in conflict with the Government for many years and has only become relatively peaceful since a ceasefire in 2012.
With the expected completion of the Greater Mekong Subregion East-West Corridor at the end of 2015, when improvements to the road between Mae Sot in Thailand and Mawlamyine are due to be finalised, Hpa-an will have great prospects to export to Thailand, and the town and surrounding region are likely to boom.
There is no train so only road travel is possible. From specific destinations:
- Mawlamyine – Bus (no air-con) is about 2 hr, 1,200 kyat. There is also a boat available from Mawlamyine to Hpa-an for 70,000 kyat (private charter) or 10,000 kyat per person (shared) leaving from 1 Hpa-an Jetty at 08:00 and taking about 3 hr.
- Myawaddy – The bus is about 5,000 kyat and takes 3-5 hr. There are also many shared taxis running between Hpa-an and Myawaddy for 10,000 kyat per person which take around 4 hr.
- Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) – Bus with air-con is about 2½-3 hr to Kyaikto, 5-7,000 kyat. Every 30 min from about 06:00-10:00, then at least every hour for the rest of the day. A slower direct "government" bus leaves at 07:30, but it's probably more comfortable to change in Kyaikto.
- Dawei – Bus leaves 05:00, 14,000 kyat.
- Buses also come in from Yangon (Aung Mingalar Highway Station, 6 hr, about 5,000 kyat, every 30-60 min) and Bago.
- Buses from Bagan, Naypyidaw and Mandalay, tend to go directly to Mawlamyine through 2 Thaton. Nevertheless, from the 3 Golden Pagoda in Thaton it is easy to catch a pickup (1,500 kyat) or bus (2,000 kyat) to Hpa-an. Also, 4 trains stop in Thaton, but not Hpa-an.
The 5 Clock Tower is the main transport hub for travelers. Shared taxis and buses leave and stop here. Ticket-sellers congregate here.
There is also the official 6 Sat Pyit Kwin Bus Terminal, just in case you do not get dropped off at the clock tower or are keen to get your bus ticket first-hand.
Especially around the market and the ferries, plenty of motorbike-taxis and trishaws are available. Do not pay more than 1,000 kyat for destinations within the city. Trips to the countryside for a couple of hours should not cost more than 5,000 kyat for a trishaw.
Shared tuktuk (max 6 pax) cost ~35,000 kyat for one whole day (07:00-18:00). It takes you to all places of interest except Bat Caves. Petrol & toll are inclusive.
By rental motorbike
It is easy to rent a motorbike; some hostels like Galaxy Motel and Soe Brother can arrange them (~ 8.000 kyat/day) from 07:00 onwards.
- 1 Shweyinhmyaw Paya. This pagoda at the north-west end of town has nice views of the sunset. You can watch from a viewing tower or at the side of the river next to the pagoda.
- 2 Kan Thar Yar Lake. This lake in the lower part of the city and its wooden bridge are recommended in the evening.
- 3 Kaw Ka Taung Cave (Follow the main road east (it turns southeast later) from the Clock Tower for 10.5 km). This is a small and low cave built using tiles and filled with numerous small and big Buddhas. Bring a torch since there is something in the end to explore. Going further just by the cave, after 200 m there is a nice swimming pool with very clear water from the mountain and hundreds of fish in it, circled by half a dozen restaurants right next to beautiful rice fields. Take a swim and get off the salt.
- 4 Mat Ka Na Bridge & Village (Further into the countryside along the main track by Kaw Ka Taung Cave). Sometimes also spelled Lat Ka Na. This concrete bridge is a famous and picturesque destination. Explore the village behind the bridge.
- 5 Saddan Cave (Saddar Cave, Sadan Cave, Seren Cave) (300 m east of the Clock Tower turn right into Ka Lar Tan Street and follow this street south for about 14 km. Then this road does a 90° turn left; after another 500 m there is a gravel road to the right marked with a small green sign pointing south towards the cave.). Sunrise to sunset. A huge cave filled with a Buddha face looking rock, a reclining Buddha statue, a pagoda and many more Buddhist items. There is lighting nowadays but do not forget (ǃ) to bring along your shoes when entering the cave, to walk further and through after the pagoda part (around 500 m). At the other end there are boats waiting for a nice trip on the lake and another cave (about 1,000 kyat). Alternatively, you can eat something at the nearby restaurant. 1,000 kyat donation demanded.
- 6 Yae Ta Khon (200 m east of the Clock Tower take the second main road (Ka Lar Tan St) south for 12.8 km (before the 90° bend south of the main road)). A nice swimming pool in a cool surrounding. Unfortunately, women are not allowed to swim in the upper pool. Following up the hill to the right of the pool there are many white pagodas standing in a geometrical and quite picturesque order.
- 7 Lumbini Garden (2.6 km north of Yae Ta Khon). A nice looking "garden" with 1,150 sitting and quadratically placed Buddhas at the foot of Zwegabin mountain. In early 2017 a cable car was inaugurated to get a glance of the garden from above. 4,000 kyat for foreigners.
- 8 Mount Zwegabin (Mount Zwe Kabin). From the top it offers a spectacular 360° views of the surrounding planes, especially when the air is still clear, i.e. in the morning and during wet season. It takes up to 4 hr to walk up the 723 m mountain and down again. Bring enough water for the climb and heat. There are at least two main tracks, one leading up north from "Lumbini Garden" and another one going down and east towards the main road that serves Kaw Ka Taung Cave, Ein Du village and Saddan Cave. However it will be hard to use both tracks if you come with rented motorbike. After an accident in February 2017 it is not possible to stay overnight at the top.
- 9 Kyauk Kalap. A monastery in the middle of an artificial lake filled with uncountable amounts of small (jumping around) and big fish (sticking out their mouths). It contains a pillar-like and interestingly stable or to say impossibly still standing rock with a pagoda mounted on top. Looks very nice for a couple of pictures. The rock can be climbed. Before the lake another golden temple with a nice looking Buddha statue can be visited. Free.
- 10 Kaw Goon Cave (After crossing the bridge towards Thaton go left/southwest and drive 3.8 km until the end of the road.). Besides the Saddan Cave, this is also a very famous cave and worth the visit, causing the steep price. The rock carvings are said to originate from the 13th century. If you are not keen to pay the entrance, climb the close lookout for free. It may be possible to skip the "donation" check by keeping to the left and walking behind the buildings facing the main path. Watch out for the monkeys. 3,000 kyat "donation".
- 11 Ya-The-Byan Cave (On the road towards Kaw Goon Cave from the bridge after 2.5 km take the road to the west, straight for another 2.5 km). The entrance to this cave is 116 feet above sea level. Stemming back from the 17th century. With three Buddha images (standing and sitting), nearly 5 feet in height. It is located close to the village with the same name. Top of the hill exit has an amazing sunset view deck.
- 12 Bat Cave (9 km away from the city. Take the first "road" to the right directly after the end of the bridge towards Thaton before the control point. Keep driving until you're close to the river and turn left at the T junction (there should be a sign). Drive until the gate and walk the rest until the end passing by the temple. Be especially careful when driving back in the dark.). This used to be a great experience and impressive nature spectacle when an endless stream of 100,000s of bats came flying out of their cave at sunset (check the sunset time). However locals seem to dislike the colony and each evening departure sit banging drum & shacking noisy rattle which disturbs the bat departure causing bats to emerge and scatter rather than forming the dramatic ribbon formation (the "ribbon" formation eventually reforms some distance away). The bats start coming out of the cave almost exactly at sunset, and the whole spectacle now takes less than 1 hr (although the vast majority of bats fly out of the cave in the first 10 min). Bring patience and a torch (for the walk back). Go a bit earlier and climb up the nearby hill in front of the cave with a stupa on top to have a stunning view of the river and countryside. The best place to see the bats is near the stupa at the base of the stairs. About 5,000 kyat for a taxi to get there and back from Hpa-an. It can also be booked as a tour with most of the guest houses. 1,000 kyat.
- 13 Bayin Nyi Cave (22 km from the bridge on the way to Thaton). Placed in a beautiful surrounding with a nearby lake and pagoda.
Hpa-an is famous for its numerous surrounding caves, mountains and green planes. Most guesthouses organise tours to those (like Soe Brothers and Golden Sky) - full-day trips cost 30,000 kyat (for up to 6 people). In case you arrive late, the Bat Cave evening tour is a highly recommended choice. However, you can also easily explore everything on your own by renting a motorbike from many guesthouses, e.g. Soe Brothers, Galaxy Hotel, Lwin Pyar Guesthouse or Good Luck Motorbike Rental next to Soe Brothers. It takes about a day (without the 4 hr climb of Zwegabin mountain) and the rental costs about 6,000 kyat - depending on the season. Fuel will set you back by another 1,000-1,500 kyat. No road or bridge toll is required on a scooter or bicycle. Below are two recommendations for a day-trip by scooter.
Extensive day trip by scooter
Leaving Hpa-an early at 8:30 and returning around 19:00. The journey has a length of about 75 km (47 mi). The gpx track is attached to this page.
Kaw Ka Taung Cave, Mat Ka Na Bridge & Village, Saddan Cave, Yae Ta Khon, Lumbini Garden, next Kyauk Kalap to the west, then Kawgoon Cave as well as Ya-The-Byan Cave, and last but not least the Bat Cave for a lasting sunset & bat experience. Probably there will not be enough time to climb Mount Zwegabin from Lumbini garden, if you want to visit all sights listed above.
Relaxed day trip by scooter
For a slightly less demanding tour try this 62 km (39 mi) round-trip. Sightseeing stops are Ya-The-Byan Cave (monkeys), Kaw Goon Cave, Kyauk Kalap, Lumbini Garden, Yae Ta Khon pool (for lunch - 1,500-2,000 kyat), Mat Ka Na Village, Kaw Ka Taung Cave.
Other things to do
- 1 Hpa-Pu village and hill. Take a boat across the river to Hpa-Pu and learn something about the history and name of Hpa-an. If you feel energetic you can hike up the hill north of Hpa-Pu.
- Rent a bicycle to go around the city and to visit the Bat Cave. It is not too far away.
- Take a boat from Hpa-an to Mawlamyine for a picturesque and slow trip down the river. You can sometimes charter a private boat. Ask at Soe Brothers to see about availability (price is 8,000 kyat). The boat will only run if it has already been chartered by tourists to come up from Mawlamyine; if so, they'll take you back to Mawlamyine. The charter from Mawlamyine to Hpa-an is 70,000 kyat for the whole boat. The trip takes about 3 hr.
- Hair dresser: Get a new haircut for 1,500 kyat. The wash is another 1,500 kyat and includes a head massage. Shwe Wad Boy and Lady Hair Beauty Spa in Phula Min Supermarket 3rd floor (mall). No English spoken but they will understand what you want.
- 1 Myo Ma Zay Gyi Market (Across the mosque near Soe Brothers Guesthouse). Everything is sold here from cosmetics to clothing to fruits to gold.
- Soe Brothers Guesthouse has maps and can recommend a good Chinese restaurant.
- Meat-lovers can find a cheap meal in nearly every house in the evening, small family run food-stalls.
- At the central market (Myo Ma Zay Gyi Market) opposite the mosque, some street stands sell (extremely cheap) soup with stuffed tofu and stuffed tomatoes (200 kyat for the soup, 100 kyat for each stuffed tofu/tomato). This place is also recommended for breakfast. Otherwise just walk around; many places prepare street food in the evening.
- 1 Khit Thit, Zay Tan St (Across the street from Lucky Restaurant). Quite expensive for Myanmar, but a big selection of tasty food and big portions. 2,000-6,000 kyat (vegetarian/meat).
- 2 Lucky Restaurant, Zay Tan St (Across the street from Khit Thit). Good food, good beer, nicer atmosphere and decoration than Khit Thit. 1,500-4,000 kyat (vegetarian/meat).
- 3 San Ma Tau Restaurant, Main Rd (650 m east of the Clock Tower turn right), ☏ . Great ratings on Google. Lots of side dishes and unlimited veggie food. The fish curry is really good. Serves delicious coconut jaggery with sesame seeds. 3,000 kyat for rice & 2 curries.
- Shwe Htone Maung Cafe (Ask the locals). 09:00-17:00. Praised for its great breakfast including variations of noodles and bananas. Also try the vermicelli.
- New Day Bakery, Bogyoke St (Across from where you catch the bus.). Serves fresh (not instant) coffee for a cheap price. They have a great variety of different coffee shakes, iced coffee, frappucino, and fresh fruit juices. From 600 kyat for coffee and fresh juices.
- 4 Mya Kan Thar Food Centre, Corner of Yone Kone St. and Zwekabin St. (Ask local taxi to "Hin Thar Gone" round about. The shop is close to the round about.), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 07:00-21:00. Provide clean, fresh, healthy and delicious light food. Suitable for who seeking safe food around Hpa-an. The noodle and fried rice dishes are freshly prepared and well cooked and serve while hot. The Shop is located near government offices and quiet place. It is designed with traditional thatch roofing which give nature coolness who getting hot and humid after walking around famous lake "Kan Thar Yar". Our shop is close to Kayin Museum and good place to stop by for light food/lunch. Beer and liqour not available. Hand made fresh juices refresh your tiredness of visiting around Hpa-an. US$1-3.
- 5 Night Market. There is a night market with a huge variety of food, directly at the Kan Thar Yar lake. Just go down the "School Street" from the main road until you see it next to the lake.
- 6 Veranda Youth Community Cafe, Zwekabin St., Ward 4, Hpa-An (Near Kan Thar Yar Lake), ☏ , email@example.com. A nice and cool place which is also supporting the local youths development programs. Popular among the local expatriates and there is also a tourists information centre to assist those who might need help to travel around Hpa-An.
A "sophisticated" traveler community including bars and clubs has yet to develop. Some shops, e.g. the one opposite Galaxy Motel, sell alcohol.
- 1 Than Lwan O 2 Guesthouse, 2 Thida St (Right next to the Galaxy Motel, purple building.), ☏ . They have a few in-expensive single rooms, and are very helpful even giving out area maps like Soe Brothers. Common room to the more quiet back, which is great for meeting new people. WiFi & Air-con. 8/10/12/15,000 kyat (sgl,dbl,twin,en-suite).
- 2 Soe Brothers Guesthouse, No.2/146 Thitsar St, ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 11:30. Basic, grotty rooms with shared baths. Private rooms are better, but still worse value for money than at Golden Sky Guesthouse. Wifi and free coffee available in the morning. Very popular with backpackers. This remains the most competent tour advisor in town, renting motorbikes (6,000 kyat) and bicycles (1,000 kyat) including a great map, as well as organising various inexpensive tours. US$5/14/16/20 (sgl fan/shared dbl fan/shared dbl air-con/private dbl air-con).
- 3 Golden Sky Guesthouse, 2 West Thidar Ward. Nice, clean, spacious rooms with TV and even small balconies. The more expensive rooms are basically identical, but have a view to the surrounding mountains. Free WiFi. They have several chill-out places, including a terrace with an awesome view over the surrounding countryside and mountains. The owners are a bit stern-looking, but appear to be nice. As of Feb 2017, they also have Golden Sky Guesthouse 2 across the street, with single bed rooms with a fan for 8,000 kyat per night with shared bathroom (down the hall). They also offer ensuite rooms for around 15,000 kyat. 10-30,000 kyat.
- 4 Galaxy Motel (Corner of Thisar Road and Thida Road), ☏ , . Nice, clean and quiet 3-storey hotel next to the market with spring mattresses, hot water, private bathrooms, WiFi and air-conditioning. Breakfast included, either continental or local. No real common area to meet other travelers, but the breakfast restaurant can be used as one. The staff is very helpful and super friendly. They provide free maps of the surrounding area and rent motorbikes (7,000 kyat/day). US$16/22 (sgl/dbl).
- Tiger Hotel, ☏ . Clean room with new fittings though the water is a bit rusty. Price includes breakfast, air-con, and TV. US$20/25 (sgl/dbl).
- 5 Parami Hotel, 304, Paya Road (At the corner of Ohn Daw Street). Used by tour groups. Price includes breakfast, air-con and TV (Burmese language only). The Tripadvisor rating is only 2.5 of 5 stars. US$30-35 double.
- 6 Hotel Angels Land, 4/600, Padauk Road, ☏ , email@example.com. It used to be a good option but is quite overpriced nowadays.
- 7 Keinnara Hpa-An (Hpa-An Lodge) (On the road towards Lumbini Garden and Saddan Cave), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The most luxurious hotel in Hpa-An. Great rooms, some of them with a stunning view to Mount Zwegabin. Super delicious breakfast. Highly recommended for whom money is no object. 140-190$.
- 8 Hotel Zwe Ka Bin, National Highway 85 (Right after the Thaton / Hpa-an / Mawlamyine junction south of the city near the river), ☏ . Impressive but not cheap hotel with a huge cliff in the back and rice fields to the other side. Named after the famous and close-by mountain. In high season it can be hard to book a room. Cafeteria, WiFi, lobby & organised tours. 84,000 kyat.
Most buses and pickups/vans leave from the Clock Tower in the center.
- Mawlamyine – Famous for the biggest reclining Buddha statue of Myanmar, and it is the 3rd biggest city of Myanmar. The bus (no air-con) is about 2 hr, 1,000 kyat and starts 1 northwest of the Clock Tower. Or 3 hr by boat at 08:00 for 8,000 kyat per person or 70,000 kyat charter; ask at your guesthouse.
- Kyaiktiyo – Famous for the Golden Rock. Most buses stop only at Kyaikto from where you have to take further transportation (pick-up) to get to Kinpun ("base camp"), from where the regular and pricey rollercoaster trucks go up to Kyaiktiyo with the Golden Rock. Most of the (budget) hotels are located at Kinpun. There are some direct buses to Kinpun, just ask for it. Bus with air-con is about 4 hr for 5-7,000 kyat.
- A "direct" pick-up van to Kinpun leaves around 07:00 from the Main road northwest of the Clock Tower. Costs only 3,500 kyat up to Kinpun, but still requires to change bus in Kyaikto.
- Bago – Famous for the highest pagoda in the world, the Shwemawdaw Pagoda. The bus is 5-10,000 kyat and takes 4-5 hr.
- Yangon – Buses all day, but more in the morning. 6 hr, 5,000 kyat.
- Myawaddy – At the Thai border, is a common destination for travelers leaving Myanmar for Mae Sot or Bangkok. Shared taxis are 10,000 kyat and buses 5,000 kyat. Many departures are in the morning.