The capital of Burma’s mountainous Kayin state, Hpa An is a small riverside town that remains largely untouched by western tourism in its detached location near the Thailand border. Although the town itself may not be quite postcard worthy, there are a wealth of natural attractions nearby, including sacred caves and the towering limestone peak of Mount Zwegabin.
Hpa An is ideal for those who want to discover one of Burma’s most beautiful rural regions and are willing to get a little off the common tourist trail to do so. Within the town itself, the main attraction is a vibrant market, whilst the major reasons to visit lie just outside, where a number of caves and temples dot the limestone scenery.
One of the most well-known of these caves is Sadan Cave, an enormous cavern home to numerous Buddha images and a tunnel at the back that leads onto beautiful scenic views. Other caves include Bat Cave, where hundreds of thousands of bats spiral out at sunset in search of food, and Kawgun Cave where almost every inch of the interior is covered in Buddha images and carvings.
One of the Kayin State’s most famous landmarks, the precipitous limestone slopes of Mount Zwegabin are hard to miss, and those with the determination to climb it are rewarded with stunning views. At the foot of the mountain, the hundreds of neatly aligned Buddha statues in Lumbini Gardens and the beautiful Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda at the centre of a man-made lake also make for great excursions.
The best way to reach Hpa An is by car, where the six hour drive from Yangon can be broken up with a visit to Golden Rock or the ancient city of Bago. Although still relatively untouched by western tourism, Hpa An can get busy at weekends with domestic tourists and those entering from Thailand, so a mid-week visit is recommended where possible.