There are a few things to do in and mostly around the town of Hpa An. If you decide to do a land border crossing from Thailand via Mae Sot you will most probably make your first stop here. Actually, the only road that leads you into Myanmar will lead you here.
Hpa An itself does not have particularly much to offer. You will have your small range of guest houses, a few restaurants along the main street and some temples and pagodas. More interesting are the attraction around town that can make your stay here worthwhile. One of the most fascinating experiences is to climb Mt. Zwegabin – a mountain roughly 10 kilometers south of town. What makes this mountain particularly interesting is that you can not only climb it and enjoy its breathtaking views but also have the option of staying overnight in a monastery on its very top. Also, it is the Karen State’s most famous and iconic pilgrimage site. With this in mind, we were more than eager to discover this place.
IMPORTANT! Before you decide to climb the mountain and sleep in the monastery – leave your larger luggage/bags in the guest house and just take the bare necessities along. The way up is quite tiring and you don’t want to carry up all your stuff. Get a small bag each, bring enough water and make your way to the mountain. Also, make sure if you are still able to stay overnight there as this might have changed since we were there.
The ride to Mt. Zwegabin from Hpa An town is not that far. You can get there by taxi or more likely by a moto-taxi. You can also choose which side of the mountain you want to climb up – the east or west side. We decided to climb up from the east side. Just so you know in advance – the walk is quite tiring and it will take you around 2 hours to get to the top! There are mostly concrete stairs that wind themselves around the mountain with enough spots to rest in between. Again, make sure you take enough water with you as you will most probably sweat A LOT!
It was an incredible workout for us and once we finally did reach the top our clothes were absolutely soaking wet. We took a small rest and were immediately greeted by an elderly monk. He welcomed us and brought us to the “reception” where we had to fill out a form with our names. After we were brought to our sleeping place. We expected a large room where we would sleep with other travelers but instead we got a small private room with separate beds. Since we were the first visitors there that day we go this room. Eventually, more and more foreigners came up and were brought to a larger, communal room for sleeping. Eventually, we ended up staying together with around 15 other people which made the whole experience a bit more touristic than expected. Nevertheless, we had a nice time there and enjoyed the views. Especially at dusk you will see the fading light cast a golden glow over the monastery and its pagoda – simply beautiful!
There also is a small restaurant on top offering a range of vegetarian dishes – we really enjoyed the food there. There also toilets and showers here, just make sure to bring your towel and shower stuff along.
We spent the evening enjoying the views and soaking up the atmosphere, listening to the sounds of the wind and the evening prayers of the monks. We headed to bed and decided to wake up early the next morning in order to also experience the sunrise. We woke up around 5 a.m. and headed towards the other side of the mountain to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a cloudy day but we could still have a nice view across the neighboring mountains.
After a small breakfast and coffee and after dodging a hoard of monkeys that suddenly arrived (seems like they start coming at the break of day), we continued to decline the mountain, this time from the western side. The walk down was not as tiring but also took us around 1.5 hours. Once we reached the base of the mountain we saw a field covered with hundreds of Buddha statues. The place is called Lumbini Garden and is a perfect place to round up your trip.
Overall we can highly recommend visiting the monastery on Mt. Zwegabin. I believe that there has been quite an increase of tourists hiking their way up this mountain and you will have to part yourself from the romantic thought of spending a night only with monks and practicing meditation. Probably the amount of tourists will steadily increase over the coming years and hopefully not turn this place into another tourist trap. Despite all this the views from the top are absolutely stunning and compensate for the tiresome walk. We have heard that there even is a plan of installing a cable-car to the top so make sure you get there before this happens!
If this is your first trip to Myanmar you should also check out our post about the 10 things you should know before you go.