From Myawlamyine, Nick and I took a 5 hour boat ride along the Thanlyin River to Hpa-An. We passed by fishing boats and thatched homes as village kids ran along the shore waving hello. Golden pagodas sprinkled the landscape and we stopped at U Nar Auk Monastery. This monastery was built in 1888 and the buddhas pictured below were each made from 1 whole piece of wood. As we continued up river toward Hpa-An we were greeted with mountains.
One of our favorite activities in Hpa-An was visiting Linno Cave. As we walked to the cave we spent some time playing with local children and the toothbrushes we handed out were an absolute hit. We sat and waited for sunset in anticipation to see the bats. Linno cave is home to millions of bats from over 10 different species. These bats eat huge numbers of agricultural pests and provide guano that is harvested by local villagers (30 kg per week). Each evening the bats leave the cave to feed and we watched a steady stream of bats fly out of the cave for at least 15 minutes.
Nick and I’s favorite restaurant in Hpa-An was called San Ma Tau, where we each ordered a small curry and rice. With most traditional burmese dishes, tea, cabbage soup, fresh vegetables and sides come with every meal. These sides included: boiled fish paste, fried fish paste, pound fish paste, fried chopped fish paste, fried onion with shrimp, soya beans, fried chill + garlic + peanut, fried sesame with garlic, pickled tea leaves, and mango chutney.
On our second and last day in Hpa-An, Nick and I drove a motorbike 32 km (20 miles) to Bayin Nyi Pagoda where we sport climbed. Although the routes were relatively short and dirty it was a unique experience climbing to the sounds of morning prayer. Our approach included walking through buddha caves and past monk’s bathing springs.
We left Hpa-An and spent the night in Kyaikto. We woke up early and caught a ride to Kinmun. Here we began the 11km (7 mile) hike to the golden rock. We hiked along an empty trail and were asked for many religious donations along the way. We passed by bamboo stalls that sold warm sodas, noodles and doubled as family’s homes. Every stall we passed reaked of human feces, which was a smell that would continue to follow us throughout Myanmar. As we continued up the trail we began to get a beautiful overlook of the valley. We assumed that because we only passed 4 foreigners and 30 locals on the trail that there would only be about 100 tourists at the top.
When we arrived, we were bombarded with thousands of local tourists that arrived by bus. Food vendors, souvenir stalls, napping pilgrims, picnicking tourists and monks all added to the chaos. Although the golden rock was extremely impressive we were more entertained by the scene around us. As many things in Myanmar, the pagoda was divided by gender. Men were aloud to place gold pieces of foil on the rock while woman prayed in a separate area. We have found that metal detectors, hot springs and various other activities are all separated by gender. Nick and I decided to take the bus down to the bottom of the mountain rather than hike and was it an experience worthwhile! 10 buses of 45 people all left at the same time. We were packed into the back of a large truck and down we went. It felt like we were on a roller coaster, as we speed through bumps our stomachs dropped and as we rounded corners we were whiplashed into one another. We sped past every other bus heading down and were happy we made it in 1 piece.