Jan 25-28, 2020
4 Days in Hpa-an, Myanmar
Location: Hpa-an, Myanmar
Hpa-an was along the way en route to Yangon, my final destination. Since I didn't get enough days on my visa to complete my Satipatthana meditation in Yangon, I thought I'd just explore the nearby areas in Southern Myanmar. Hpa-an was on the radar.
Myawaddy to Hpa-an
This was a long 5-hour bus ride on the currently constructed highway. Myawaddy to Kawkareik is done, but most of the road is still under construction - and extremely dusty. Get the a/c bus or you'll be covered in dust! From the bus station, it was a short MMK 1500 ($1) motorbike ride to my hotel, Parami Motel.
I didn't want a repeat of what happened to me in Myawaddy where I was pounding the pavement for almost 3 hours with my full pack before I got a place to stay. From Myawaddy, I already sent out barter offers to the lodging places in Hpa-an. Parami Motel replied. They suffered a decrease in bookings when Booking.com inadvertently categorized their motel as "locals only". This is wrong as they had been accepting foreigners since 1996. I still paid for my 4 nights but at a deep discount, while I promote their motel on this travel blog.
Parami is centrally located near Thit Sar Street. The relevant eating places, the bus terminals and some tourist attractions are walking distance. Staff is friendly and helpful. The premises are clean. Daily room rates start at only $7 and their luxurious rooms at $26. Breakfast comes with the room.
The room I got had a mini-fridge, split-level a/c, wall-mounted tv, and a cabinet. Bathrooms are shared. The bed was comfortable and wifi was accessible. I couldn't complain.
Walk About Town
I explored on foot, taking long walks, just trying to feel the town. The pace is laid-back with a small-town feel to it, people are friendly, food tastes great, and everything else is budget-priced. It's not dusty like Myawaddy. The river and the lake make for its charm. Except for the local food, night market, there's not much else to do within the center. As the travel posts say, Hpa-an is an outdoor experience - the caves and the mountain of Zwegabin.
I started off my first morning by going to the Myoma Market. It's a good size local market if you add the extension further north. Lots of good food just by the street side or by the food carts.
Shwe Yin Mhyaw Pagoda
This pagoda is undergoing repairs at the moment but visitors and devotees are still allowed in. The main pagoda structure is covered as construction workers do their renovation. The main charm of this pagoda is its wide balcony facing the river. There is also an overhang on another balcony from a small stupa. Sunset moment is special when a boat cuts across the sun's reflection on the water.
Kannar Night Market
Kannar Night Market is just a short walk from Shwe Yin Mhyaw Pagoda. When the sun is down, the night market comes alive mostly with food. Most merchandising are sold but minimally. Again, the river view takes center stage as frolickers enjoy dinner by the riverside.
Kayin State Cultural Museum
This museum definitely has seen better days. Its decaying infrastructure has remained unkept. However, it is still one of the best resources for Kayin culture - history, leaders, alphabet and handicrafts. Some of the exhibits are in English as well. What I found useful is the differentiation between Kayin (aka Karen) tribe people according to traditional costume. I counted 16 different tribes within the Kayin umbrella. Apparently, long before Burma became a country, Kayin people had their own fiefdom with their own flag. But they were soon separated by political boundaries when Laos, Burma and Thailand drew a line along their jurisdictions.
Traditional Coffee Shops and Burmese Food
Perhaps the most charming part of Hpa-an's culture (perhaps all of Myanmar), is its traditional coffee shop culture. It looks chaotic and sounds noisy with servers yelling crypted language to the kitchen people. But all these bustling dynamism is what makes up its charm. Coffee per se isn't that spectacular as they commonly use 3-in-1 packaged coffee mix, but it's not about coffee when you go to these places but more about the energy. It's also customary to order the fried donuts, or chapati-like bread, or their traditional noodles. Coffee shops double-up as restaurants too. It's cheap with coffee and a small meal going for about MMK 2000 ($1.50).
Eating out is so affordable with food being great. I haven't had a bad meal here...from street food to coffee shops to restaurant food. A meal usually comes with a ton of condiments. Their food has a distinct flavor. You cannot mistake it for Thai or Vietnamese. It doesn't matter what food I point out to - it's bound to be good. For the most part, my Myanmar experience has been more about food.
Hpa-an has seen better days, but with the infusion of Chinese money, it seems to be an awakening sleepy township. Its decaying infrastructure is giving way to modern facilities in keeping pace with world standards. The ambitious construction of the Riverside complex and the continued paving of the super highway bridging Yangon and Myawaddy are testament to this. Give it a couple more years and Hpa-an will look radically different from how it is now.
After Myawaddy and Hpa-an, I feel my travel pangs salivating again. It has been a long time since I really enjoyed traveling. Perhaps all I needed was a reprieve to calm everything down before setting out again. The struggle is mainly money. If I can generate sufficient income (not a lot, just enough to cover cost), perhaps I can continue this life of travel without feeling too stuck in survival mode. Of course, I can always go back to teaching in a university, but getting back into the grid is not an option - at least, not for now.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
Reader Comments:Bobette Ouano
(Jan 28, 2020) looking good, Gigit! 🙂
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Next stop: Exploring Mawlamyine, Myanmar
Hpa-an FYI / Tips
- Myawady to Hpa-an - 5 hours, MMK 13,000, big double-decker a/c bus, leaves 11:00am
- Hpa-an to Mawlamyine - by BOAT, departure 1:30pm, arrival 5:00pm, 3.5 hours, MMK 10k including car pick-up from hotel
- Hpa-an to Mawlamyine - by BUS, MMK 1200k, disembarking on every bridge crossing
- Kayin State Cultural Museum -
- Night Market -
- Zwegabin -
- Kyauk Kalat Pagoda -
- Kawgun Cave -
- Myoma Morning Market -
- Shweyinhmyaw Pagoda -
- Mahar Sadan Cave -
Hpa-an Cost Index
- As a general rule, local food is very inexpensive in Hpa-an. It is delicious, safe (I never had a tummy issue with any of its street food) and all over the place. You can get a decent local noodle meal for MMK 500 ($0.30).
USEFUL INFORMATION(as of Jan 2020)
Myanmar FYI / Travel Tips
- accommodation - not all destinations in Myanmar can accommodate foreign travelers. Walk-in hotel guests could be refused. Better make an online booking, or make sure the hotel you wish to stay, at is listed in the online booking sites (Agoda, Booking.com, etc.)
- local time - adjust time 30 mins behind from Thailand (if arriving from Thailand)
- Burmese people - Burmese people are new to what's happening to Myanmar - being opened-up to the rest of the world. They remain friendly, helpful and curious. Tourism being new, the culture is not yet corrupted by it.
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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