Myanmar is a secret and fascinating country in South East Asia. For decades, the country was cut off from the rest of the world and shrouded itself in mystery. When visiting Myanmar, it felt like taking a time machine back to the 1940s where you get to experience a nostalgic glimpse of how our parents or grandparents lived in the past.
Sitting in between the two Asian giants China and India, Myanmar has a rich history from the Imperial Burma period during the 1050s, to British colonisation during 1824 to 1948 and then the struggle through the years after Independence from 1948 with the military ruling, civil war and democratic reforms. Many people have wondered, what are the things to see and do in Myanmar? The truth is that, this hidden gem has a lot to offer from the popular hot air balloon spot in Bagan, to the charming freshwater Inle Lake. Myanmar is a real exotic country to visit, for sure!
Sadly, the country has recently been plagued with natural disasters where Bagan was greatly affected by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake on the 24 August 2016 and damaged 400 over pagodas. It was reported that the reconstruction for the damaged sites will take roughly a year to complete. On the flip side, the biggest South East Asia mainland country, Myanmar, still has a lot to offer travellers. The Myanmar tourism board is actively promoting the destinations in Mandalay, Inle Lake and also opening up new tourist destination Hpa An, Myanmar.
Things to do in Myanmar, Hpa An?
Sitting 270 kilometres east of Yangon, approximately 7 hours drive to Hpa An, the capital city of Kayin State, a laid back picturesque town sitting quietly next to the charming Thalwin river. There are many things to do in Myanmar, Hpa An. The caves and mountains worth exploring and you may need a certain level of fitness to climb some of these caves or mountains. Hpa An provides a suitably awe-inspiring backdrop for photographers and travellers.
Bayin Nyi Cave and Myth of the Hot Spring Pools
Bayin Nyi Cave is one of the interesting cave with beautiful Buddhism history. This beautiful cave temple house many Buddha statues. From the entrance, it looks like as if I’m travelling in Nepal or Bhutan. A peaceful sight of nature landscape and the Buddhism cave temple.
Just outside the Bayin Nyi Cave, situated on the right of the path of the Buddhist shrine, opposite the column with a Buddha atop, there is a hot spring pool, where local men go for a healing bath. There is another hot spring available for the ladies that is a little more secluded than the pool available for men. The local myth with regards to these hot springs is that if one’s heart is filled with aggressiveness and desire, you will feel hot in the pool. On the other hand, if one’s heart is filled with calmness and peacefulness, you will feel cool in the pool. So put on your swimmers and give this hot spring pool a go, when you visit the Bayin Nyi Cave.
Climbing up to the cave wasn’t difficult at all and it took me about 5 minutes to reach the entrance. Suitable for everyone regardless of fitness level to enjoy.
Inside the cave was an amazing adventure. There were many bats flying around, but it wasn’t eerie. It was a short 2 minutes walk into the prayer area or the temple.
A Unique Pagoda Kyauk Kalap
Interestingly, there is an artificial lake in Hpa An with a pagoda mounted on an unusual sheer rock formation smacked in the middle of a man-made lake. The pagoda sitting on top of the rock offers great views of the charming countryside and a nearby mountain, Mount Zwegabin, and is renowned for the best spot for sunset! 🙂
A Thousand Buddhas in Lumbini Garden
Named after the birthplace of Buddha, Lumbini Garden is not really an actual garden, or rather, it is a home for thousand of buddha statues. To be exact, there is currently a total of 1,080 buddha statues sitting neatly at Lumbini Garden, next to the foot of Mount Zwegabin.
I like this place as it looks almost abandoned with trees and shrubs growing wild all around them. It is a kind of a deserted yet peaceful sight. Quite an impressive sight to visit.
It is also possible to attempt your steep climb of Mount Zwegabin here, if you are reasonably fit, allow yourself 2 hours each direction (4 hours in total), if not, is better to admire the view from the foot of the mountain. A good news for future visitors though, the government has plans to set up a cable car facility from the base to the top of the mountain in the future.
The Amazing Kawgun Cave
If you ever come to Hpa An, please DO NOT miss the amazing Kawgun Cave. This is a place filled with beautiful terracotta of Buddha statues and amazing carvings plastered all over the open cavern and limestone cliff. The Kawgun Cave was constructed by King Manuaha after he was defeated in battle and was his sanctuary.
Warning: There is a significant amount of rebellious monkeys here, therefore as a safety precaution please leave your food items in your car or bus for safety. 🙂
Traditional Market in Hpa An
Another must see thing in Myanmar would be to visit one of their traditional markets to soak in the local culture. There are no Walmart (Americans), Woolworth (Aussies), Tesco (British) or NTUC (Singaporeans) in Myanmar. Therefore, it’s fascinating to visit the bustling traditional market where you can witness the trade that goes on and typical daily life of the locals.
If you have a daring appetite you may want to try some of the street snacks or bites prepared right in front of you by the street vendors. Also taking a stroll in the market, you will come across a wide range of vendors along the footpath, selling freshly harvested vegetables, meat, clothing, and dry goods.
For ladies out there, you may also want to try the Thanaka, a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from the Thanaka tree bark. A facial therapy and natural protection against the sun widely used and popular among ladies and girls in Myanmar. You would be surprised to see that some men are using it too. There are many ways to get this cosmetic paste, you can either (1) grab a cut Thanaka tree bark and grind it yourself, or (2) you can buy the Thanaka tree bark powder and mix it with water, or (3) the easiest way is to buy the commercially available Thanaka cream. All available in the local markets and it is sold cheaper here than the supermarket in Yangon.
Don’t forget to check out Yangon
There is no commercial flight to Hpa An nor an airport for planes to land. Only bats can fly freely to Hpa An…haha. Anyway, the capital of Yangon is still a gateway to the rest of the country. Be sure to have an additional stay in Yangon when you are travelling in and out of Hpa An. It’s 7 hours long drive and trust me, you will appreciate a stay in Yangon to rest and recuperate after the long drive.
There are also many things to do in Myanmar, Yangon. Be sure you don’t miss out the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and remember to check out Boyoke Market for souvenirs or some Burmese jade before you fly home.
Fly Into Yangon via Myanmar Airways International
Another good news for travellers, the new Yangon International Airport Terminal 1 was completed in March 2016. While is good that the country is beefing up their tourism infrastructure, it may also be a sign to hurry travellers to this amazing country before it loses it’s old city vibe authenticity to commercialisation.
Myanmar Airways International offers daily direct flights to Yangon from Singapore and Bangkok, and also direct flights on certain days from Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou and Gaya at a competitive price. The cabin crew are well groomed and wore the traditional Burmese dress which provides a gentle traditional feel to the flight at a modern comfortable service. The seats are comfortable and the meals are great. Do consider flying with them when visiting Myanmar.
Thinking of travelling to Myanmar now? Good news to all Singaporeans, from 1 December 2016 onwards, Singaporeans who are travelling to Myanmar will enjoy a 30 days visa exemption. A big thank you to the Burmese government and Singapore government for making this happen. For the rest of the other countries, you may apply for visa requirement and e-visa application via the Myanmar eVisa website:
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“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha