Hpa-An to Yangon

I have dragged out our mini break to a painful extent and my writing has deteriorated. Apologies. We left mawlamyine for Hpa-An. The scenery was absolutely stunning – mountains, wet paddy fields. Our first stop was Mount Zwekabin. It apparently takes a couple of hours to climb – we just went up a few flights of the stairs as we weren’t feeling that energetic. Next was a cave, the name of which I didn’t note. It was one of several caves which contain Buddhas and was the least exciting that we saw – but it was also the driest.

We then went to Saddar cave which I had read was really good – you walk through a big cave and come out the other side to a beautiful view, then you get in a boat to travel back to the entrance. Firstly, the road leading to the cave is a dirt one and hadnt taken well to the rains. A few sections were under pretty deep water and we did fear getting stuck in the mud. We arrived near the entrance which was completely surrounded by knee high water. A truck containing nuns then appeared behind us and I really thought how on earth are we going to leave (there was no way the van could turn around in the wet mud).

Anyway we rolled up our trousers and got into the water to climb the cave entrance. I tried not to think too much about what was lurking inside. We made it to the cave which was big – sadly it was flooded further on so we couldn’t get the special view and boat trip I had read about. Never mind.

We went back to the van, where the nuns had also returned to their truck. The truck then reversed back up the road, our van after it. U Htun managed to keep a good constant pace so we didn’t get stuck in the mud. Hurrah.

We then drove to the rather special Lumbini Buddha Garden. As it suggests – lots and lots of Buddha statues in the greenery at the base of a mountain range. I have no idea how many there are but it really was incredible!

Last sight for the day was Kyauk Kalat, a pagoda on a big rock which has an oddly narrow base. This looked great but I was a little disappointed as I thought it would be much bigger! It was surrounded by a lake and looked very pretty.

We headed to our hotel for a bit of a rest before a ramble into town. We found a beer station selling glasses of beer for 700 kyat and then had a good old Burmese meal.

The next day we started our journey back to Yangon. We had one final cave to visit, Bayin nyi gyi. Again we were greeted by flooding, this time more extensive, probably about 200m before the cave entrance! We decided to brave it and I’m pretty sure there were snakes in there. This cave was very deep but also flooded, so we didn’t dare to go right into the deepest depths in the dark.

We made a brief stop at Thaton on the way back, where we drove up a mountain and got a great view of the paddy fields. I also bought Kayin style outfit.

We then continued home, where I got dropped off at the airport to meet Jean-Marc, the CEO of Green Shoots who was making a visit.

Overall it was a great trip, I loved being able to see the less touristy places and the countryside. Even with it being rainy season, most things we wanted to see, we could. Seeing family was also really special and hearing about what life was like here in the 1960s.

I’ve since heard a rumour that the government has advised against overland travel to Dawei at the moment. I assume it’s because of the weather but not totally sure…!

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