A complete guide to hiking Mount Zwekabin: Hpa An – Myanmar. Everything you need to know and what to expect from hiking Hpa An’s tallest peak.
About Mount Zwekabin
Towering over Hpa An and its surrounds is the regions tallest peak, Mount Zwekabin. At 772m tall, this limestone mountain is one of the most sacred in all of Myanmar and is visible from all parts of Hpa An. Perched at the top of the mountain is Zwe Ka Bin Pagoda, from where there are breathtaking views over Hpa An. A hike up Mount Zwekabin is sure to get your blood pumping and something we recommend if you’re chasing sunrises and epic views.
Mount Zwekabin is located about 10-12km drive from Hpa An, depending on where you are staying. There’s a couple of ways to get to the mountain:
Hiring a motorbike gives you the most flexibility to for hiking Mount Zwekabin. It also allows you to explore other attractions at your leisure. A good chunk of the roads are rough dirt, which you will need to negotiate in the dark if doing a sunrise hike. With little street lights, you’ll need to drive slow and focus on the road. Allow 25-30mins for the journey.
Read more: The Ultimate guide to visiting Hpa An
You can hire a tuk tuk for the return journey or for a full day of sight seeing. This was the option we chose as we weren’t comfortable navigating our way by motorbike in the dark. We arranged our English speaking tuk tuk driver through our hotel. You can negotiate with a driver on the street, but be mindful that not all drivers have good English. We paid MMK30,000 for a day trip, which included visiting other attractions that we selected.
Mount Zwekabin hiking routes and entrance fees
There’s two different hiking routes up Mount Zwekabin. The first route is accessible from road 85. It’s known to be a quicker but steeper journey to the top. There is no fee if you take this route and we recommend asking your accommodation for directions if this is the path you want to take.
The second route is accessible via Lumbini Gardens. This was the route we took in both directions and the route that most people seem to take. Our driver dropped us off at the foot of the mountain and we arranged a time and place for him to collect us.
There was a fee of MMK4000 p/p to enter Lumbini Gardens. We arrived right on 4:30am, the exact same time the ticket man arrived and paid our MMK4000 each. However, if you arrive before he does, you’ll be able drive through without paying. No one checked our ticket while we were inside the gardens or as we exited. This however, may change.
Hiking up Mount Zwekabin
We were up at 3.30am and in our tuk tuk by 4am. By 4.40am, we were hiking up Mount Zwekabin. At this time of morning, it was cooler without the sun beating down on us, but with 90% humidity, it was only a matter of minutes before we were both a hot, sweaty mess! This hike does anything but ease you in gently. Steep concrete stairs zigzag all the way up to the Kwe Ka Bin Pagoda at the summit, with a few sections of rough dirt tracks and rock scrambling along the way. Only some sections of path were lit up by dull hanging lights and of course, it was pitch black in the sections with no lighting at all. So we’re glad we packed our torch.
From the top of Mount Zwekabin
After 1 hour and 20 minutes of hiking, we reached the summit of Mount Zwekabin, dripping with sweat. In front of us was the Zwe Ka Bin Pagoda and monastery, surrounded by a viewing platform. As the perimeter of the platform was undergoing restoration and was covered in scaffold, we were unable to enjoy the views from here.
After looking around, we walked back down a few flights of stairs to a small stupa. The views were better from here (no scaffold) and this was where we stayed to watch the sunrise.
The problem with a sunrise hike, is that you never know what the weather’s going to do. On this particular morning, we were presented with a thick band of cloud blocking our view. As a result, the sun snuck up without us even realising! Eventually, there was a small break in the clouds and the fiery sun broke through, giving us about half an hour to enjoy the views. But before we knew it, mist started rising rapidly from below, swallowing up our beautiful vistas.
At that point, we were ready to start our descent. It took about an hour for us to reach the base. Once we were back in the car park, we had time to look around Lumbini Gardens. Seeing as we had to pay to enter, we made use of our ticket and strolled around the hundreds of buddha images. We’re not 100% sure why this park even exists, but it was interesting all the same!
The best time for hiking Mount Zwekabin
The best months for hiking Mount Zwekabin are Nov-Jan. This is the dry season which offers good conditions for hiking. Mar-May are the hottest months, whilst Jun-Oct are the wettest months. The area is often hazy, so fingers crossed you get a clear day!
We completed our hike mid February and were glad we started early as it got hotter as the day progressed. We would definitely recommend against hiking during the middle of the day as the heat is brutal! Each to their own, but we love a good sunrise and at this time of day, we only came across 4 other people at the summit. However we passed many locals hiking up as we were making our way down.
Our top tips for hiking Mount Zwekabin
There’s a few things you need to know before you start your hike:
- If you have a good level of fitness and hiking experience, you’ll shoot up to the summit within 1.5 hours. If you’re a little less fit, allow 2-2.5 hours
- Make sure you take a torch or at least a phone light for the unlit sections
- Take LOADS of water. We recommend 2-3 litres as this is super thirsty work!
- Although the hike it predominately stairs, wear good supportive shoes with good grip. There’s a few scrambling sections to negotiate
- Be careful of the monkeys near the Zwe Ka Bin Pagoda. They can be aggressive and are not afraid of snatching things right out of your hands. Hide your food or you’ll most likely loose it!
- It’s important to remove your shoes and to cover your shoulders and knees at any pagodas. This is respectful of the local culture
- It can get a bit cold at the top, especially if you’re soaking with sweat. So take a jacket just incase
- It’s a good idea to take a hat, sunnies and sunscreen for the journey down
- You may be able to buy drinks at the top later in the day. However, there was nothing available early in the morning when we visited
- There are restaurants and shops near the carpark of Lumbini Gardens where you can grab water etc. But they won’t be open at 4.30am!
We thought long and hard for several days about hiking Mount Zwekabin. Should we, shouldn’t we, was it worth it? Even though it was a total sweat fest that exerted all of our energy, it led us to incredible views over Hpa An. On a clearer day, the views would have been even more epic. For us, it was worth the effort and we’re glad we decided to do it. If you’re up for a challenge, we recommend you do it! But if you’re thinking this is all too much, we recommend hiking the much smaller Mt Hpan Pu instead!
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