The ultimate guide to visiting Hpa An – Myanmar. Things to do in Hpa An and everything you need to know to help you plan the perfect trip!
About Hpa An
Hpa An is a small city located about 290km drive east of Yangon. It’s the capital of Myanmar’s Kayin state and is one of the less visited cities in country, often skipped by many travellers. Famous for its beautiful limestone mountains, caves, rice fields and mountain hikes, there’s plenty of natural beauty to explore here. With its laid back country vibe and friendly locals, Hpa An was our favourite destination during our three week visit to Myanmar. It’s the perfect place to get a little off track.
Things to do in Hpa An
1. Hike Mount Zwekabin
If you enjoy a good hike and a bit of a challenge, then look no further than Mount Zwekabin. At 772-meters tall, this mountain forms the back drop of Hpa An and is visible from all over the region. With a combination of manmade stairs, rough paths and a little rock scrambling, this hike will surely get your blood pumping! You’ll need at around two hours to reach the summit and on a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with views over all of Hpa An. Best summited for sunrise, be warned – this is one hot, humid sweat fest at any time of day!
Don’t miss – A complete guide to hiking Mount Zwekabin
2. Hike up Mt Hpan Pu
If hiking Mount Zwekabin seems a like too much effort, then there is an alternative. Located across the Thanlwin River is Mt Hpan Pu. Accessible via a combinations of stairs, rugged paths and some sketchy looking bamboo ladders, reaching the summit takes about 30mins. The hike up is another hot and sweaty one, but the panoramic vistas makes it worth the while.
Read more – A complete guide to hiking Mt Hpan Pu
3. Visit Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda
There is no shortage of pagodas in Myanmar, but this is by far one of the most picturesque we’ve ever seen! Kyauk Ka Lat is not just a single pagoda, but in fact a whole religious complex. Inside the complex you’ll find a series of shrines, structures and pagodas. Amongst all of this is a limestone rock formation perched precariously in the centre of a lake, housing a pagoda. Accessible via a small foot bridge, this functioning monastery with Mount Zwekabin in the background, is a spectacular sight!
4. Watch the sunset by the river
Hpa An has a very laid back vibe, so watching the sunset is the perfect way to end your day. There’s plenty of places along the river to stop and watch the sun fall below the mountains, but the Shweyinhmyaw Paya is a nice spot to end up. You can go inside the pagoda and through to the viewing platform to take in the views. But we preferred the views with the pagoda in it.
5. Visit one of Hpa An’s many caves
Hpa An is a karstic region and as a result, it’s home to many caves. There’s quite a few that you can visit including Kawgun Cave, Yathaypyan Cave, Bat Cave and Saddan Cave. Of these, Sadden Cave is probably the most popular and most visited. The cave itself is huge and a visit will see you walk about 15 minutes right through the cave, exiting at the rear. Finish you visit with a scenic boat ride back to the entrance. Entrance: MMK1000
6. Visit Lumbini garden
The name Lumbini Garden is a bit misleading, as this place isn’t exactly a garden. Commonly referred to as ‘Buddha Park’, this name is a better reflection of what to expect from a visit here. Located at the foot of Mount Zwekabin, there are over 1000 buddha statues lined up in rows across the park. It’s an unusual, yet intriguing place. This is actually the main access point to the Mount Zwekabin hike. So if you decide on an early morning trek, then you’ll be able to check this place out when you finish. Not an absolute must see in our opinion, but interesting all the same. Entrance MMK4000.
7. Take in the local life
Hpa An is very different to the big cities like Yangon, Mandalay and even Bagan. It’s not as developed and is far more rural. Although it’s possible to get a glimpse of local life in the cities, it’s completely different in the countryside. We really loved observing the locals as we explore different areas.
Getting around Hpa An
Rent a motorbike/scooter
This is the best option if you want to travel see the sights at your own pace. You can rent motorbikes/scooters from hotels/guesthouses and local scooter hire shops like Good Luck Motorbike Rent on Thit Sar Street or My Tour Bike. Expect to pay between MMK8,000-12,000 for a full day. Check the tires and take the bike for a test drive before you drive off, as some bikes can be a bit sketchy.
Hire a bicycle
The cheapest way to get around Hpa An is by a good old fashioned bicycle! This option by far requires the most effort and can be dusty, hot and bumpy along dirt roads. You can hire bikes from most hotels/hostels/guesthouses for around MMK2,000-3,000 p/day. We recommend a solid mountain bike if you’re heading out of town as many of the roads are dirt and corrugated. Expect to pay around MMK8,000 for a day. Make sure you take it for a spin beforehand as some bikes have seen better days!
Moto-taxi and tuk tuks
There’s no taxis as such in Hpa An, but you can easily grab a moto taxi or tuktuk. Although you can you can flag one down (or they may stop when they see you walking), it may be easier to arrange one through your accommodation, as not all drivers speak English. How much you pay will depend on where you’re heading, but taking one way ‘taxi’ trips will make a dent in your budget.
It’s far more cost effective to arrange a tuk tuk for a day trip to see all the the sights (including the Mount Zwekabin hike). We chose this option payed around MMK30,000 for the day. This works out well if you have a group of people to split the cost with.
How much time do you need in Hpa An?
This really depends on you and what you want to get our of your visit. We recommend 2-3 full days to see all of the above. There’s not a lot to see in the town itself and most attractions are located out of town.
Best time to visit Hpa An?
Nov-Feb – In our opinion, this is the best time to visit Hpa An. This is the dry season and during these months, it rains very little. Although the temperatures generally sit around 30°-33°, it can get quite humid. Dec-Jan holidays are the busiest months and prices can be higher.
Mar-May: This is still the dry season and the hottest time of the year. Temperature often reach over 40°C. This can make hiking and sight-seeing unbearably hot during the day.
Jun-Oct: This is the rainy season and heavy downpours can occur. For this reason, it’s the quietest time to visit with far less tourists around. This also means accommodation will be cheaper.
Where to stay in Hpa An
There wasn’t a huge selection of budget accommodation available in Hpa An during our visit. However, we expect this will change as popularity to the regions increases.
We stayed at the River View Hotel, which was a great budget choice. We had a clean private double room with ensuite and breakfast included, which at the time cost US$27 a night. The reception staff spoke good english, booked our onward bus and were able to help us with everything we asked them.
Where to eat in Hpa An
Burmese cuisine is similar to Thai food, but perhaps a little less flavoursome. Having said that you find plenty on Thai options in Hpa An! Our fav little place to eat was Wadee Restaurant. This small cafe was always busy, serving up lovely cheap local dishes and cold beer! There were lots of veg options too.
If you’re looking for street food, try the night markets. Located by Kan Thar Yar Lake, you’ll find barbecued food, curries dumplings and noodles and lots of locals!
Getting to & from Hpa An
Bus travel is by far the easiest way to reach Hpa An.
By bus from & to Yangon
Most travellers heading to Hpa An come from Yangon. There’s several companies operating this route and most depart from Yangon’s Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Terminal. The journey takes around 6 hours in either direction, depending on traffic. We booked our tickets via Little Monkeys hostel in Yangon. As our Hpa An hotel was on the way to the bus station, the driver let us off right outside of our hotel. We just asked the steward who was happy to accommodate.
TIP – If your taking the Yangon-Hpan An route, it’s worth stopping for a night at Kin Pun, the gateway village to the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda aka: Golden Rock. There’s a few direct buses that operate between Yangon-Kin Pun which depart early morning (like 5am), taking around 4 hours. You can then visit Golden rock late morning/early afternoon, stay a night and then continue on by bus to Hpa An the following day – This is what we did, but sadly, the rock was covered in bamboo scaffold!
At the time of our visit, all buses travelling to Mandalay or Bagan, went via Yangon. From Yangon, you had to change buses to continue on your journey.
We took a 1pm bus from Hpa An to Yangon, which arrived at around 6.30pm. From there, we had time to grab some food before we boarded a night bus to Bagan.
There’s no ‘cross border’ buses between Thailand and Myanmar, however, you can still reach Hpa An from Bangkok as detailed below:
- Take a VIP bus from Bangkok’s northern bus station (Mo Chit) to the Thai/Myanmar border town of Mae Sot. You can pre-book bus tickets at tour agencies in Bangkok or through an online booking platform like 12Go Asia. The journey takes around 8 hours.
- TIP – If travelling to Mo Chit bus station in rush hour, allow loads of time to get there as traffic will be intense!
- From Mae Sot, take a taxi or tuk tuk to the border which takes about 10-15min.
- Exit Thailand and enter Myanmar at Myawaddy.
- Once in Myanmar, you can either take a taxi or a bus (most likely a minibus) to Hpa An. If you end up on a minibus, you will likely have to wait for it to fill up. The journey takes around 4-6 hours depending on your chosen transport mode. You can also catch a bus from Myawaddy to Yangon.
Most nationalities will need a visa to enter Myanmar. Most people can obtain a e-visa online which lasts for 28 days and cost US$50. You’ll need several printed copies to enter the country. Note that you generally can’t get a visa on arrival, so it’s best to grab your e-visa in advance.
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