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Unexpected Highlights South Of Yangon

Saddan Cave, near Hpa An, Myanmar

Surroundings of Hpa An, near Saddan Cave, Myamar

Myanmar is currently experiencing an exponential increase in international tourism, mainly through large, organized tours. Nevertheless, we found places Off The Beaten Track, actually many more than we had expected. And not all that far away from the main tourist drag Yangon / Mandalay / Bagan / Inle!

South of Yangon we discovered quite a few areas where even independent travelers are rare but highlights abundant!

Hpa An

is such a highlight, 5 to 6 hour south of Yangon – a place we almost missed, as we had so little information about it. What made it so special for us?

  • A very relaxed city with super friendly locals and very few tourists – even in the highest season!
  • The surroundings – a picturesque karst landscape with lots of large caves tugged into those hills. Your best bet is starting with a tour through these environs, as you will probably never find some of the caves on your own. Once familiar with the area, venture out on a rented motorbike to explore the area more closely and at your own pace. Some of the caves are not that impressive and a bit kitschy, but two were a truly unique experience:
    • At Saddan Cave, the obligatory huge reclining Buddha and a few pagodas greet the visitors near the entrance. But if you dare to intrude further into the cave, you are rewarded with large, dark chambers leading into each other. Some filled with stalactites and stalagmites, others with thousands of bats. When we left the cave we had literally crossed the “insides” of the mountain. From there, a little boat took us back to where we started off. Yes, a boat going through rice paddies.
      Saddan Cave, near Hpa An, Myanmar

      Saddan Cave, near Hpa An, Myanmar

      Saddan Cave, near Hpa An, Myanmar

      Saddan Cave, near Hpa An, Myanmar


    • Bat Cave is the place to watch the sunset, even though it is not the sunset you come for… While peacefully waiting for daylight to fade away, you get to observe thousands and thousands of bats emerging from the cave, on and on for about 15 to 20 minutes. It seemed like a huge cloud slowly disappearing into the night. If this spectacle was not enough, by then groups of large birds had congregated to pray on the bats, plunging into the cloud and flying away with their catch, and soon returning for another “helping”. We were only a small group that had gathered there. Some were very skeptical, finding it weird to wait for bats flying out of a cave… But we all left stunned, riding back in silent, absorbing what we had just seen and experienced!


was the capital city of Burma during British Rule and shares the fading charm so many other run-down colonial cities live of. Old, decrepit houses line the sleepy waterfront and pagodas dot the nearby hill… A perfect place for strolling around, despite record temperatures and high humidity! Even in the coolest period of the year, at noontime the heat was suffocating.

Mawlamyine, Myanmar

Colonial House on the Waterfront, Mawlamyine, Myanmar

Mawlamyine, Myanmar

Kyaikthanlan Paya, Mawlamyine, Myanmar

For us, the real attraction was the waterfront at night, when dozens of food stalls set up business and a huge variety of food can be enjoyed. We squeezed into these small plastic chairs and tables (it felt almost like sitting on the floor) and sampled noodle soups, barbecued fish, sausages, vegetable and fried noodles. Ever tried Ginger Salad and Tea Leaf Salad? We did! Sipping fresh fruit juices and cold beers we emerged in a local-only crowd doing exactly the same…

Golden Rock

The exception proves the rule? In the late afternoon, large groups of foreign tourists check into the grossly overpriced hotels on top of the mountain. Though so many, they are vastly outnumbered by local visitors… No matter how many people travel there, we did not see its attraction. Mount Kyaiktiyo is supposedly one of the main places of pilgrimage in Myanmar, where every Buddhist wants to come for a day of prayer and worship.

Golden Rock, Mount kyaiktiyo, Myanmar

Golden Rock, Mount kyaiktiyo, Myanmar

Golden Rock, Mount kyaiktiyo, Myanmar

Posing for the Picture @ Golden Rock, Mount kyaiktiyo, Myanmar

We found the place over-crowed and lacking any spirituality whatsoever. Locals mainly come to pose in front of this balancing bolder covered with gold leaves… to take selfies! Our advice: just skip this expensive place!

A few words on infrastructure?

Though still Off The Beaten Track, both Hpa An and Mawlamyine are easy to reach from Yangon by bus. You want to continue up north to Mandalay? Hop on a direct bus.

If it needs to be a cheap place to rest your head: the very nice Golden Sky Hotel in Hpa An is your best bet, with rooms ranging from 10 to 25 USD and a nice, breezy terrace with views of the river.

The backpacker hostels recommended in the Lonely Planet are extremely disappointing. In Hpa An, Soe Brother is extremely basic but somehow ok. Breeze Guesthouse in Mawlamyine is a dirty hole, period! Over breakfast, people’s conversation would center on bed bugs, especially among those staying in the cheaper rooms without AC. Avoid both, there are alternatives in each price range!

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2 Responses to Unexpected Highlights South Of Yangon

  1. Sabine 8. February 2015 at 23:00 #

    Interesting post! I’ve been in Myanmar about 10 years ago and it was difficult to travel south of Yangon. This post makes me want to go back and explore new areas of Myanmar. Great!!

    • Gilles Barbier 9. February 2015 at 16:51 #

      Hi Sabine,
      I think you would not recognize Myanmar, the country is changing at the speed of light.
      Now traveling is absolutely free of many hassles that might have existed in the past, and actually extremely easy…
      Cheers, Gilles

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