After a two-hour bus ride from Mawlamyine, we arrived at our pre-booked* hotel in Hpa-an (pronounced pah-ahn, not hop-a-on) and inquired about tours of the surrounding caves for the next day. We learned that an evening trip to a famous bat cave nearby was leaving in two minutes. Bat cave it was. The cave is known for the million-plus bats that fly out around sunset. We jumped into the back of the pick-up (actually more like a covered pick-up bed pulled by a motorcycle), headed out to the caves, waited maybe 15 minutes, and watched in awe. The bats leave just late enough that it is tough to take good photos, so you’ll just have to trust us that it was amazing.
We were basically standing just underneath and to the side of the cave entrance that the bats emerged from. As they started to stream out of the cave, you could actually smell the damp bat poop wafting out with them. It really as magical — they just kept coming. Apparently it takes them hours to all filter out of the cave. The experience seemed all the more special because there was practically no one there; just a dozen foreigners and hundreds of thousands of bats. Totally worth the 5,000 kyat each (~$4) for the shared truck.
The next day we visited several caves during the day. They are now shrines with Buddhas in them, so once again we had to take off our shoes — even though we would be walking on rocks (and bat poo).
The last big cave ended with a beautiful boat ride in a shallow channel between rice paddies. It made for great pictures and made for an incredibly peaceful ride.
Our final day in Hpa-An we rented a motorbike. This was our first since Laos in 2010 (the ebikes in Bagan don’t count). I drove and didn’t crash. I’ll count that as a win. We went to a natural swimming “pool” fed by a spring and then explored the surrounding countryside.
The next day we went back to Yangon. As with all transport in Myanmar, it took forever. The first bus broke down. The second bus stopped to get some contraband fuel. Then we arrived, had dinner, and went back to the Pansodan Gallery for the same gathering we went to when we first arrived in Myanmar. Once again, it was nice to chat and have beer (this time from a tap!).
We left Myanmar for Thailand the next morning. We loved Myanmar so much that we ended up overstaying our visa by two days, which wasn’t a problem at all. Travel in Myanmar was incredibly rewarding, but we also found it exhausting from both a physical travel and planning perspective. This could be a reflection of the fact that we’re seven months into our travels and in need of some downtime. The Thai islands were calling…
[This post describes our visit to and around Hpa-an, from December 3 through 7, 2016.]