Comprising one of the Myanmar’s most perennially troubled regions is Kayin State, formerly known as Karen State. The only part of the state to explore is the capital, Hpa-An, with its pretty hinterland of spellbinding hills, sugar cane and rice fields where several fascinating Buddhist monuments nestle amid some of the country’s most photogenic landscapes. The other worthwhile trip and a great way to experience the surrounds of upriverhere is the journey by government or private ferry from Hpa-An to Mawlamyine via the Thanlwin River.
Hpa-An,is an easy-going uncongested state capita with an enlivening river front and market area, and a mostly Karen population of 50,000. The few foreigners that visit the town each year tend to do so for its hotels, which provide the most convenient bases for explorations of surrounding countryside, characterized by outcrops of towering, jungle-draped limestone. The popular tourist sites in this area are Mount Zwegabin, Saddan Cave, Kyauk Kalap Pagoda, Lumbini Garden, Kawkathaung Cave, KawKun Cave, Yathaepyan Cave and Bayinnyi Cave.
Among many spectacular massifs in this regions, the highest one is the significant Mount Zwegabin, 732 meters whose unmistakable profile rises 13km south of Hpa-an, soaring out of the paddy fields like a vision from a lost world. The main incentive to brave the two hours slog, hiking to the top via a flight of steep, winding stone and cement steps, and troupes of aggressive monkeys who patrol the route is the chance to watch the sunset from the summit of the mountain, where a lonely Buddhist monastery enjoys a fabulous panorama over the beautiful Thanlwin Valley to the distant Andaman Sea.
The ancient Buddha statues lie hidden in the many caves ridding the limestone hills around Hpa-an, the largest and most spectacular of these is Saddan Cave, 27 km southwest of town along the road to Eindu village. Steps lead to an entrance chamber featuring a row of Buddhas and nats, streamed by a series of gigantic caverns whose walls ooze with amazing rock and crystal formations. An authentic magical experience looms after half an hour underpass way, where an opening reveals a hidden beautiful lake emerges on the far side of the hill.
Kyauk Kalap Pagoda
Another enigmatic sight to explore is Kyauk Kalap Pagoda, a small monastery complex centered on a weird finger of the rock that juts vertically out of a foot-bridge, the site is set against a mesmerizing backdrop of sheer hills and outcrops. The Kyauk Kalap Pagoda is situated on top of a tall and thin limestone rock formation. When you get to the pagoda, you will be greeted by a spectacular elevated view of the surrounding lake. The lake was constructed around the pagoda giving it the name of Kyauk Kalap, which means “water garden.” In the background of the pagoda and lake stands Mt. Zwekabin which is 723 meters high. Mt. Zwekabin is one of the most sacred mountains in the country and there is a pagoda that sits atop it.
The Lumbini Garden located with a thousand of Buddha Images rowed and columned straightly at the base of a large Zwegabin mountain and it is also a great place to visit. From where, the traveller can start to climb the 3-hour trekking to hill-top of Mt.Zwegabin.
Kaw Ka Taung Cave
Kaw Ka Taung Cave is at Kaw Kyaik, east of the Zwegabin hill. There’s a long row of stone monks outside the compound, and lots of Buddhas inside. The cave is only 53m long but has a tiled floor and is full of statues. When we were surveying an Asian tour group arrived and the caretaker turned on a tape of Christmas songs to supplement the Buddhist chanting.
Buddhist imagery can be seen scaling the very walls of the cave itself, the carvings rising onto the ceiling itself in some sections. The wall carvings are not the only attraction, as the passages of the cave are also home to a series of large statues of Buddha. Despite the remoteness of the temple cave, the statues and wall carvings are in excellent condition, allowing visitors the opportunity to fully appreciate the dedication that has gone into building this place of contemplation. The details of Kawgun Cave’s origins are hazy, but it is generally understood that the cave temple was commissioned by a Mon queen in the 7th Century, though much of what can be seen has been added in the intervening years by various artisans. A sharp-eyed visitor will notice some Hindu statues and iconography among the Buddhist art, a reminder of Myanmar’s ethnically and religiously diverse past. Kawgun is rather remote. The most common starting point for trips to the limestone caves is the town of Hpa-An. A visit to the temple cave requires a trip through the village of Kawgun before reaching the cave itself.
Yathae Pyan Cave
Ya Thea Pyan Cave was known in the colonial literature as P’agat Cave. The current name Ya Thea Pyan translates as Hermit Cave (as Ya Thea mean hermit). The cave is in a hill next to Kawgun Cave. A concrete staircase leads up to the cave. The entrance chamber contains many Buddhas and a statue of the hermit. Behind the reclining Buddha is a natural pool of ‘holy’ water. The main chamber is large. A route leads down to lower muddy areas. Going up towards the back of the main chamber leads to a very impressive upper entrance, with a couple of wooden ladders to aid progress. There are some huge dry stalls at the top, well lit by sunlight.
Bayin Nyi Cave
The Bayin Nyi cave is located north of Hpa-An; the closet notable town is Thaton. As you walk up the hill to the cave, there is a large entrance chamber that is filled with many statues and Buddhas. Leading into the caves is a raised path. It is raised because seasonal rains sometimes cause some areas to pool. Just inside the main cave is a pagoda that is a relatively modern structure. The cave itself is not illuminated by natural light. However, there are said to be intermittent areas that are lit by sunlight through small openings in the rock ceiling. During the latter part of the wet season, there is sometimes a chance to enjoy hot springs that form due to the amount of water in the area.