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Hpa-An is the capital of Myanmar’s Karen State, roughly a 6 hour drive southeast from Yangon. There is a vibrant market, a handful of cheap and tasty eateries, and the jolly Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda just next to the jetty. At the base of Zwekabin Mountain is the Field of a Thousand Buddhas, where untamed foliage creeps up over the plinths supporting the identical Sitting Buddhas. The large pond here is a serene spot to settle when contemplating or recovering from the ascent up Zwekabin Mountain. Watching the sun rise or set from the 800 metre high summit is one of the finest things to do in Hpa-An, and Myanmar in general. Not far off are the Kawt-Ka Thaung Caves with a colourful array of Buddha images. Over the river one can visit the Bayin Nyi Caves to bathe in the spring pools, and the ‘Bat Cave’ where guides stir a myriad number of the creatures from their slumber to fly over the heads of the assembled crowd. At the famed Sadin Cave one can take a small boat through the Hades-esque interior.
Roughly translated, Hpa-An's curious name means 'frog vomit'. This derives from a legend that tells of a naga (a mythical 'snake dragon') which swallowed a frog. However due to the gem in the frog's mouth, the naga vomits both frog and gem onto the banks of the Thanlyin River where Hpa-An is now situated. Images of the said frog can be found throughout Hpa-An, including a particulalry large one at the Shwe Yin Myaw Pagoda.
December or January is a particularly good time to visit Hpa-An, with the chance to witness the lively Kayin New Year festivities, featuring dancing and kickboxing competitions.
As in much of Myanmar, in Hpa-An motorbike-taxis and tuk-tuks are the easiest form of transport for visitors. Alternatively one can rent a motorbike or bicycle to explore the region at their own leisure.