Climbing and Sleeping with Monks at Mt. Zwegabin in Hpa-an, Myanmar

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík

Hpa-an is a small town but it is actually the capital of Kayin/Karen State in Myanmar, Burma. with three main tourist attraction.These are the:
1. Saddar Cave
2. Kawt Ka Taung Cave 
3. Bat Cave 

There's also a newly developed climbing site which is at Bayint Nyi Cave. However, I didn't stop by this town for this. I heard that I can actually sleep with monks at Mt. Zwegabin. There was differing travelers tale on the internet. Some said it's possible while others say it's not. I just decided to take the risk and climb Mt. Zwegabin! What's a two-hour climb anyways? 

From the jetty, I paid a tuktuk to take us to Mt. Zwegabin for 5,000kyat or 5USD. It was almost an hour ride but the sites along the way were beautiful. There are rice paddies and haystacks and unique architecture.


Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
The road to the place was surreal. We passed through hundreds, if not thousands of Buddha's before we reached the main entrance. I wonder how many years it took them to build the place or are the Buddha's a work in progress? We didn't pay any fee at all to explore the place.

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
There are two main access points to Mt. Zwegabin. One can start climbing from either the East or the West side. I was dropped at the West Side and exited the same way as well. Good thing because the locals said that the East Side is steeper.

I was feeling very positive at the beginning of the hike. Lonely Planet and blogs say it was only a two hours hike and since I'm not fit, I guesstimated it might take me three hours to accomplish the feat. It wasn't as easy as I thought. I think it took me four hours to reach the summit as I would often sit and stop and whine along the way. Apparently, the two-hour climb is not for people who are carrying a 15-kilo backpack while hiking under the heat of the mid-day sun!

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
Check out that army of Buddha's on the horizon and try to count how many there are!


Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík


I've always thought that climbing a mountain is the most difficult part because you are going against gravity. From prior experience, I always like the descent because I could just run down and it's all over. It seems quicker. I was so wrong! Going down on steep concrete steps with a heavy load is so much more difficult and different. Your knee suffers a lot.
Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
I took the road less traveled with paths covered in leaves. It took me through a forest with lots of monkeys. I felt like I was going through a haunted forest as you can hear empty water bottles being thrown and other weird noises along the way. I half imagined going through my monkey nightmare in Subic Bay again. Being attacked by monkeys and getting ebola is not part of my bucket list .

Along the way, you will be climbing with or meeting pilgrims on their way back. The women are in skirts, holding on to their beautiful sandals. The men are in their traditional longyis. You will also be meeting monks along the way. All of them are barefooted and smiling. Say "Minglaba" to them and they will happily answer you back.


When I reached the top, I asked the monks if I can stay for the night. They said yes (thankfully!) but I had to give 5000kyat or 5USD as a donation. I got an orange yarn on my wrist with some incantations as proof of donation.


Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík


The view from the top is breathtaking (which is expected as all my breath was taken away from me during the climb.) But seriously, you can see how flat the land is from the top. It's like a 3D map scaled to size! It was so beautiful and I felt so small yet blessed! 
Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
God regaled me again with a beautiful sunset. If I did the ascent and descent in one day, I won't be able to see this but I was so blessed that my trip from Mawlamyine to here was all perfectly timed.


Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
I've read that I can buy food here. I think they sold me leftovers but beggars can't be choosers. They also sell warm soda. Food is more expensive here, obviously, as they have to carry it on their back on foot to the top.

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
Someone picked out this nice spot with a great view for dinner! Isn't that lovely? Stars above, twinkling lights below...

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík

You can also spend some time chatting with the monks and learn about their religion and the Burmese people or even about anything. I met one who speaks good English.

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
Views here are better during the rainy season. During the summer when it's hot, everything is covered with a thick layer of dust.

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík

We were given the special rooms it seems. In this area, there are two rooms and two bathrooms. It's simple and basic with a twin bed and one electric fan. The tin door makes you feel you are inside a can. You can open it up to let the cool breeze in at night.

Locals are usually billeted at the prayer room where the sleeping arrangement is communal. 


Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
If I only had time, I might have figured out how to get to those temples. Wouldn't that be so much fun (and painful)?

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
I have no idea what torture lies ahead in this long and winding road. But taking treks reminds you that no matter how rough things get, there is always rest and happiness at the end. And for me, finishing one single trek is already a huuuge achievement!

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík
These people are climbing barefoot and they have a smile on their faces. While I was surly. I hope I made their day.

The downhill walk was crazy. My knee had to take my upper body weight, backpack included and the pull of gravity didn't even help. It reminded me of the 24-hour adventure races I used to join and the pain that came after. It broke me. It was sweat and tears and thankfully no bloodshed but it was definitely a walk to remember. It reminded me the strength I have inside! 

Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík


BTW, tuktuk back to Hpa-an on a motorcycle bike was 2,000kyat (~2USD) each but it was a balancing act. If you need help on where to go, you can ask the motorcycle driver to drop you off at the Soe Brothers. The old man there is so friendly that he will gladly point you out to the right direction even if you are not staying in their hotel.


P.S. We met a monk there who has just arrived. He said he was going to spend the rest of his life on top of the Mt. Zwegabin. Didn't the Bible say that it is not good for man to be alone? I wonder how he will cope with loneliness. Will he ever think what his life would be like if he took another road to travel? How many days and nights did it take to make up his mind? What pros and cons did he weigh? Is this truly his life's purpose? How do you know what your life's purpose is? It must take a strong willpower and conviction to make such a lifetime decision.

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