Breaking Burma Day 90: The Slow Boat Out to Hpa-an

In the morning, I joined my new friends from yesterday on a songrattu-style transport driven by a sort of motorcycle to the pier from which we would take the boat to Hpa-an. Originally I put a big X mark through Hpa-an since I read that the town wasn’t much of anything. After enough advice passed my way, I decided to skip the more famous Golden Rock of Kyaikato, which seemed too touristy, for the motorbike exploratory tour through caves and mountains that awaited me tomorrow. We stopped for a moment near a pier with a quite sizable ship docked looking like a potentially smooth ride, foolishly getting our hopes up. Instead we picked up another traveler and continued on as that boat faded away into the depressing distance. The boat we would be taking for the four hour journey floated much smaller. It was a little dingy of a boat measuring at its widest the width of my wingspan and capable of fitting two normal garden lounge chairs side by side, which is exactly what happened. The boat wasn’t what I expected but not a surprise as I have grown more attuned to what may be lurking around the corner. The ride was fairly smooth passing similar sized boats that were hanging out on the water and trying to catch their day’s fill of fish. The water was a murky brown similar to coffee when just a touch of cream is added. Along the river banks sat bamboo huts and a wild mess of plants that looked foreign to me but set the exotic mood quite nicely. A limitless number of golden stupas peaked out just above the treetops of forest studded hills that rested just off the the water. Although I have never stepped foot near the Nile River, for whatever reason the vibe and scenery gave off that kind of feel. Small villages sprouted at random points along the banks with gleeful naked children waving proudly and then jumping in and swimming through the river’s waters. Once the boat deposited us at the Hpa-an pier, which is basically a landfill loaded with a treasure trove of trash and feasting flies, we rode to Soe Brothers Guesthouse. Coincidentally, they had two doubles available so Toon and I took the while the couple took the other. The room had a queen bed fit into quite snugly as I presumed but the rest threw us for a loop. The bedroom felt a Valentine’s Love Room with pillows and sheets colored a bright red. Besides the flowers and letters L-O-V-E sewed into the fabric, the topper of it all was LOVE listed in big letters followed by ‘A Better Life / Kiss My Wife / love the people’. From there on, Toon and I joked around as if we were a couple, like some kind of bromance. After fueling up our tanks, we split a tuk-tuk ride to Zwegabin Mountain, a ‘Can’t Miss’ in Lonely Planet. The ride eventually led through a plantation with its King crop being Buddhas, many Buddha images all sculpted to the same measurements on their pedestals. The trek was not as we imagined for a hike to the top of a mountain as much of the trail was covered with steps, ranging a variety of misshapen heights. Toon and I broke off from Joris and Charlene to continue charging forward and sometimes stupidly jogging up the Staircase to Hell. Even though the day was coming to a close, I still sweated like a fiend determined to squeeze every last milliliter through my pores. Despite the agony of trembling legs and sweat stains working in unison to form a well coated cloak of shame, the views were worth it. We were truly standing amongst the gods looking down upon the shrinking earth below us. Random rock formations sprouted up out of nowhere creating an assortment of jagged hills and mountains, most of which had black volcanic spears of rock running the course of its spines. Beyond the cloud-reaching rock, the paddy fields were a sight to be seen with some sketched to the shape of a maze. With only a spread out display of bamboo huts that blended in with the rest of the countryside and reddish orange clay-like dirt roads, I felt like one of the first people walking the face of the earth upon that mountain. Along with the fact that we crossed no one else on the trail, the land looked so pure and untapped. Having finally summited the SOB, we rested our weary legs and watched the sun approach earth. On the top of Zwegabin Mountain stood the golden pagoda that we waited to lay our eyes on through all the many steps trekked. The pagoda was nice, like any other standard pagoda I have seen, but what really drew my attention was the simple question of how they managed to build such a thing like with no road or easy mode of transport to speak of. The sunset didn’t meet our expectations but the preceding views definitely made up for it. With the sun removed from our view, we needed to make our way down the mountain. Luckily, lights lit the path to the bottom. Along the way we passed many groups of locals attempting to go in the opposite direction. We repeatedly said Min-ga-la-bah (hello) to them and it eventually rose into a humorous game of who could Chang it louder, us or the local Burmese. We cabbed it back to Hpa-an before all agreeing to end the night early to rest our sapped bodies. Before hitting the pillow, I bought a night bus ticket to Mandalay that would take a grand 13 hours of broken sleep.

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