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a night on mt zwegabin

may 13, 2014
     Hpa-An is only a one hour bus ride from Malawmyine (1000mmk), and well worth the trip. The surrounding countryside is absolutely breathtaking, dotted with mountains supporting golden stupas on their peaks. The bus dropped me off a short distance from Soe Brothers Guesthouse, a clean, 3 story hostel with incredibly helpful staff. Single rooms with a fan cost $6, while a double is twice as much (although the beds are a lot more comfortable).
Mt Zwegabin
     As a group of 4, some friends from the hostel and I headed out to the bat cave near the bridge, paying a tuktuk 8000mmk total to take the four of us there and back - and wait for us for the 2 hours that we admired the sunset and, after sundown, the millions of bats that flew out as a massive swarm from the cave, right over our heads. The phenomenon seems unending: we watched the bats for a good 20 minutes and the bat fog didn't even appear to thin, and we left after a healthy dose of batshit accumulated on our bodies.
     The next day, we checked out of the hostel in preparation to sleep at the monastery on Mt Zwegabin that night, leaving our backpacks at the guesthouse. In the morning, we rented the semi automatic motorbikes for a half day through Mr Soe (5000mmk plus one refueling which cost 1000mmk) and visited what locals call Choccolat, which is a pagoda in the middle of water, on an oddly balanced rock, and a local swimming hole. The scenery was absolutely beautiful riding through the countryside.  

     Agreeing to meet our tuktuk at the hostel at 3pm to take us to the base of Mt Zwegabin (in time for us to make the 2h hike to the top for sunset), we set out, getting some fried rice to go in case dinner options were limited at the peak (monks shouldn't eat after noon). We were dropped off at the Buddha Garden and asked the driver to pick us up the next morning (we paid 3000mmk each, for both ways, as a group of four).

     The climb was treacherous, The steepness and the number of steps unholy. When the tuktuk driver pointed out the mountain to us on our way there (the monastery is at the tallest peak of the mountain in the picture), we couldn't believe our eyes. In the end, we ran up the mountain in record time of 1 and a half hours - the views of the surrounding countryside were simply breathtaking, and the sunset from up top proved to be more than well worth the trek and the sweatbath we were drenched in.
     We were, however, very disappointed to hear that we were not welcome to stay at the monastery overnight by a woman who seemed very hostile towards tourists. Furthermore, it just so happened that two large groups of schoolkids were spending the night as it was the eve of Buddha's birthday - just our luck. In the end, we pleaded and succeeded in convincing her to let us stay, though she was adamant about us paying a fee of 5000mmk each, not using the showers, and no free food. The restaurant up top was open though, costing us a hefty 2000mmk per person for a plate of rice with vegetarian side dishes. We made friends with the schoolchildren, who sat with us at the viewpoint late into the night taking photos with us and buying us chocolate wafers and other gifts - so sweet! We slept on bamboo mats, provided with a blanket each, and left after the nightly monsoon ceased at around 7am, making it down the mountain in an hour on shaky legs.
     Although we didn't experience any intimate connection with the monks or anything of the sort, they were nice enough to us, even inviting us to eat breakfast with them. Despite the hostility of the woman, we enjoyed our stay thanks to the company of the schoolkids - they made our trip, and we most definitely made theirs!


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