In a nutshell
Hpa An was traditionally known as a market town in the southern state of Karen, and is definitely one of the destinations that is further off the beaten track in Myanmar.
Why go to Hpa An
Hpa An doesn’t have the colonial architecture and sweeping streets of Mawlamyine and is missing the tourist infrastructure of Inle Lake and Bagan, but it is still well worth visiting to see yet another side to this multi faceted country.
With some picturesque landscapes, charming pagodas and several other things to do in and around the town, there’s enough to keep most people entertained for a day or so, although others do stay longer to enjoy the peaceful and laid back atmosphere.
When to go to Hpa An
The best time to visit is in the popular high season of November through to February, where tourism is at its peak in the country due to the good weather conditions.
Summer brings with it the rainy season and at times extremely heavy rain, whilst the popular dry season is known for clear skies, hot temperatures and sunny days. As with all of Myanmar, be aware of the dust and heat that the dry season brings, but it’s a lovely time to enjoy the country.
Where to stay in Hpa An
When it comes to accommodation there are only around ten options available in the town that can be booked online, so it’s useful to be a little organised and book early, especially as tourism in the country becomes more widespread and more travellers are venturing away from the well trodden paths between Yangon, Inle, Bagan and Mandalay.
The standards vary quite dramatically although it’s safe to say that if you’re on a tight budget it will be tricky to find accommodation that meets modern western standards. What is useful is that many of the hotels will help you to arrange various tours and day trips while you’re staying there, which is an easy option.
Where to eat in Hpa An
Considering the size of the town, it’s possible to find plenty of good food options in Hpa An, where you can enjoy many local and traditional Burmese delicacies.
As with much of Myanmar, there are many choices when it comes to both Indian and Chinese cuisine as well as Burmese specialities. Enjoy Indian curries, including menu items like dahl, together with Chinese dumplings and plenty of street food.
Hygiene standards may differ from back home so do take care if you’re enjoying street food in Hpa An and it’s well worth sticking to places that are popular with the locals to give yourself the best chance of avoiding any stomach issues!
Getting around in Hpa An
As Hpa An is a relatively small town, there’s not so much need to rely on public transport or taxis to get around. Indeed, most people choose to invest in their own wheels, whether that’s renting a motorbike or a bicycle and getting around independently. Bike rental is cheap and the vendors are known for being friendly, so it’s not so likely that you’ll be paying for a poor quality vehicle.
There are also tuk-tuks available for some of the more popular journeys with tourists, such as the routes between the jetty, various hotels and the bus station. Despite these being geared mainly for travellers, the prices are reasonable and usually just a couple of dollars.
Getting in and out
Many new road connections have been established in recent years, accounting for Hpa An’s rising popularity with travellers to Myanmar. These links make it far easier to travel between Hpa An and other popular destinations, and its location near to the Thai border also makes it a popular stop for those who are travelling more widely in South East Asia.
Thaton and Yangon lie in one direction around six or seven hours away, whilst Mawlaymine is just a couple of hours away and can even be reached by boat for a change of scenery away from the questionable Burmese roads.
In terms of travelling to and from Hpa An there are several options, although most people choose to travel by bus. Buses are wide spread, relatively safe by the country’s standards and cost effective, although they can be slow on some roads and estimates sometimes range from four to five hours from what time you may expect a journey to take.
There are air-conditioned buses three to four times per day between Hpa An and Kyaikto take around four hours and cost around USD5, whilst it costs even less to take the popular route between Hpa An and Yangon. For many this makes it sensible to travel to Hpa An from Mawlamyine and on to Yangon as there are many buses and boats available and it’s both cost and time effective.
Various tour operators have slow boats running between Mawlaymine and Hpa An and it’s a relatively short journey. It’s easy to book tickets through hotels or tour agencies in town and makes a pleasant change to travelling by road, with the picturesque landscapes you’ll see along the riverside. It is possible to catch a bus and if you’re short on time this may be the best option, but if you do have time the boat is a popular alternative.
Safety in Hpa An
In terms of personal safety for travellers, Hpa An enjoys a reputation as a fairly safe place. The only real dangers are those typical to much of Myanmar, such as the risk of issues on the roads due to poor conditions and badly maintained vehicles.
Access to good quality medical care may also be difficult although being relatively close to Yangon is a helpful thing to bear in mind.