Hpa An and the Karen culture
Hpa An is the capital city of Karen State, on the Eastern bank of Thanlwin river, about 270 kilometer east of Yangon. It is not only a place where we can find unknown yet amazing attractions to visit, but you can also learn about local Karen culture. Majority of the residents of Hpa An are Karen ethnic people, they have kept their own language and traditional ways. Even though many of the Myanmar Karen people speak Burmese at the city, the first language in Karen State is still Karen language. There are two major groups, which are Sgaw and Pwo, with a slightly different language, yet they can communicate together. If you go to rural though, most people won’t be able to speak any Burmese. The second or third generation of Karen people living in big cities like Yangon, have lost the mother tongue though and can mostly speak Burmese language only.
Apart from the language and their traditional costumes and clothing, one characteristic of Karen people is that they are very kind, helpful and friendly. But if you are looking into a cultural characteristic, you should probably think about frog drum, which is the Karen symbol. It was a typical drum that was used in royal courts, during war, and Buddhist temples by ancient Karen people. Another trait is that, Karen people love independence, so that they have their own flag and their own army. They have been fighting with Burmese central military for their state independence for half a century. But these days, a ceasefire agreement has being reached with the military, like other ethnic groups around the country, but the peace process is far from over and the current peace is still unstable.
Even though there have been tensions and fights in the region, Hpa An is safe to visit for anybofy and If you visit it in November, you will be able to enjoy the Karen State Festival that is celebrated every year. During the festival, traditional “Karen Don” dance competition takes place. It is a very unique and lively event, the music is played with hollow bamboos and the name of that dance comes from the sound these bamboo instruments make when hit: “Don, Don, and Don”. This dance is central to Karen culture as it performed at all important events of Karen life, for weddings, ceremonies and of course Karen New Year festival. For these occasions, Karen people will also wear their best garments. They actually weave their clothes with very beautiful and unique patterns. In rural areas, women will even weave their own clothes.
For someone enjoy nature, loving photography and looking for peaceful places, Hpa An is probably one of the best place to visit during a trip to Myanmar. In order to fully enjoy your trip to Hpa An, you need to spend at least 4 days to visit all interesting places. Once you approach Hpa An, beautiful hilly nature scene will catch your eyes. Zwekabin Mountain is the most famous landmark of Hpa An, and a perfect place to visit if you like hiking.
Local people always suggest travelers to watch the sunrise from Kan Tha Yar Lake, which is also the best place to get a stunning view of Zwekabin Mountain. The sunrise beyond the mountain and the golden reflection on the lake is a perfect picture. You can walk on the bridge that is built across the lake, and there are seats to sit in the middle of the bridge. It is the best place to take photo with the Zwekabin Mountain in the background.
After enjoying the sunrise from the lake, you can head out to Zwekabin Mountain to hike up the massive stairway. A pagoda sits on top of the mountain. You can also feed monkeys when you get to the top of the mountain. The landscape that you can view from the top of the mountain can’t be explained with words. On your way to Zwekabin Mountain, you will find a unique pagoda called Kyauk Kalap, it will be your best photo opportunities to capture the true beauty of nature in Hpa An.
Other famous places that you should not miss to visit are the caves. There are many massive caves around Hpa, Kaw Ka Thong Cave, Ya Thit Pyan Cave, Sa Dan Cave, and Kaw Kon Cave to name a few. Sa Dan Cave is the most famous among them. It is a thirty minutes walk from one end of the cave to the other. But this is not your usual cave, which is already impressive; on the way you will witness the beauty of hidden temple, many Buddha images and pagodas are this cave, placed there or carved into the stone with beautiful workmanship. When you get to the other end, you have to take boats to get back to the front, you will find yourself in an absolutely beautiful nature and all that for only 1000 Myanmar Kyat per person to get on the boat.
Hpa An is full of surprises and interesting places, waterfalls can also be visited from there. If you are looking for something unique, with beautiful nature, an amazing new culture to discover and a bit off the beaten track, then Hpa An is where you should be heading. That will add an unforgettable memory to your trip in Myanmar.
Travel report by Pan Pwint