We’ve lived in Yangon for over four years, but never made it to Hpa An. It’s at least a 5-hour drive (if you don’t stop on the way), and in the past we have prioritized beach vacations with the kids. When our friends told us they were making a weekend trip of it last week, we decided to join them—and are so glad we did!
With very young children, I think Hpa An might have been less enjoyable. But for kids over 4, definitely go for it. Our 5-year-old says it is her new favorite place in the world (and she has been to some pretty amazing places). What’s not to love about hiking and climbing through caves, across ravines inside caves, into tiny caves WITHIN CAVES infested with giant spiders, up mountains, and through rice paddies? And all of this while barefoot of course, because these areas are sacred Buddhist sites. (Well, the rice paddies were not sacred, but we didn’t have shoes with us because we chose to take boats through some caves, and thought we would end up back at the start of the pagoda where we left our shoes. Sorry, kids. It’s an adventure!) I had to admit that the caves were incredible. I didn’t even want to go into the first one because I am claustrophobic, but my amazing friends and family got me through it, and by the end of the weekend I was almost comfortable with caves.
And did I mention watching ten million bats leave a cave at sunset? And cave monkeys drinking beer?
My 8-year-old made a great comment after we checked in to our hostel. (Yes, we stayed at a hostel—it was perfect!) “Oh, I get it, this is an adventure hotel, not a luxury hotel.” We explained to the kids about backpackers, and they both started to wear their backpacks everywhere (to fit in, presumably). The younger one even insisted on wearing it during meals. Kids are just so entertaining! I love traveling with them at these ages.
I only brought my 35mm lens on this trip, but it was perfect. It’s always hard to get the shots I want when traveling with my kids, but that’s okay! The point was to have a memorable family trip, and I was happy to document with the camera when possible. Some of the caves were so dark in the middle, and my claustrophobia so distracting, that I couldn’t focus. My only real regret (photography-wise) is that I was way too close to the opening of the Bat Cave, so I really couldn’t capture the scope of that experience. I would recommend climbing up to the top pagoda, or staying back (towards the parking lot) to get wide-angle shots of the bats making their way down the river. Or, put the camera away and just marvel at what you are seeing.