Wild waters: Hpa-an

For the sixth installment in our travel series focused on wild swimming spots, we venture into Kayin State to clamber down mountain streams, discover deserted waterfalls and enjoy one of the best wild swims in Myanmar.

By DOMINIC HORNER | FRONTIER

With stunning karst-dominated landscapes, fantastic local attractions and, for my money, one of the best hotels in the country, Hpa-an in Kayin State is the kind of destination that rewards repeat visits. It really is one of the most magical corners of Myanmar and if you haven’t already been, do yourself a favour and start planning now.

If you’re looking for an excuse to go back, you’re in luck. Hpa-an is home to a diverse range of swimming holes – more than enough to justify another trip to one of the country’s most beguiling neighbourhoods.

A cabin at Keinnara Hpa-an Lodge. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

A cabin at Keinnara Hpa-an Lodge. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

The Rubber Forest Reservoirs & Rocky Road Falls

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An hour east of the city and buried deep within the rubber plantations, these twin reservoirs (16.830823,97.807194/16.806019, 97.813360) are extremely secluded and will definitely appeal to adventure seekers.

As you approach the southern lake you’ll come across Rocky Road Falls (16.805286,97.813297), a miniature two-step waterfall resulting from the overspill of the reservoir. Don’t worry about missing it: it’s basically impossible.

Swinging from a rope at the Blue Pond. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Swinging from a rope at the Blue Pond. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Yay Pyar Aine (Blue Pond)

When I first stumbled across the Blue Pond (16.747973, 97.785879) in 2015, it was very much a locals-only, bare-bones swimming hole. Fast-forward four years and there’s been some low-key development, including a rope swing, bamboo rafts and boats, a tiny teashop, and a free thanaka stall. Fear not: the upgraded amenities don’t diminish the charm of the pond one bit. It’s one of those places where you can see the very best of Myanmar in a microcosm: it’s harmonious, community-orientated, family-focused and fun. Tellingly, the pond is consistently kept trash-free. It’s clearly a source of local pride and quite rightly, too.

My fear is that if and when tourism finally does kick into overdrive in Myanmar, overdevelopment risks smothering the laid-back magic of places like this (Blue Lagoon in Laos anyone?). Right now, though, the Blue Pond is in the Goldilocks Zone, and I’m just going to go ahead and say it: this is one of the best wild swims in Myanmar.

Zin Kyaik Waterfall

If you listen to what the internet has to say, then Zin Kyaik (16.690047, 97.431986) is strictly a rainy season waterfall only. And sure, if you want to see water running down the main fall (which looks like an enormous tile of blackened slate fastened to the side of the mountain like some kind of ostentatious water feature), then yes, you need to go during the monsoon.

But here’s a little tip: follow the path up the mountain towards the monastery. From here you can cut through to the falls, which has several scalable steps. No tourists at all, very chilled and seemingly possible all year round.

Relaxing at Zin Kyaik Waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Relaxing at Zin Kyaik Waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Shwe Bon Thar Creek and waterfall

Just 20 minutes down the road from Zin Kyaik, located behind a monastery and pagoda, you’ll find this uber-mellow shallow creek (16.600519, 97.496667) that is perfect for kicking back and having a bit of a soak. For those who do want to do something a bit more exciting, have no fear, your faithful wild waters correspondent has got you covered.

Follow the path from the bridge past the monastery and locate the blue pipeline here (16.602134,97.495405). If you follow the pipe for about 15 minutes it’ll lead you to a completely deserted three-step waterfall. You’re welcome.

Ta Maung Pan Taw Ya stream

Just like Shwe Bon Thar, this stream is tucked right up against a monastery and pagoda. From the top of the hill, at the white bridge adjacent to the pagoda, you’ll see some warning signs. In dry season you can ignore these and clamber down the stream towards the bottom of the hill but you should definitely keep the shirt on your back and the beer from your lips until you get to the green bridge at the foot of the hill. Here, you’ll find a couple of nice pools (16.646221,97.526601) for bathing, and beer o’clock. Sadly, this isn’t possible in monsoon season, when the stream turns to a steep and slippery waterfall.

Zin Ywar Waterfall

Zin Ywar is all about the jumps. Ignore the slightly rubbish man-made pools and head to the pagoda on the hill. You can then make your way down to the waterfall itself (16.669935, 97.507723), which boasts three cliff-jumps ranging from 10 feet to 30 feet, as well as a very deep plunge pool. We’ve heard it on good authority that there’s a way up around the side of the hill to even more steps, but a combination of scrambled bearings and fading light forced us to turn back. If you manage to succeed where we failed, send me a photo.

Kyone Htaw

This idyllic fall (17.460803, 97.801811) is intermittently open to foreigners but unfortunately wasn’t on our last visit. Again, if you make it, get in touch.

Zin Ywar Waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Zin Ywar Waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

How do I get there?
From Yangon there are regular daily buses to Hpa-an. From the south you can also try the boat from Mawlamyine.

How long do I need?
It’s possible to cram everything into an action-packed three-day itinerary. On day one, visit the Rubber Forest Reservoirs and Blue Pond, followed by Zin Kyaik and Shwe Bon Thar on day two. On the final day, tackle Ta Maung Pan Taw Ya and Zin Ywar, but ignore the GPS route that takes you through Mawlamyine. Instead, take the shortcut from the north.

How do I get around?
You can easily get to the reservoirs and Blue Pond by motorbike. A taxi is best for everything else because of the distances involved.

When should I visit?
The magic months for swimming in Hpa-an are September/October. Winter and summer see many of these swimming holes dry out – especially the Blue Pond.

Where do I stay?
There are a range of hotel options in Hpa-an. With rooms starting above US$200, Keinnara Hpa-an Lodge is definitely not a budget choice, but it is one of the finest places to stay in Myanmar. Call 09-2502-94669 or email reservation-hpaan@keinnara.com.

This is the sixth instalment in my “wild waters of Myanmar” series, which will take me to lakes, rivers, creeks, dams, waterfalls and remote beaches across the country.

Editor’s note: The writer was a guest of Keinnara Hpa-an Lodge. Special rates for Myanmar guests start from $125.

TOP PHOTO: View over the rubber forest reservoirs. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

By Dominic Horner

By Dominic Horner

Born and raised in London, Dominic Horner is an English teacher at the British Council. His writing can be found at Myanmar Mix and Lonely Planet.
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