Photo: Beautiful Saddar Cave's entrance chamber.

Saddar Cave

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A visit to wonderful Saddar Cave is one of Kayin State’s highlights. The limestone karst scenery of Zwegabin and the numerous jagged, mountainous outcrops sprouting abruptly from the paddy surrounding Hpa-an host myriad spectacular caves. Saddar (sometimes written Saddan) involves a cave temple but also a hike through underground passages to the far side of a mountain and a return by wooden boat. It really is something special.

The entrance to Saddar Cave is reached via a few kilometres of dirt track off the main Hpa-an to Mawlamyine highway. It’s at the foot of a short flight of steps on the southwest side of the mountain. You’ll find an impressive natural entrance chamber filled with various statues perched above stalactites, stupas, a large reclining Buddha plus pretty gold-painted stucco designs on the cavern walls.

Buddha reclining, monks relaxing. Photo taken in or around Saddar Cave, Hpa-an, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Buddha reclining, monks relaxing. Photo: Mark Ord

While you have to take off your shoes before entering this religious site, you’ll need to carry them with you since you’ll be exiting by a different route. Heading towards the rear of the first cave — to the left of the reclining Buddha — an underground passage continues on through the heart of the mountain. Electric lighting is provided once you’ve made a request and a donation of 1,000 kyat per person to the monks at the cave entrance.

A sideways glance? Photo taken in or around Saddar Cave, Hpa-an, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

A sideways glance? Photo: Mark Ord

Once you are past the principal cave temple it’s okay to put your shoes back on since you’ll be walking several hundred metres through the mountain on a surface varying between concrete steps, rocks, sand and several inches of bat poo. The path leads up and down somewhat but is generally pretty easy. The steepest parts have steps, though they can occasionally be slippery, and be warned that the stink of guano can be powerful. After a 15-minute walk you’ll emerge into a stunning scene on the far east side of the mountain as the tunnel exit opens up to reveal a picturesque tree-lined pool.

There’s a small drinks stand by the pool so you can stop for a break before continuing on by one of the waiting wooden boats. Villagers will punt you across the pool into another, this time water-filled, tunnel on the far side.

The hidden pool reached by a tunnel through the mountain. Photo taken in or around Saddar Cave, Hpa-an, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

The hidden pool reached by a tunnel through the mountain. Photo: Mark Ord

The scenery is reminiscent of what you’ll find in Thailand’s Krabi or Trang, though the water here is fresh not salt, and you’ll be paddled around by a Karen farmer in a basic wooden boat rather than a state of the art kayak.

The short, low tunnel opens up into a second pool before your punting boatman takes you down narrow channels dug through the paddy-fields to a boat landing at the foot of limestone cliffs. On our last visit the boat pilots were charging 5,000 kyat per boat, which seats two or three people. If you’re on your own wait for two more passengers.

The far side of the mountain. Photo taken in or around Saddar Cave, Hpa-an, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

The far side of the mountain. Photo: Mark Ord

The slow, tranquil boat trip through the paddy with the spectacular limestone backdrop is short but very sweet and after a few delightful minutes you’ll disembark at a crude wooden jetty to continue the circumnavigation of the mountain on foot. It’s a 10-minute or so walk back to your starting point.

If you rushed you could do the whole round trip in an hour or so, but lingering a little means you can do it in 90 minutes. It’s almost over too soon for such a great trip. There are plenty of snacks and drinks stalls in the dirt carpark for pre- or post-cave refreshments.

Good for a paddle. Photo taken in or around Saddar Cave, Hpa-an, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Good for a paddle. Photo: Mark Ord

The cave is at the far end of Zwegabin, furthest from town, but still only a 20- or 30-minute drive. Either hire some transport of your own in town or check to see if Soe Brothers are running any tours. Note that we’ve done this trip at several times of the year and there should be enough water in all but the very driest periods.

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