Also known as…
…that time we got chased up Mount Zwegabin by a hungry macaque.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
Mount Zwegabin is located in the town of Hpa-an, a lovely city in Southern Myanmar where the Thanlwin river cuts a slow path to the Andaman Sea and nature-lovers and culture-lovers alike will find plenty of fun activities to do.
The morning of our Mount Zwegabin summit we grabbed a quick and cheap breakfast of rice flour pancakes and fruit (mangosteen and bananas for the win!) at the local market to the tune of 1600 kyat, less than $2. Have I mentioned lately how insanely budget-friendly food is in Myanmar?!
With our breakfast in our bellies I stashed our leftovers in my backpack, thinking how nice a picnic it would be at the top of our hike. This my friends is what my 5th grade writing teacher would call foreshadowing. Stay tuned.
To get to the base of Mount Zwegabin we hired a moto right outside of the market where we broke our fast.
It was an exciting ride as it was our first time riding three-to-a-moto.
As we approached the mountain T and I looked at each other thinking, no way this can be it. We weren’t able to capture a shot that can fully express how massive the mountain looks as you approach it (due to the three-to-a-moto seating arrangement) but it’s safe to say it looked like Mt. Everest’s jungley cousin.
We asked our driver to drop us off on the east side of the mountain as our guest house owner had told us that the east side was a more difficult climb. We figured “why not get it out of the way first rather than on our descent when our legs are less muscle and more jello?”
White Buddhas As Far As the Eye Can See
Pulling up to the trail head we were suddenly surrounded by rows upon rows of white seated Buddha statues. It was breath-taking to see the crisp white figures contrast against the lush green forest.
As we stepped off our moto and were awed by the spectacular view, I was also astonished by the number of mosquito bites I had collected on our 15 minute drive from town. And wouldn’t you know it, we forgot our mozzie spray back at the guest house? Thus began our hike, with mosquito vigilance on high and happy exclamations of “yeah!” and “get ‘em!” when we squashed one.
Luckily mozzies weren’t our only companions that hailed from the animal kingdom.
We were even accompanied by our own faithful guide dog. He met up with us at the monastery at the base of the trail and immediately took the lead, rushing ahead of us only to pause and look back like “are you slow pokes coming or what!?”
Climbing Mount Zwegabin, Not For The Weak of
A few steps into our hike and I knew that we were in for a major booty work out. There were a few segments of actual path on the trail but the majority of the hike is composed of tiny steps ever ascending into the clouds.
Even with the mind numbing number of steep steps (try saying that 10 times fast!) the hike was soooo worth it because of the high-up-in-the-sky view points.
We had almost reached the top when there came a rustling sound from the bushes to our side. Thinking it was just our guide dog or some other innocuous critter we continued with our (by then) glacial pace of stepping on up.
Only when our faithful pup began growling did I glance up to see a large macaque storming towards us through the jungle. We had read that the monks of Kayin monastery at the top of the mountain had special “monkey feeding times” but some how didn’t put together that a plastic bag full of breakfast left overs + monkeys used to being fed by humans = bad news bears.
With our guide dog turned guard dog holding the macaque at bay, we scampered up the remaining steps with amazing speed given our feet felt full of lead only seconds before. It’s unbelievable what a big ‘ol dose of adrenaline due to a macaque ambush will do!
We reached the monastery at the top more than slightly shaken by our close call with the macaque. A monk who was sweeping the steps as we came to the top told us we were a bit early for the monkey feeding, which would take place in about an hour. Thanks buddy, wish we would have known that earlier!
Though the actual monastery was nothing out of the ordinary (gold stuppa, zodiac symbols, pagoda, etc. Hm…I might be a little pagoda’d out…) the fact that it was on the highest point as far as the eye could see, providing spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, made the climb worth it, monkey adventure included.
Mount Zwegabin rises over 4,000 feet above the valley floor, providing a stunning panorama of Hpa-an down below.
That’s All Folks
After a short rest at the monastery where we refilled our water bottles from the communal jug and watched a young monk during his sling shot practice, we began our descent down the west side of the mountain.
Going down took us much less time due to the larger width of steps and steadily increasing number of mosquitos urging us forward.
As we reached the bottom is was simultaneously humbling and pride-inducing to see the enormous height of the mountain mother nature had created while also knowing that we had just climbed that peak!
At the gate marking the exit from Mount Zwegabin we paused to ask a fellow lounging on his moto which direction Hpa-an was, planning to walk towards town until we could catch a lift on one of the pick-up trucks that often transport villagers to and from the city center. The man generously offered to give us a ride on his bike as he was also heading into Hpa-an.
Back to three-to-a-moto, we ended our Mount Zwegabin experience with the kindness of a stranger.
Duration of hike: 2 hours
Number of steps: Infinity & Beyond
Life saving canines: One
Sore derriers: Two