Update 18-10-2017: As per comment on this post, it looks like it’s no longer possible!
Update 20-10-2017: I asked my niece who was there 7 months ago and she went up there and slept just two days before it happened. She also says that she’s heard alot of people say they couldn’t go up there anymore.
Please confirm / de-confirm if you have updated knowledge
Note: for detailed practical information, scroll down
The mission (and its complications)
The first time I saw the monastery in Hpa-An was while visiting a field filled with statues of Buddha, more than 1100 actually. There, in the distance on a mountain top, I saw the monastery and I immediately wanted to go up there. I knew it was possible to go up there and climb down the same day but I’d also heard people talk about sleeping in the monastery. However, there were some implications.
First of all, I wasn’t sure if it was even legal/possible with the Myanmar government having some strict laws against foreigners (hostels have to have a license to be allowed to host foreigners) and I was getting mixed signals from asking around – some said it was possible, some said it wasn’t. Secondly I had to actually climb 2000 steps and finally I was probably going to have to sleep on a rather hard surface with nightly temperatures actually making the experience a rather chilly one. Even though it was warm in the day, it got chilly at night.
After getting direct confirmation from people who had done it I was convinced and my mission was clear:
Climb the 2000 steps
Watch the sunset
Watch the sunrise
The ascend to the monastery
I started the ascend from the bottom of the mountain around 15:30 (3:30pm) carrying with me 1 litre of water, a hoodie, a camera, a phone, my wallet and a power bank. Around 17:00 I finished. I believe it can be done in 1hour with someone experienced but takes more like 2 hours if you are not rushing, I did it in 1:25. The first step of the way I was following a guy that was going pretty fast but halfway up (after only 35 minutes) he got ahead of me and I slowed down my pace considerably after that.
The steps seemed to be endless and just when I thought I’d made it another leg of stairs revealed itself. In the end I found that a very slow speed (like a step every second) was the way to go, as I almost didn’t have to take any breaks like that. Slow and steady wins the race and finally I got there.
At the top there was a sleeping hall for the monks, a sleeping hall for tourists and a restaurant like building where they cooked food. It was also possible to buy food there as a tourist between 6pm and 7pm. There was of course also a few Pagodas and other religious symbols. And then there were monkeys – aggressive monkeys. They would snatch anything you had left unnoticed including things out of purses and coke cans out of your hands. Luckily there were also dogs and all through the evening the dogs and monkeys would fight each other – the monkeys would come close and the dogs would bark them away. It was fun to watch how, as soon as someone made a little scream due to a monkey coming too close, the dogs would come running instantly to scare them away.
Quickly after reaching the top, I sat down at the eating area and was offered free food and tea by the monks – not enough for dinner, but enough to keep me going until real dinner later that evening.
The rest of the evening was spent watching the monkeys and the sunset and also the 8 of us up there who were tourists played a bit of cards before hitting the bed early.
The descent in the morning around 6:30 was much quicker. I got down and scooted back to town to return the scooter. I had made an agreement with the scooter renters to not charge me an extra day even though they technically want you to return it the evening before. One thing to note though is that you should stretch! I could feel my calves for days after that descend.
It takes about 2hours to climb the steps, 1hour if you are fast, 3 hours if you are slow
Sunset is around 5:45pm but depends on time of year. I started at 3:30pm and made it easily.
The first four to check in will be sleeping in twin rooms (2 in each – seperate beds)
The rest will sleep in a sleeping hall
Beds are not soft but not rock hard either
You are expected to give around 5000 kyats in “donation” to sleep there
There is food up there and you will be provided with a blanket. You can also buy soft drinks – no beer!
I slept in shorts and a hoodie and that was warm enough – I was in a twin room. This was in winter time
There was power in the twin room
The climb is fairly rough and steep but I’m not trained at all and I would say anyone could make it, given enough time.
You’ll be in shade about half the time
I rented a scooter to get there and left it overnight. Another guy hitchhiked there and back – it’s not hard.
There are two entrances and the main is at the field of Buddhas about 30 mins out of Hpa-an- ask around but it’s not hard to find.