29.01. Hapa-an 2, visits to several pagodas in limestone caves, canoe trip and walk, bat cave
The full day at Hapa-an was again devoted mainly to landscape with only a few monks but lots of Buddhas of all shapes and sizes to be seen. These were sometimes set out in serried ranks in the countryside but mainly to be found in caves. We had a local guide, Ko Ko Oo, for the day to escort us to the many interesting sights. The Kawt-Ka-Thaug monastery had rows of monks rather than Buddhas outside the cave. These led us to a so-called waterfall which was in fact more like a swimming-pool complete with mermaid. At nearby Lat-Ka-Na village we had another opportunity to see silk weaving in progress.
The Sadan cave visited next was huge with a very high entrance and extended back a long way through the mountain to an exit on the far side. It took nearly an hour to view and walk through it using head-torches since the lighting was only minimal. It was like being in a Lord of the Rings film but without dwarves or orcs. At the far end we boarded two canoes to take us across a small but very picturesque lake and through another tunnel to the other side of a steep rock face. The lake dwindled to a narrow channel alongside paddy fields before we reached dry land. Finally a short walk took us back to the main cave entrance and the pagoda.
Kawt-Gone cave, the third cave visited, had many hundreds of tiny Buddha figures all over the walls as well as the more usual gilded statues.
The chance spotting of a group of locals setting out rice plants in a paddy field gave us a complete change of photo subject. Most if not all of them seemed to enjoy being photographed. There was a small boy among them who treated it as a game although he was in fact helping. I wondered how my grandson would have enjoyed splashing about in the mud like that.
After visiting Ya-Thay-Pyan cave part way up a cliff face we moved to the river where there was a cave occupied by bats. This one does not enter but waits for the bats to emerge at dusk. When they appear the local monk beats drums for most of the time they are streaming out in their thousands. This lasts for more than 10 minutes and the total number of bats must have run into millions. It was like being in a David Attenborough film this time. The trail of bats stretched across the sky above the expanse of the river a far as the eye could see. Towards the end several hawks appeared hoping for an easy meal.