Travelers Return to Hpa-an as Myanmar’s Domestic Tourism Reopens

By Lwin Mar Htun 31 July 2020

As Myanmar has allowed domestic tourism to reopen, businesses in tourist hotspots have welcomed back travelers—including foreigners already in the country.

Since the beginning of the June, most popular travel destinations, including Mandalay, Bagan, Pyin Oo Lwin, Inle Lake, Kalaw, Hsipaw, Hpa-An and others, have opened up.

Among them is Hpa-An, the capital of Karen State and a picturesque town with lush green rice fields, limestone mountains and huge caves. Located 270 km from Yangon in eastern Myanmar, the destination has become viral on social media and popular among local travelers.

“Since the middle of June, the number of travelers in Hpa-An has increased amazingly, with hotels 80 percent booked even on the weekdays,” said Ma Khine Wint Phyu, director of sales and marketing for Amata Hotel Group, which runs the My Hpa-An Residence hotel.

Trekking uphill to mount Zwekabin. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

“Compared with the high season, travel to Hpa-An is up 20 percent during COVID-19,” she added. “This whole July is fully booked—all the visitors are local and only 3 percent are expats.”

In late March, Myanmar went into lockdown and all schools, restaurants and hotels were closed, with most people staying home.

But since the start of June, the government has eased some restrictions as the country has seen few local transmissions of COVID-19.

“People suffocated at home for over two months during lockdown and they are all badly wanting to relax by travelling,” Ma Khine Wint Phyu said. “Hpa-An is greener in monsoon season and everywhere is green and fresh—and it’s not very far from Yangon. That’s why people are choosing Hpa-An, I think.”

Hotel employees now check the temperatures of visitors before they enter and visitors must wear masks before they check-in.

Inside Saddhan Cave. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

“All of our staff also wear masks, face shields and gloves and practice social distancing from guests,” Ma Khine Winy Phyu said. She added that all rooms are sprayed with disinfectant one day before guests arrive as well as after they leave.

Hotels are also offering special promotion rates on rooms.

“Hpa-An is only five hours’ drive from Yangon and many activities like hiking, kayaking and cave trekking are there,” popular local food and travel blogger Ko Kyaw Soe Lwin told The Irrawaddy in Hpa-An. “All the views are beautiful and scenic, and it’s more crowded in weekend.”

“Warning notes and signs related to COVID-19 are placed in every hotel and restaurant, but some travelers are not following the rules,” he added. “For example, some people are not wearing masks and forget about social distancing while visiting the Hpa-An night market. The authorities from the region should be strict with the rules, like to limit the number of people entering the main attractions in order to have social distancing.”

A lake at the far end of Saddhan Cave. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

He said that the increase in people means more travelers are also throwing trash along the way while trekking and hiking, polluting the area with plastic.

“Hpa-An itself is always beautiful during the monsoon or winter,” Ko Kyaw Soe Lwin said. “There are plenty of good restaurants and it’s a nice spot to spend the weekend.”

Hpa-An has many tourist spots, including mount Taung Wine, mount Zwekabin, Kyauk Kalap pagoda, Kawgun cave, Saddan cave, boat tours to Mawlamyine, bike tours around Hpa-An and more.

“Domestic tourism develop more in the coming months. The tourism industry has to depend on local travellers during this COVID-19 situation, I think,” said Ma Khine Wint Phyu.

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