WEEKEND ESCAPE Scenic Pindaya and its spectacular cave of Buddha images
It's an uncomfortable hour-long journey from Aung Ban to Pindaya in a local bus, but the scenery is gorgeous. The fertile, rolling hills are dotted with multi-coloured fields of mustard greens, wheat, and potatoes, and resemble a patchwork quilt. Poinsettias and flame trees line the road as well as dozens of vendors selling bottles of honey and fried bean snacks. The scenery only gets better once you arrive at Pindaya.
A small town, Pindaya is built around Pone Taloke Lake and nestles at the base of a jungle-covered mountain range. Most of the town's residents are members of the Danu ethnic group, but Pa-O and Palaung communities live nearby. The town has a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.
Along the road between the town and its most famous attraction, the Shwe Oo Min cave, is an open area graced by many ancient Bodhi (ficus religiosa) trees, which are revered by Buddhists because it was while meditating under such a tree at Bodhgaya in India that the Lord Buddha gained Enlightenment. Some of the Bodhi trees are so large that boulders have been placed around their bases to prevent them from toppling over under their own weight.
The cave is near the top of the mountain range overlooking Pindaya and houses more than 8,000 Buddha images. It is one of the nation's most popular pilgrimage destinations and attracts devotees from throughout the world, many of whom have contributed to the spectacle by donating images large and small and in a range of styles. Lay people, monks and nuns make the journey to the cave throughout the year to pay their respects and marvel at its geological formations.
A bizarre feature at the entrance to the cave is the giant statues of a spider being confronted by a legendary prince poised to fire an arrow. These two characters have nothing to do with Buddhism but pay homage to the legend of the town's history and the origin of the name “Pindaya”.
It's fitting that local legend revolves around heroics and love, because Pindaya and its picturesque surroundings have acquired the reputation as a romantic destination. Considering the size of the town and effort required to reach it, there is a surprising number of hotels around the town and many offer honeymoon suites. Most charge reasonable prices (much lower than Bagan and better value for your dollar than Yangon). Comfortable lodgings can be found for US$15 a night, but be prepared to pay $140 for a honeymoon suite.
If pagodas or romance holds no allure for you, Pindaya is still a worthwhile destination because of an abundance of good trekking. Guides are available in the town for day and overnight treks, during which home-stay accommodation is available in the surrounding Palaung villages. An attraction of a walk in the hills is encountering one of the region's colourful rotating markets, but if don't have time to go trekking there's one every fifth day in Pindaya. Villagers from the surrounding area throng the market and it quadruples in size. The products on sale include hand-made Shan paper and parasols made by Aung Umbrella. You can watch the paper being made at its outlet on the edge of the Bodhi tree field.