Well, at least that was an interesting experience… Let me tell you about the lead up to the cave (and the aftermath).
First, we got to Pa-an after two transfers, using 2 buses and a pick-up truck. It took us about 4 to 5 hours and cost about 6$US (I love the cheap transportation here). As an added bonus, I got a good wind/sun burn from riding on top of the pick-up. When we got there, we checked into Lonely Planet’s recommendation, allegedly home to a great guide, nice rooms and an informative staff. While I don’t like to the throw the term “coffin” around loosely, this how I’d describe one of the rooms we were shown. The door didn’t even open because the bed was in the way. We picked a room with a fan and a wooden box with foam on top masquerading as a bed. At least the door opened. Oh, and the staff were probably super helpful if you spoke Myanmar, which, we don’t. When we tried to turn on the fan, we discovered that Lonely Planet’s little paragraph about Pa-an having 24/7 power because of a cement factory was probably made up. Remember kids, 24/7 power in Myanmar is too good to be true.
After getting “settled in”, we managed to meet up a couple from Texas we first met at the Golden Rock. They too were in Pa-an mainly for Saddar cave. After talking it over, we decided that we might as well go see that cave as soon as possible and leave Pa-an the next morning. Pa-an is incredibly hot and noisy in the afternoon. Not the kind of place that makes you want to stay for an extended period of time. After some negotiating, we found a motorbike trishaw willing to take us to the cave at around 4pm for 20$ (a whole day of sights is 25$, I was outraged!). So we set off in this little box welded to a motorbike, four of us sitting there, holding on to the frame (there’s no back to this safe method of transportation. There’s an actual chance of you falling off). After about 30 minutes (I had no idea a mile felt so long!), we turned on this dirt road. Now we really started holding on. After what seemed like an hour, we got to the cave. We really didn’t think it through because the sun was about to set as we got there. Oops, we can worry about that on the way home. Oh, I should mention that the road we took to get there had this bridge that would have broken had Buddha not been watching over us because I took that pilgrimage to the Golden Rock. Really. The guy stopped in the middle of the bridge, looked down to the road ahead of his one wheel (or lack there of)and gave us a “why did I accept to drive you idiots?” laugh.
The cave was pretty good. Since we got there at sunset, the bat were moving around and their wings made it sound like thunder. That was pretty awesome. And I even got to see a plant growing in the middle of darkness far in the depths of the cave. I was blown away by nature’s tenacity. But the cave’s really not the point of this story.
On our way out, our ride wouldn’t start-up. Here we were, miles from a “main” road and with a broken ride. Luckily, there’s a monastery by the cave and those boys gave us a hand. They roped the bike to their car and pulled it until the engine picked up. I’ll say now that the monks here (everywhere in this country) are usually just hanging out. I’ve seen them smoke, drive their jeeps with some other monk buddies, drink beer, play chess in a tea shop and have a meal with a girl at a restaurant. Apparently they’re also good at getting you back on the road, like the Myanmar version of CAA. I’ve been fairly critical of the monks and their constant state of hanging during the whole trip, but I’ll admit I’m quite thankful for their help (and that they weren’t doing anything else like, I don’t know, meditating or something, when we needed help).
The monks showed us the proper way back to the main road (the dirt path we took there was in much rougher condition than the road we took to get back), waved us goodbye and we were on our way back to Pa-an only to make our way to Yangon for one last time the next morning.