Visiting Nyaung Shwe, Kakku and Pindaya caves
1. Nyaung Shwe
Nyaung Shwe offers interesting spots like The Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, Yadana Man Aung Pagoda and the local market. The Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery is a fascinating wooden monastery built in the early 19th Century. It is a red painted teak wood building with oval windows and richly decorated with mosaics and golden ornaments. Close to the monastery, there is a beautiful Pagoda containing many small cavities with little Buddha statues.
Yadana Man Aung Pagoda is the oldest and most important shrine in the city. Built in 1866, this Pagoda is famous for its Shan traditional architecture with its stepped stupa unique in Myanmar. As with all the markets around the lake, the local market opens only every 5 days (a 5-days rotating market). It’s fascinating since the women from the several hill tribes who live around the lake come to sell their products, homemade crafts, fruit and vegetables.
Kakku is a popular tourist attraction site reachable in 3 hrs by car from Nyaung Shwe and was allowed to be visited by the tourists very recently. Located in the heart of Shan State, in a beautiful natural landscape with no villages nearby, Kakku is mainly a group of thousands of pagodas clustered close to each other, surrounding a more prominent spire set on a rise. The architecture of the pagodas looks like they were built in the 16th century, but the local Pa-O people believe them to be centuries older. Almost all of them are decorated with floral designs or figures of celestial beings or bird-men climbing up the sides, created out of stucco. For centuries, the complex has been the personal and intimate place of worship for the Pa-O tribal people that believe a holy relic of the Buddha Gautama was enshrined under the central spire.
Along the road to Kakku, there is the town of Taunggyi, where you’ll find the Kakku Visitor Centre and the charming “5 days rotating market” with many local Pa-O people instantly recognisable by the colourful towels that the women wear on their heads. Here, it is also worth attending the Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival for several days during the “Full Moon of Tazaungmon”, a national holiday that marks the end of the rainy season (usually in November).
Only 80 km north-west from Nyang Shwe, Pindaya is mostly famous for its limestone caves, its attractive lakeside setting, and the traditional Shan paper umbrellas manufactured here. The beautiful Pindaya caves, set deep in the hillsides, contain around 9000 Buddhas of various sizes, made of white marble, bronze or plaster, and coated with gold leaf. At the caves’ entrance, you’ll notice the statue of a giant spider and a Prince. A local legend says that seven princesses, daughters of a nat-king, were bathing in a lake at the foot of the mountain and did not notice the night was falling quickly. When it was too dark to go home, they decided to spend the night in a nearby cave. The princesses didn’t know that a giant spider was living in another close cave. The giant spider made a web in front of the entrance where the princesses were sleeping, so they could not get out, remaining trapped inside. When the princesses woke up the next morning and realised what was going to happen. So they started screaming until a handsome and vigilant prince heard their cry for help. The prince came to the rescue and killed the giant spider with a bow and an arrow. He thus saved the princesses from certain death, and his reward was to marry the most beautiful of the seven princesses.
Once your visit is over, if you still have time, you can also have a walk around the town with its beautiful lakeside and colonial-era buildings. From the caves to the city, there is a covered walkway that follows the hillside.
Need to know
1. Getting there
If you stay in Nyaung Shwe, the best way to get the spots are with a local tour operator.
The ride from Nyaung Shwe to Pindaya caves takes around three hours by taxi and costs around 90.000 Kyats. You can also ask your accommodation to arrange or book the trip.
From Nyaung Shwe to Kakku, it takes around 2 hrs and a half by taxi and costs around 60.000 kyats. Another option is to take a pick up or bus to Taunggy and then look for a taxi to Kakku. Keep in mind that using local transport (bus or a pick-up) to get to the sites and back takes you a very long time.
2. Activities on the lake and tours
From a boat trip to a flight with a hot hair balloon, biking, hiking, photography class and photo walk, meditation retreats or beautiful religious sites like Kakku. The choice is wide. You can arrange your tours with a local tour agency in Nyaung Shwe; alternatively, you quickly book your activities and tours through web platforms as GetYourGuide.com and Viator.com, which offer good choices at affordable prices. You can try to go straight to the canal (Strand Road) where boats are located and haggle the price for a day trip, but sometimes it is not so easy to find a seat during the high season due to the many tourists.