Everything in this article is based on my own personal experiences at Mount Zwegabin in 2017. For my top 10 things to know about sleeping at Zwegabin, skip to the bottom of this article.
I pulled into a grassy area with a thousand buddha statues surrounding me. It was eerily quiet, but peaceful in its own way.
I'd driven 8 kilometers out of Hpa-An, Myanmar in search of an experience of a lifetime.
I think I'd found it.
The towering mountain summit behind the buddhas was my destination.
It was Mount Zwegabin. Zwegabin sits 722 meters (2,369 ft) high on the outskirts of Hpa-An, Myanmar. To reach the summit it's a strenuous trek up steep trails.
But I wasn't just there for the hike.
At the summit sits a beautiful monastery with sweeping, panoramic views. I'd heard, if you ask nice enough, the monks will allow you to sleep up there with them.
I couldn't resist how incredible it sounded, so there I was.
Sleeping at the summit
It was midday and the sun was unrelenting. I was on foot from here.
I quickly found the start of the hike and set out. I felt the sun taking a toll just 20 minutes in.
Once I arrived at the summit I barely had time to catch my breath before I was called to what I assumed was the head monk.
He didn't say a word.
"Can I sleep here," I asked in a sweaty mess.
He nodded and held out his hand. I gave him 5000 Kyats ($3.60USD) and he tied a yellow bracelet around my wrist.
I was shown to a sleeping area by another monk.
I was disappointed to learn there was a separate living space for foreigners, which made it feel more hostel-like than the vision I'd had of bunking up with the monks. But it made sense.
Apart from that, everything was as you'd expect for sleeping on a mountain. Hard mattresses, uncleaned blankets, and about 20 beds - all part of the experience. If you come here for anything else, you're in the wrong place.
The summit temple reminded me of Adam's Peak, except you have it all to yourself.
A few other foreigners arrived, along with some monkeys and we all sat together and watched a breathtaking sunset in pure awe.
Once darkness set in the temple lit up, glimmering to life.
Foreigners were called to dinner.
There was little interaction with the temple monks, which extended to dinner. For 3000 kyats ($2.20 USD), we were served a basic vegan meal of rice and veggies, which was filling.
After dinner, a few of us stayed up exchanging travel stories, but planning for sunrise, we put our heads down early.
I must have had three hours of sleep before the gongs went off. Then the prayers started. In fact, the whole night there was monk activity, prayers and gongs. It was impossible to sleep well.
The next morning I woke to one of the most spectacular sunrises I've never witnessed. The sun seemed to invigorate me, filling me with the energy I'd lost through lack of sleep.
Once the sun was up, I didn't hang around long and made the journey down the mountain with new friends and a pretty cool story to tell.
Getting to Mount Zwegabin
Mount Zwegabin is about 8 kilometers outside of Hpa-An, a small town east of the capital, Yangon. It takes between 5-7 hours to get from Yangon to Hpa-An by bus or train.
Once in Hpa-An, you have two options to get to Zwegabin: rent a motorbike or get a tuktuk driver to take you there. If you opt for a driver, it might be a good idea to arrange a pick-up time the following day.
At the foot of Mount Zwegabin you'll find the Lumbini Gardens where there are 1100 buddhas statues. It makes for a nice start to the hike ahead.
The start of the trail is reasonably easy to find from the buddha garden. Once you're on the path you'll encounter steps, and steep inclines.
For those who are reasonably in fit, it'll take about 2 hours to complete but could take considerably longer if you take a lot of breaks.
The trail does have monkeys, which will steal any food or anything else that interests them. You'll want to keep things secure in packs just in case.
Note: Don't miss Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda, which is located very close to Zwegabin.
Hpa-An (pronounced Paa-Ann) is a small Burmese town in the south-east of Myanmar.
The town is a lesser-known tourist destination compared to hotspots like Bagan and Inle. The most popular attraction is Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda, but there is a number of hikes, caves and attractions for tourists.
Accommodation was limited when I arrived late into Hpa-An. I eventually secured a room at Soe Brothers 2, which was lucky as its one of the more popular places to stay in the town.
Things to know about Mount Zwegabin:
To summarize my experience sleeping at Zwegabin, here's a list of 10 things you should know before visiting.
1. The hike up is strenuous
It takes 2-3 hours of steep hiking to reach the summit depending on fitness and temperature.
2. You need to donate 5000 kyats to sleep there
At around $3 USD, it's worth it.
3. The food served is vegan
Eat what the monks eat for 3000 kyats. There's no other choice unless you've brought your own food.
4. The sleeping arrangement is very basic
Don't expect 5-star... or even 1-star accommodation here.
5. You probably won't get much sleep
Gongs, prayers and chanting. What did you expect?
6. Watch out for the monkeys
Those cheeky monkeys will steal so be careful.
7. You won't get to interact with the monks
Unfortunately, the monks and foreigners are separated for meals and sleeping.
8. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda is close by
Don't miss this popular attraction.
9. Don't miss sunrise
This was a genuinely stunning event.
10. Be respectful
It's a rare experience to sleep atop a mountain with monks, and the privilege shouldn't be taken advantage of. We don't want to lose this.