It is impossible to see more than a few meters in any direction. The sticky, claustrophobic jungle presses in on us from all sides as we scramble up the muddy path. A colorful fresh water crab skitters away from my foot, shocked at this unwanted intrusion. Sweating, I curse and grab a branch to heave myself up another shortcut through the tangled undergrowth.
When we began our ascent we had passed thousands of Buddha statues uniformly laid out in a huge grid in a series of fields. Many were cracked, broken and half consumed by jungle, others had been freshly painted. Smiling serenely, they had seemed to wish us well as we began our climb, but that had been two hours ago. I have run out of water and the sweltering heat is sapping my energy. After half an hour we finally reach the monastery atop the mountain, the largest in Kayin state, and are able to refill our water bottles whilst chatting with some friendly monks.
To my left two young novices stare out at the scene unfurling before us. Tantalizing windows in the swirling mists below provide glimpses of forest covered ridges and stupa crowned peaks. Every major crag seems to support a monastery and even the tiniest spikes of rock are topped by golden stupas. In the distance I can make out a churning brown river ploughing through the countryside. Below us, luminous paddy fields are bordered by crystal clear lakes and small clusters of houses. It truly is a breathtaking sight. Best of all we have it all to ourselves, very few travelers make it to this corner of Myanmar and although this is likely to change I feel very lucky to be here.
We snack on juicy mangoes and delicious sweet bananas given to us by the monks before climbing down and heading to a small village. Here we swim in a local watering hole hemmed in by mighty limestone buttresses. It was not long before we heard of a huge cave concealed in the mountains. Intrigued, we went to investigate…