Where to eat and drink: Hpa-an

Hpa-an: Where to eat and drink

For a small town, Hpa-an has a reasonably wide range of eateries including some very good ones. And though the town lacks any real bars apart from the regular edge of town beer stations, it does have a couple of excellent coffee shops.

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For breakfast, the excellent New Day Bakery is our top choice. Enjoy their 700 kyat house special puris (Indian pancakes) and dahl along with omelettes, Chinese steamed buns or toast and eggs for the more conservative, all washed down with fresh coffee, juices and shakes. It’s cheap, friendly and lively with English spoken– it’s worth a stop even if your hotel includes breakfast. Found next to the bus stops, it’s especially convenient if you’re taking an early ride. On a busy morning they can run out of dahl pretty early, so be quick.

A feast at Sam Ma Tau. : Mark Ord.
A feast at Sam Ma Tau. Photo: Mark Ord

Round the corner, down Thit Lar Street and next door to the breakfast-less Soe Brothers’ is local-style coffee shop Shwe Thadar, with an English-language menu and knocking up simple breakfasts. Fried rice with an egg on top, for example, is a bargain 500 kyat. This is a friendly spot great for taking in the street action; the main drawback is they only serve dreaded 3-in-1 coffee. Of course, grabbing some takeaway at the market is always a good breakfast option, too.

For lunch and dinner Hpa-an has a commendable choice in town, starting with the awesome San Ma Tau (or Sanmatu) Restaurant. It’s not only our favourite eatery in Hpa-an but one of our faves anywhere in the country. Located on Bogyoke Street, a little way out of the centre, it’s well worth the 15-minute walk or a taxi ride to get here.

Market breakfast. : Mark Ord.
Market breakfast. Photo: Mark Ord

The traditional Burmese curry house’s claim to fame — and it is very much a local institution — is that your curry selection comes with no fewer than 10 free side dishes including a soup, vegetables, dips and chutneys. For 2,500 kyat that’s a great deal. They are open all day, but don’t leave it too late in the evening or there won’t be much left. It’s a very popular spot with both locals and visitors, and they do have an English-language menu. Note that there are several small connecting rooms leading back from the entrance so even if it seems full at first glance, keep on walking through to find a spot.

Golden Tamarind is another popular curry house, though yet to become so well known among visitors, so it lacks a menu in English. There’s not such a wide choice either and fewer side dishes are served, but the main curries are still pretty good. They do run out quickly – always a good sign – so it may be a better option for lunch. This is also on Main Road, though closer to the clock-tower and only a short walk from the town centre.

More morning market choices. : Mark Ord.
More morning market choices. Photo: Mark Ord

For cooked-to-order Burmese fare of a more Chinese orientation, then popular Lucky 1 and Khit Thit are found almost opposite each other down Zay Tan or Zaydan Street just before KBZ bank. With cheap, copious dishes, central locations and extensive English-language menus, these are both already firm faves with Western travellers as well as locals. You wouldn’t go to either for the decor and interiors are on the grungy side but the food at both is very good. Mains go for around 2-3,000 kyat, or fried rice or noodles are 1,200 to 1,500 kyat. We had a slight preference for the old wooden Khit Thit’s offerings — try their huge portion of sour and hot chicken/pork — though service was seriously slow. Lucky, in a newer concrete building, compensates by having Myanmar Beer on tap. Opening times and prices are comparable and both have plenty of vegetarian options.

Round the corner and next door to each other are a couple of simpler cafes with half a dozen tables in each. Sunshine (there’s no English sign) specialises in vegetarian food, though they do have a couple of seafood choices. Fried rice is 1,000 kyat and their tea-leaf salad – the best we found in town – is a mere 700 kyat. Friendly staff speak some English and you’ll find it down Thit Sar Street about half way between the police station and Galaxy. Very similar looking Shwedagar next door serves sodas, juices and ice creams. Facing the shopfronts, Shwedagar (which does have an English sign) is on the right and Sunshine on the left.

Serving up a meal at Sam Ma Tau. : Mark Ord.
Serving up a meal at Sam Ma Tau. Photo: Mark Ord

As far as hotel restaurants go, the best bets in town are Gabbana and Glory, which have extensive English-language menus including Thai, Chinese and a few Western offerings. Prices are slightly higher than local-style cafes.

Out of the centre but worth making the effort to get to is the excellent Veranda, a self-styled community cafe offering training and employment to local youths and serving up a decent selection of local Karen dishes and salads along with fresh coffee, teas, juices and shakes. The building’s constructed in traditional style: think bamboo, wood and leaf roof and seating areas scattered around a pleasant garden. Lots of info is tacked to the walls and pamphlets are wedged into stands explaining local schemes and initiatives. The few extra kyat you pay per dish are obviously going to a good cause. Food is excellent albeit slightly toned down for foreign tastes – which some may appreciate – and their coffee is thankfully a good brew. English is spoken by the enthusiastic staff and WiFi is available.

Veranda. : Mark Ord.
Veranda. Photo: Mark Ord

To find it: If you pass the fancy town hall and Kayin State Cultural Museum on Zwekabin Street take a right when you hit the duck boat rental. Veranda is a few hundred metres further down the same street on the left.

Talking of decent coffee brings us to the very good Gabbana Hotel cafe and bakery. We mentioned New Day for its coffee, Chinese buns and Indian puris but Gabbana is the best Western-style bakery in town, offering cheesecake, brownies, croissants and so on to accompany their range of coffees, juices and smoothies. Sandwiches, burgers, free WiFi and friendly staff make this an essential stop on your way to or from the lake. The coffee shop is located on School (BEHS) Street in the same building as, but separate from, the hotel itself just past the fire station, so about halfway between the town centre and Kan Thar Yar.

Other than local-style beer stations on the edge of town, bars as such haven’t reached Hpa-an yet though all the eateries popular with visitors such as San Ma Tau and Khit Thit serve beer and Lucky 1 even have draught. For something other than beer, again Gabbana or Glory Hotel bars are your best bet. The latter on the eighth floor provides splendid views too. Another hotel bar/restaurant well worth mentioning is the well placed riverside terrace at Than Lwin Paradise, Hpa-an’s top place for a sundowner.

Hpa-an’s eating and drinking scene is evolving fast as more visitors arrive, so expect new options to appear in the near future.

Gabbana Coffee Shop and Bakery: BEHS (School) St, Hpa-an; open daily 07:00-21:00.
Golden Tamarind (Shwe Ma Gyi Pin): Bogyoke (Main) Rd, Hpa-an; T: (058) 21618; open daily 10:00-19:00.
New Day Bakery: Main Rd, opposite Phoe La Min Supermarket, Hpa-an; open daily 07:00-19:00.
Khit Thit: Zay Tan St, Hpa-an; T: (058) 21344, (058) 22045; open daily 08:00-22:00.
Lucky 1: Zay Tan St, Hpa-an; open daily 08:00-23:00.
San Ma Tau: 1/290 Bogyoke (Main) Rd, Hpa-an; T: (058) 21802, (095) 660 626; open daily 10:00-21:00.
Shwedagar: Thit Sar St, Hpa-an; open daily 09:00-21:00.
Shwe Thadar: 145 Thit Sar St, Hpa-an; T: (058) 21946, (094) 2500 0140; open daily from 05:00.
Sunshine Cafe: Thit Sar St, Hpa-an; open daily 06:00-22:00.
Veranda Youth Community Cafe: Zwekabin St, Hpa-an; T: (092) 5595 3135, (097) 8822 7124; http://www.verandacafe.weebly.com; open Mon-Sat 09:00-20:00.

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Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.