Set around a picturesque lake, Pindaya is a tranquil town with a bustling market and spectacular views. Most visitors find themselves here for one reason alone - the impressive Shwe Oo Min Cave filled with thousands upon thousands of glossy Buddha statues. Pindaya is inhabited by local tribes of Danu and Pa-O well-known for their traditional colorful headdresses.
Pindaya, typically a Shan State town, is situated about the beautiful Pone Taloke Lake - a little, calm place with a busy marketplace and locals that are friendly. Lots of visitors come here only to visit the incredible Shwe Oo Min Cave on top of town, which is packed with shiny Buddha statues in thousands. The majority view the cave, have lunch and after that go right back to Kalaw or Inle, however it is definitely worth hanging around all night. Apart from being one of the very few tourists hanging about here, you will have the opportunity to view the cave at the daybreak, prior to the arrival of the tour buses.
When journeying into Pindaya, unpeel your peepers and keep it that way, because the rural area hereabouts is particularly spectacular. You will find ample evidence that the region is made from earth of a deep red shade with the constant potholes, diversions and other disruptions to the bumpy road. This is capable of looking mercilessly parched in the dry season, but it bursts into a collage of green during the rainy season, which makes this a vital agricultural zone in Shan State. In addition, be on the lookout for the persons you will meet along the way - groups of Pa-O and Danu, splendid under colourful headgears.
Shwe Oo Min Cave
There are formations of rock found in cave systems across East Asia, which when viewed from a particular position, in a particular light or with the mind's eye look like Buddhist statues and the locals will be more than happy to show them to you. Imagine the delight you’ll feel to discover that the Shwe Oo Min Cave has over 9,000 genuine Buddha statues. Apparently, there has been a pagoda stationed at the entrance of a cave since the third century BC and residents enjoy entertaining tourists with the fable that a giant spider inhabited the grotto. The story goes that the spider was attracted to local princesses and confined them here (possibly the reason the statues inside the cave can only be traced back to the late 18th century). More statues are continually being added by Buddhist believers and various international organisations.
The cave is situated at an inclined angle on a limestone cliff above town; you will come across lots of covered staircases that lead upward from closer to ground level, and the higher you go the better the views. There’s also a lift - heading from the road top to the cave level- available for people who neither have the time nor the energy to walk the stairs. However, note that it takes a lunch break for reasons I do not know. It is advisable you start out early because the place is at its magical best and most excitingly free from tourist around daybreak. Also, endeavour to take pictures of the mountainside before you start heading up as this will help you find direction the moment you arrive there as well as on your way back down.
The cave itself is somewhat remarkable. While going down, take note of the various materials that the statues are made of including marble, cement, wood, etc. The moment you step into the largest of the grotto chambers - a damp place which probably still contains sweat and breadth from the colonial era - the level of CO2 and the temperature suddenly increase.
While you are at the cave, there are a few other interesting things to see. The first is the lovely Monastery just alongside; a mixture of esoteric air and whitewashed walls gives it an almost Tibetan feeling. The second is Alegu, which is the largest Buddha on the mountainside with a height of over 12m, seated in a side-hall some further along.
Hsin Khaung Taung Kyaung
This is a large, fascinating monastery, built from carved teakwood; it is an interesting site to visit if you will be spending more than just a few hours in Pindaya. It is very easy to stop by this on your way to or from Shwe Oo Min - downhill to the north of the cave, beside a filthy track from one of the covered colonnade exits. Only very few tourists head in this direction so don't be surprised to get some degree of attention from local monks and progenies.
Pone Taloke Lake
Life in Pindaya rotates around this beautiful lake, and since there isn’t anything much to do, you will most definitely find yourself wandering along its banks if you are staying overnight in Pindaya. The view is best appreciated from Green Tea restaurant on the west side of the bank, and a fine monastery is situated on the northern side. Furthermore, the lake looks very beautiful in the stillness of the night, when twinkly lights are switched on around the coastline.
Walking around Pindaya
The journey from Kalaw to Inle takes three days and it is unquestionably fantastic, but Pindaya itself also provides opportunities for trekking; the finest being the five-hour hike to Yazagyi, a Padaung community located in the highlands.