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A shaft of sunlight penetrates the darkness of Yathae Pyan cave in Myanmar’s mountains, where a local man rests and smokes.

Caves pockmark the mountains of the Southeast Asian country, but this is a cave with a difference. Like some others scattered through Myanmar, Yathae Pyan has been turned into a Buddhist place of worship.

Statues of Buddha and Buddhist deities plus stupas, dome-shaped religious structures, have been built in some of Myanmar’s caves, turning them into mystical, other-worldy places.

Buddhist caves have a long history in Asia. Some in India date back to 200 B.C.; others have massive, centuries-old carvings of Buddha, more than 50 feet tall, hewed from the rock.

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At Myanmar’s off-the-beaten-track Yathae Pyan, locals and tourists come to worship, to admire or just to sit and smoke in the relative coolness of a sacred cave.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at