Out last day in Bagan was quite challenging compare to the first two days. To prepare for our last day activity, we woke up early hoping to avoid too much humidity while traveling to Mount Popa Monastery. To maximize our time, we hired a car that will bring us to Kyaukpadaung Township in the southeastern side of Bagan.
Mount Popa Taungkalat Monastery
Along the way, we stopped at the view point where we took some photos of the famous elevated Monastery. Like any touristy place in Myanmar, we were immediately approached by kids selling fruits, souvenirs and postcards. And yes, they are all persistent till you get at least 500 Kyat from you in exchange of their commodity.
Monk Statues in Mt Popa
Few minutes from the viewpoint, we finally reached the foot of the famous elevated Monastery. The local people buy flowers from peddlers to offer them at the shrine of the Mahagiri Nats to honor the spirits. I noticed an unusual number of monkeys on our way up and all of them are expecting food from travelers. Aside from monkeys, you will also encounter people asking donations for maintaining and cleaning the steps.
Monkeys in the Temple Entrance
To reach the summit, you need to climb barefoot and complete 777 steps to reach the monastery. Hiking is quite easy since the stairways are covered much like other huge temples in Myanmar. Few more steps and we finally got our reward! An amazing view of the Old Bagan and few golden stupas and beautiful temples in the surrounding area.
A Tower of Buddhas
Forget everything except your bottled water! I suggest you buy at least 1 liter of mineral water before leaving Bagan since water sold in the temple entrance and stairways are too expensive. Bagan and many other regions in Burma can get hot on days. As Myanmar is in the ‘dry zone’, the heat can make travelers weary. However, Mount Popa has a completely different weather with cold breezes.
Mount Popa is an inactive volcano that is about 50 kilometers from Old Bagan. Mount Popa is close to the popular and scenic Popa Taungkalat Monastery which is believed to be the home of 37 Mahagiri Nats. Mahagiri Nats are spirits worshipped by the people in Burma. The Monastery is a popular tourist attraction in Myanmar with the most number of visitors during the annual festival on the full moon.
Mount Popa is designated as a national park and a nature conservation area. It’s believed that the land experienced violent volcanic explosions periodically, centuries ago. The petrified trees and huge boulders spread across the mountain makes this fact evident. The volcano is extinct now, however but is still referred to as the Dormant Fire Mountain, among the locals.
Prayer to Buddha
In order to unearth the legend of Mount Popa, travelers need to spend a lot of time visiting places. The pilgrimage requires visitors to follow traditions while visiting the mountain. There are many locals who believe that wearing black, green or red clothing would offend the Nats.
Temple Brass Bell
There are several shops on the way up the mountain, where travelers can buy souvenirs and many other items at bargain prices. The panoramic view of the area surrounding the mountain is a spectacular sight, and many travelers stay at the top to watch the sunset. The drawback is that there are a lot of people living close to the mountain trying to live off the money from tourists.
Melo Villareal in Mount Popa
How to get there
The cheapest way to reach Mount Popa is by renting a car. Many hotels in Burma provide two way transportation services to Mount Popa. There are also taxis that can take visitors to the area. It’s a 45 minute drive from the Nyaung Oo Airport. It’s recommended to hire a guide to learn about the history of the mountain and locations to be visited. There are also biking tours to Mount Popa from Bagan.
Its really tiring and the monkeys are scary to some but the sacred mountain’s beauty and serenity outweighs the drawbacks. Although my ancles are already aching while on our way down, I still managed to survive Mount Popa. I’m glad I was able to experience visiting one of the worlds man made architectural wonder. I truly enjoyed the trip! I just wish there’s an area to wash our feet…