Mt Popa can be explored for a half-day tour outside Bagan. It’s a 50-kilometer journey but due to its unpaved road conditions, it took us an hour and a half to get there. Well, some parts of the road are under construction though. So, hopefully, it gets better in a year or two. The best way to get there is by doing a tour below.
An extinct volcano
Do you know that Mt. Popa was a volcano? It was an active volcano which its last eruption recorded some 250,000 years ago. Standing at 4,981 feet above sea level, the top of the dormant volcano is now home to a sacred monastery.
Related Post: Bagan Sunrise is Breathtaking!
On our way to Mt Popa, the bucolic views were not really scenic as I was hoping. In the last 10 or 15 kilometres, the roadside was filled with old people begging for car transports to stop. Yes, they were begging for money or, perhaps, food! The searing heat of the early afternoon sun was unbearable, and I wondered how long they’ve been standing there. There were really many of them! My heart broke watching and passing them by.
Beware of the cheeky monkeys!
When we finally arrived Mt Popa, our guide told us to leave our bags if we could. We also needed to empty our pockets with candies or any food we had. He reminded us to hold on to our cellphones or cameras and be watchful of the monkeys everywhere! These cheeky monkeys, he said, would really test your patience, and a few can be violent if they don’t get what they want.
I only carried with me a small pouch with my tiny camera on it. My cellphone was securely placed in my shorts pocket. Since it’s a long climb up there to the top of Mt Popa, I had small bottled water to quench my thirst.
Unfortunately, while I was taking photos, a baby monkey jumped as high as he could and grabbed my water. I fought for my water for a short 4 seconds, but when I saw two monkeys (maybe the parents) came running, I released the bottle. I survived unscathed.
The Climb to the top of Mt. Popa
Every visitor has to climb through 777 steps. I didn’t count but I really thought it’s more than that. 😀 It was a steep climb. And as soon as you land on the first step, the monkeys welcome you with their shrieking, if not piercing, sound.
The good news is that the steps/stairs have roof. So, even if you climb it on a summer daytime, you are still protected from the merciless sun.
There are a lot of souvenir shops along the stairs. They make the way narrower than it is.
And guess what, you have to remove your footwear because you are visiting temples on the mountain top! Goodness, the steps are not even clean! They are full of monkey shit and other dirt! You will be told to keep your sandals or shoes in their open lockers for a small fee.
As soon as I entered the temple vicinity, the donation boxes in all directions are the most visible to me. I don’t really understand why every temple in Myanmar has a transparent donation boxes. They are not only placed at the entrance but they are also placed right in front of the god statue they worship.
The Temple / Monastery on Top of Mt. Popa
Mt Popa is a sacred monastery where the four powerful Nats reside. Nats are spirits that have become a part of the local’s daily lives. Many still consult the Nats for whatever they do or become in the future. It is believed that former Kings of the Kingdom of Myanmar consulted the nats before they start their reign.
The mountain is a host to 37 nats whose statues are found below the mountain. There are, I think, around 5 temples on top of Mt. Popa. And yes, every temple has its own huge donation boxes. Some statues are even decorated with money which they hang like a garland on its neck.
Watching the worshippers, it looks to me like they just don’t worship their god but also the money in front of them.
It is always a very weird experience for me every time I enter a temple in Myanmar. These temples in Mt Popa are just too much for me to handle. They even have a wall displaying a plague of foreign contributors with their name, country, and the amount they donated! The smallest I found was $30 and his name was already enshrined in that temple! Goodness!
But don’t let my weird experience distract you. You might see it in a different way.
When you’re done seeing all the temples, go outside and enjoy the 360-degree views of the jungle below.
Where to Stay in Bagan or Mt Popa
The best hostel where you can stay in Bagan is at BaobaBed Hostel. It’s clean and the beds are comfortable, too. Staff members are helpful and they help you with all their might. The hostel is also surrounded by restaurants and souvenir shops. If you want to rent an electric motorbike, the rental place is just across the street.
If you want to stay near Mt. Popa, the Popa Mountain Resort is the best choice!