STAIRS, MONKEYS AND ONE BEAUTIFUL VIEW.
Yes, Myanmar does have a few volcanos. Lucky for us, these ones are nice and extinct which makes hiking up them just that little bit more enjoyable, knowing there is no immediate danger of being explosively blown off the top of it. Mount Popa and the Buddhist monastery of Taung Kalat, sitting atop a bizarrely formed volcanic plug to the southwest, is a fascinating little place and well-worth the aching calf muscles at the end of it.
HOW TO GET THERE
An easy day trip from Bagan, Mount Popa is definitely something to include in your travel itinerary. The volcano sits at a friendly 1,518m tall and can be seen from the Ayerwaddy River, some 60km away. Maybe just pack some travel sickness tablets if your prone to motion sickness as on the way up the road is quite winding, however it does feel very safe and well constructed for a road in Asia! Make sure to stop along the way at the historic sites decorated with brightly coloured statues, you will also find beautiful views of the oasis-like forests created by the old volcanic ash and spot some mischievous monkeys in their natural habitats.
WHAT TO DO
Mount Popa is the name of the majestic volcano that overlooks the land, however this is also referred to as Taung Ma-gyi and the volcanic plug that was created by the eruption of the volcano often called Mount Popa. Don’t get confused. Just go there. Trust us, it’s awesome. Your newly defined calf muscles will be thanking you and climbing the 777 steps to the monastery on top of Taung Kalat is well worth it. This bizarrely shaped hill jutting out of the earth with completely flat sides and a flat top seems to have been placed there with the sole purpose of putting a really cool building on top it! The panoramic views from the temple are stunning, the tiles cool upon your bare feet and the hypnotic chanting echoing around the mountain taking you to a completely different world. Reading the monks passages etched into stone about reaching Nirvana somehow seems bizarrely achievable in this magical place.
MUSINGS FROM MOUNT POPA
Keep your valuables safe! Cheeky monkeys are everywhere around the temple and lining the steps, eyeing off your possessions on your way up and debating whether you have anything fun for them to play with! Our advice is to keep your sunnies, phones and camera tucked away or at least with a firm grip on it!
After finding ourselves feeling a real connection with this lovely shrine and being absolutely touched by the beautiful people we met here we decided to make a donation to aid in keeping this important monument clean and safe for people making the long trip up it to pay their respects. We encountered many lovely elderly people tackling the steps with such determination and although we don’t want them to change the raw beauty of the place by putting elevators in or anything, some simple money to help repair the stone steps and the overhead walkway would make this pilgrimage more achievable for some. We were pleasantly surprised to receive a photo from Oliver the next time he visited Mount Popa, showing us the sign that had been put up with our names on it!
THINGS TO DO ON THE WAY TO MOUNT POPA
– We visited a cute little local place and discovered how to make peanut oil with the use of a buffalo and a very clever mill-like creation
– Get introduced to ‘tody’, a somewhat alcoholic substance derived from coconuts and nicely warming to the belly when taking it by the shotful for breakfast!
-Pick up some delicious snacks from a local village, potato crisps have never tasted better than Myanmar style ones! You might even get lucky and get to watch some traditional dancing and offerings to the gods, we were very appreciative to see this and found the dress and dancing styles fascinating.
Are you thinking of going to Myanmar? Have questions? Ask us in the comments section below.
Have you been to Myanmar? We would love to hear your travel stories also!