Bagan, Myanmar – Having finally seen the magical sunrise on our second morning in Bagan, we decided to take a breather from our “temple run”. The hostel we were staying in, Winner Guesthouse, was offering a van to Mount Popa Bagan. So after hearing that they still need two more slots, we hurriedly joined in.
Palm Sugar Factory
Along with L, one Russian girl, and three Taiwanese boys, our party of six set off to our first stop: a palm sugar “factory” along the road to Popa. This roadside attraction is a usual stop for those taking the day trip to Mount Popa.
Instantly capturing our attention was a cow attached to some contraption. The cow was also walking in circles while a man lightly taps the cow with a thin stick. Upon closer inspection, it appears to be a very big mortar and pestle, for extracting the oil.
We were then given some samples of palm sugar desserts to try. palm sugar mixed with coconut and peanuts which reminded me of sweets from the Philippines. The guide also explained how the palm sap was harvested. He then encouraged us to go around the workshop and dining area.
On the side of the main hut, a woman was crouched low on the soil, stirring the boiling syrup. At the back, we had an insight on how the palm sugar was distilled. This place definitely piqued my interest, as it takes me back to my university days, learning about food processing and food fermentation.
SEE ALSO: Myanmar Travel Guide
Mount Popa – Popa Taungkalat
Mount Popa (Taung Ma Gyi/Mother Hill) is actually an extinct volcano, and the gilded Taungkalat Monastery/Temple on top of the volcanic plug (lava neck) is actually the one visited by locals and tourists alike.
Arriving in the foothills of Mount Popa offered us a glimpse of the village life. Female vendors with thanaka on their faces and their wares hung on their shoulders; school children running to and fro; locals going about their daily rituals.
People and culture 1/3: Popa Taung Kalat � Myanmar At the base of the famous Buddhist monastery, street vendors abound amidst the hungry and aggressive macaques. These two young ladies were offering the tourists ready-made thanaka, which is made from ground bark and used by the Burmese for thousands of years. The locals use it for aesthetic, traditional, and functional purposes. Thanaka serves as their sunblock, make-up and is also believed to remove acne and promote smooth skin. Both girls are also wearing Burmese longyi. . . #pswanderlust #worldcitizenpassport
To reach the temples at the top, one must climb the 777 steps in bare feet! Good thing I didn’t forget my wet wipes that day. Fret not, for the stairway is covered and paved. Along the way, there are also shops selling flowers, food, and souvenirs. Two white elephant statues also guard the stairway entrance.
Little did we know, macaques here are aplenty. And they’re definitely not made of sugar, spice and everything nice. No sir, these monkeys are very naughty! Aside from dropping their shit and piss everywhere, best not to bring any food with you or try to feed them if you want to get out unscathed. This part of the journey definitely reminded me of the steps to reach Batu Caves in Malaysia.
In a way, Mount Popa can be likened to Mt. Olympus as it is the home of the 37 nats (Burmese spirits). It is the main reason why this is also frequented by the locals, as the site is important to the Burmese for Nat pilgrimage. Offerings such as alcohol, food, flowers, and money are usually seen among the Nat statues and shrines.
Upon reaching the summit, temples, pagodas, and shrines abound. As well as a panoramic view of Central Myanmar, Irrawaddy river, and Bagan in the distance.
Sneaky macaques will try to steal your cameras too and anything that they can get their hands on, so be wary. On the way down, we witnessed two macaques jump on the head of a woman going up. She screamed her head off, of course! Quite a sight indeed.
Quick Guide to Mount Popa Bagan
How to get to Mount Popa: If you’re on a budget, take the local bus from Nyaung U to Mount Popa (less than 3000 kyats per pax). You can also opt to take a shared taxi. Or book thru your accommodation like we did (5000 kyat each).
Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Entrance fee: Visited in September 2015, we didn’t pay any entrance fee. Some website reports recently that there’s a 5$ entrance fee now.
Travel time from Nyaung U: One hour and 30 minutes
Festivals: Nat festival in December and Thingyan festival in April.
What to bring: Water and wet wipes
Dress code: Make sure to dress appropriately and decent
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