Myanmar Travel

Mount Popa and Palm Sugar Factory: A Half-Day Side Trip from Bagan

mount popa bagan popa taung kalat monastery

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.

bagan palm sugar factory

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.

bagan palm sugar factory mt popa

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.

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.

popa taungkalat 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.

popa taungkalat nat statues

mount popa taungkalat temple bagan

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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    June 29, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    […] and one of the nine directional temples that guard it against evil spirits. Like in Batu Caves, Mt Popa, and Penang Hill, naughty monkeys are aplenty, quick to grab any belongings that they get […]

  • Adrenaline Romance
    June 21, 2017 at 3:06 am

    Very nice! Your photos are so full of life. The distillation of palm sugar is quite interesting.

    • Darlene
      June 28, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      Yeah. We actually do that too in the Philippines 🙂

  • Cai Dominguez
    June 18, 2017 at 11:08 am

    I will definitely check this place once I plan my visit to Myanmar. I can’t wait to see it next year. Your quick guide is really helpful. And thanks for informing me abot Thanaka. Now I know what it called. I also see it in Thailand.

    • Darlene
      June 28, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Yeah some Thai people use it too 🙂

  • Jenna
    June 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Sounds like a great day trip! I always love learning how things are made so the palm sugar spot sounds interesting. And monkeys are so cute, but they can definitely be nasty as you say, lol! 🙂

  • Gokul Raj
    June 13, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Bagan is the only place I heard off in Myanmar. This climb to looks quite steep but I guess the view was worth it.

  • Mike Cotton
    June 12, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Myanmar looks such a beautiful country. I used to hear about it a bit growing up, my mum’s uncle sadly was there during WWII on the Burma Railways as a POW. It is so great to see the country emerging from its dark days and opening itself up to the world.

  • Holly
    June 12, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Water and wet wipes…duly noted. I would love to see and explore Myanmar. I have never hard of this particular place, but seems pretty awesome.

    • Darlene
      June 12, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      You definitely should go before it becomes commercialized.

  • Dannielle
    June 11, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    This is a seriously authentic travel experience! Love that you got to see rural life there. I tried sugar cane on a farm in Cuba but it was nothing like this. Well done for trying something off the beaten path!

  • Bob R
    June 11, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Great spot in a country I’d love to experience. Those macaques look squirrels. 🙂 What’s the significance of 777 steps? Is there one?

  • Kacie
    June 10, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    I’d love to go to Myanmar. Those macaques sound like mischevious little things!

    • Darlene
      June 11, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      Oh they definitely are. The ones in Batu Caves are tamer by comparison hehe

  • Danik
    June 10, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Wow, I never heard of this place before and now after seeing this, I want to check it out. Thank you for the indepth post and photos, I will be looking into this when I eventually get round to doing Myanmar 🙂

    • Darlene
      June 11, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      You’re welcome. Bagan is the main place you should get to 😉

  • Mei
    June 10, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for this post, Darlene! Would love to explore Mount Popa and your post will certainly help us a lot! 🙂

  • Robert
    June 7, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    So wonderful to discover out of the way places to see! Myanmar is certainly out of the ordinary! Always love eco-friendly tours like this. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the photos and travel inspiration. Robert