The plan for today was to go to Mount Popa in the morning and spend the afternoon and early evening visiting a few more temples that we did not have time to see yet.
Pretty tired from our full day of activities yesterday, we got a good night of rest and did not wake up until 8:15am today. We had already arranged for a taxi pickup at 9am to go to Mount Popa which is about one hour away from our hotel. On our way to breakfast, we saw the driver waiting for us in his taxi, well in advance. We speculated that he came so early to make sure he would spot us on the hotel grounds should we decide to not show up. By that point, we knew he was jacking up the price for the ride by a good 10,000 Kyats but we had already agreed to his price and we did not feel like making a big deal for $8!
As we got to the breakfast room, we saw beautiful peacocks that belong to the hotel. Employees from the hotel were feeding them in front of the swimming pool.
We finished breakfast quickly since we were late and we knew our driver was waiting. And let’s be honest: given the price and general class of the resort, the food was subpar.
Ten minutes into the ride, our driver stopped on the road and told us another guy would drive us all the way to Mount Popa. We were not given any explanation. With her overactive imagination, Mimi thought they might be kidnapping us. I wasn’t as concerned. Shortly after the switch, our new driver made a stop along the road to show us a small mill/farm whose owner he knew. At first we were annoyed, all we wanted was to get to Mount Popa early enough so that we could climb up before the temperature gets too high. But it was pretty cool to see how they make peanut oil the old traditional way, by using cows attached to a giant mortar to grind the peanuts.
Other workers were climbing at the top of coconut trees to pick coconuts. In the back, women were selling goods produced locally. We got pressured into buying something, so I just bought bags of peanuts. They were cheap (lucky money) and I figured it’s always a good idea to have snacks on a long car ride.
We arrived at Mount Popa minutes before noon. So much for getting there early! Our driver was nice enough to make a photo stop before getting us to the very long stairway entrance (777 steps, we did not count).
Before you go up there, it’s asked that you take off your shoes (and socks). The whole mount is considered holy and constitutes the most important pilgrimage site for Nats (spirits worshipped by Buddhists specifically in Myanmar), with numerous temples on the way to the top. Unfortunately the way up is rather filthy. While Yangon had some pretty dirty streets, Mount Popa is taking the filth to a more extreme level. Consider this: the mount is crowded with thousands of Macaque monkeys that love to hang out around (and on) the stairway and receive food from tourists.
One common treat for people to throw at them is this cone of peanuts made of paper that they open without problem.
But that’s not it. Over the years, these monkeys have learned to steal food and even drinks from tourists. They may look cute at first but they tend to be aggressive and will literally jump on people that have foods or drinks to try taking them away. We have witnessed one such incident with our own eyes and that was a bit scary. Fortunately for us, we didn’t carry any food and decided to keep our bottles of water inside the backpack where they could not see them. Monkeys too get thirsty when it’s so hot! I am told some of them have even learned how to open soda cans!
Of course monkeys aren’t the primary driver for tourists to come all the way to Mount Popa. Most tourists here were Burmese people coming from all over Myanmar to visit the most important Nat worship place. Mount Popa is sometimes being referred to as Myanmar’s Mount Olympus. I did not know anything about the Nat religion before today and we got to read stories about them in the many temples on the mount. All temples are free to enter and several have displays in English in addition to Burmese. These statues represent some of the most sacred spirits of the Nat cult.
We kept going up for a little while, spotting monkeys eating all kinds of food, given or stolen. Here’s one enjoying a lollipop.
This guy prefers the flavor of a fresh clementine. We liked the human traits on his face and in his body language!
After 45 minutes of climbing up, we eventually reached the top of the mount and were rewarded with a very nice view over the surrounding valleys though it was too foggy to be able to see Bagan itself.
I also loved the Buddhist chants that were playing on loudspeakers in repeat mode. It gave a very mystical feel to the place.
At the top of the mount, there were also many clusters of signs for donations, including one from Burma Superstar, a very famous Burmese restaurant in San Francisco. Shout-out to you one more time, Laurent!
Can you spot anything funny on the next one? Disclaimer, we did not discover this by chance. We knew what to look for as Mimi had read a mention of this in a TripAdvisor review.
On our way down we barely stopped to take a few more pictures and it took us less than 20 minutes to reach the bottom where we met with our taxi driver for the ride back. We asked him to drop us at the shop which we rented an e-bike from yesterday so that we could rent one again in the afternoon. We really liked the convenience of e-bikes to quickly move around in Old Bagan. Although it has thousands of temples, the most interesting ones aren’t always that close to each other and we did not want to walk for an entire afternoon again.
I drove the e-bike back to the hotel so we could rest a little bit and avoid the hottest hours of the day. We napped for about three hours before leaving the hotel again. Mimi wanted to check out Shwezigon Pagoda which is technically located in Nyaung-U and too far to get to by foot.
This pagoda is also a pilgrimage site and we saw many small groups and families of Burmese people there. Almost no tourists, just like in Mount Popa.
Here’s a close up of the pagoda’s stupa.
After that we went to check out the Htilominlo Temple which has a similar design to the Sulamani Temple we visited previously.
We walked inside the temple as well. The inside isn’t in very good condition and it looks like it was the target of graffiti vandalism. There is no doubt that this painted elephant and the mounted horse next to it are both completely out of place on this wall.
We left Htilominlo for the Shwesandaw Pagoda, maybe the most popular place for sunset watching in Bagan, due to its height and location. When we arrived, just before 6:30pm, the top two terraces were already quite crowded. Some people come really early to be able to get a sit on the topmost terrace.
We decided to sit on the third one and took selfies while waiting for the sun to set.
This was our view from up there.
We stayed until 7pm, trying to capture the perfect sunset picture. I think this was the best one.
We left before it got too dark since we still wanted to grab dinner. We went back to Yar Pyi restaurant since we really enjoyed it yesterday. After dinner I drove us back to the hotel safely. It was my first time riding the e-bike at night but I wasn’t overly worried. We ended the evening with some more yolomimo blog post writing before going to bed early: tomorrow is another (very) early wake up day.