Oh My Buddha! Mount Popa is Amazing!
Mount Popa is a steep mountain, with 777 steps winding around the outside, leading to a monastery perched on the top. At this time of morning, there’s no lights or people, and the steps are covered in monkey poop and wee. Being a religious site, we must climb the 777 steps barefoot, unsuccessfully trying to dodge the monkey faeces. Each hundred or so steps, there’s another gate, and Mó knocks each time to wake the monk sleeping on the floor. We wait each time for the monk to wake, bath, and open the gate.
Sitting in the pitch black at one of the gates, the monkeys who reside in the roof above the staircase start to wake, screech, and clamber up the tin roof to the top of the mountain. The noise is deafening and like some kind of horror movie. Being the only Aussie, the group decide that I will be the first to be eaten by the monkeys in this movie – each for their own I say.
By the time we reach the top, our legs are burning and our feet are disgustingly dirty, but the pre-dawn light starts to appear and starts to reveal the valleys and river below. Mó warns us to keep all our food and possessions locked away, as the monkey’s will take anything they can (including phones out of pockets). The monkey’s sure are confident, and slightly aggressive.
The monastery is beautiful. As the sun starts to appear, it lights up the gold painted monuments and walls. We wander around and take in the views, as a few locals start to appear. There’s no other tourists here at this time of day, and soon the locals want photos with each of us. At home, I’m considered quite short, but here I tower over most of the local people, one woman wanting me to put my arm around her shoulders and giggling the whole time.
In full light, the views of the surrounding valleys come alive and are quite spectacular. Our group spends some time taking photos and the monkeys continue to follow us. One monkey almost succeeded in snatching Denton’s hat when he got too close. Then we descend the 777 steps, now swept clean of monkey poop by the many volunteers, to meet our drivers.
Our driver, Aung, had such personality, and was continually shocked by our questions about local fruit or customs: “OH MY BUDDHA! NO! That’s not a coconut!!!”
On the bumpy road back to Bagan, we make a view stops along the way. We visit a viewpoint of Mount Popa to see where we have just been, drop in at a local market for some refreshing coconuts, and stop at a Palm Tree farm.
At the farm, we see how they make palm tree wine and palm sugar treats, and test out the wine (YIKES!!). The farm had little tables where our group sat and enjoyed free tea and mixed our own tea leaf salad. This is the kind of moment that friendships are made of.
When we arrived back at our hostel at lunchtime, we were tired but content. It had been an incredible morning.
I highly recommend taking an extra day in Bagan to do this half day trip to Mount Popa. Here’s a few photos from the day: