Visit Mount Popa

Mount Popa is an iconic postcard show from Myanmar: a sacred monastery, with stupas in brilliant gold, perched on top of an extinct volcano. Visiting Mount Popa, what to see, what to do? The 777 steps of Mount Popa are first and foremost a place of pilgrimage but it is also famous for its population of monkeys that adorn the passages.

Mount Popa

Mount Popa is the seat of the most powerful Nats in Myanmar and four of the Buddhist spirits worshipped by the Burmese are considered to have their homes there. Statues of 37 spirits stand at the foot of the mountain and, in the past, the kings of Burma had to consult the spirits, as their importance in Myanmar’s heritage is so great. I had planned to go to Mount Popa from Bagan for the last day of my stay in Bagan.

The ascent of Mount Popa

777 steps lead to Mount Popa! After passing through a plethora of market stalls, I reached the beginning of Popa’s ascent and was greeted with the demand signs for respectable clothing so familiar from many monuments and religious sites in Myanmar – no jackets, no shorts, no shoes. An additional requirement for Popa was to remove hats and bags. At first I thought it was particularly strict, but I learned that it was to protect us from the unwanted attention of the resident monkey population!

Tip for visiting Mount Popa: bring wipes to clean your feet after the ascent. There’s a lot of monkey poop and it’s impossible to avoid it completely!

I started my ascent to the top of Mount Popa and, fortunately, I was protected from the stifling heat by the tin roofs covering the steep stairwell. 777 steps didn’t seem like much, but I felt them all in the scorching heat of Myanmar! Monkeys lined the stairwell as I walked up, especially in areas where there were stalls where food was served. Most of the monkeys were kept away and there was enough food to keep them occupied!

The view from above! The views from the summit of Mount Popa are magnificent and I was able to see miles and miles across the country. The views of Mount Popa from afar are also spectacular.

Tip for visiting Mount Popa: if you are on a day trip, ask your driver to stop and take pictures with a panoramic view of the mountain. In some cities, residents ask for a small donation to take a picture and try to sell you trinkets.

The monkey is at Mount Popa

To earn money, residents line up the steps and collect donations to clean up monkey feces. They have a trick: they throw a lot of sugar sachets for the monkeys to eat, which is a ploy to make them go to the toilet on the steps. That’s all well and good, but the monkeys are possessed when the bags are thrown: a whirlwind of monkeys of all sizes tornadoes from all directions to get their share! The locals keep the locals on the line with an empty slingshot and we have seen many monks use this technique at the top! Tip for visiting Mount Popa: To prevent monkeys from attracting attention, do not bring food or drink or, if you do, be discreet. Mimicking a slingshot action will usually result in them running away in a hurry!

What I liked about Mount Popa

It was fascinating to see an important Burmese pilgrimage site and get closer to the monkeys! If you have a half-day available in your itinerary in Bagan, I strongly recommend you to stop by Mount Popa for a morning or afternoon!

Go to Mount Popa

I had booked a tour with my hotel to go with other guests, we were a small group in a van. We spent about 1 hour at Mount Popa and from there it was about 90 minutes by car from Bagan.

To fully benefit from your experience, I recommend that you book this tour with a guide which will take you on a tour of Mount Popa and enjoy a lunch.

Photo: Ralf-André Lettau — Photo taken by Ralf-André Lettau, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=598535

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