Our travels to Mount Popa was a last minute thing. We arrive to the hotel, ask what tours they recommend, the hotel suggest the Mount Popa tour, we book it. No preparation. The price was $50 for the half-day tour, quite a bit more than local taxis but still feels like a steal. For the tour we travel by private air-conditioned minivan with driver and an English speaking guide (who speaks very little English but is good at pointing). The tour starts early-ish leaving the hotel 08.30am returning close to 14.00pm. It takes roughly 5 to 6 hours for the half day tour.
Palm Farm and Distillery
The road to Mount Popa is in itself an attraction; locals trek between markets and villages balancing all sorts of baggage on their head. Arid countryside, scattered rural villages, farms and buffalo. Roughly 3o minutes into the journey we stop first at a palm tree farm where palm wine distillation and jaggery (palm sugar) are shown. Interesting, authentic and complimentary shots of potent toddy (50%) make the perfect breakfast (here for full post on toddy distillation).
Climbing Mount Popa
Thirty minutes and four toddy shots later we are back on the road to Mount Popa. Forty minutes we arrive to Mount Popa. Not knowing what to expect was a bonus for us as our first glimpse of Mount Popa is a little wowing. Passing a turn on the road Mount Popa appears in the valley opposite, the golden Buddhist temple teetering on top of a now extinct volcano (sorry to spoil for others). We stop at this spot for a photo op and then forward to the base of Mount Popa to join the trek to the top. Around the bottom tiers of Mount Popa we find a touristy mess of small shops and mass produced trinkets. A short climb further finds a lower level of Buddhist shrines and local food vendors. From here forward the climb is a steep spiral of the mountain to reach the temple top.
The Lazy Option
To leave a little mystery I’ll not share the views from the top of Mount Popa (we only make it half way… maybe quarter). We were happy to sit at the mid-tiers watching the weird goings-on around. The smaller temples and shrines, troops of molesting monkeys and the rare sight of slow moving Yeti monks joining their pilgrimage to reach the temple top of Mount Popa.
There’s very little between Bagan and Mount Popa so eating options are limited. The choices appear to be little more than rough-and-ready local food, fresh fruit at local markets or the few tourist pit stops along the way. We opt for the safe option at a tourist stopover on the return journey, a popular stop for bus tours with traditional Burmese curry feast and a menu of Chinese and western style foods. Something for everybody I guess. Check here for our guide to Burmese food. From here on it was a journey back to drop off at the hotel.