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Fighting the monkeys at Mt Popa

9

It’s a four hour drive from Mandalay to Mt Popa and our only stops were for a drink at a roadside stall in one of the local villages and a stop for lunch at the bottom of Mt Popa before heading up to our hotel.

The lunch stop was the usual touristy fare – we sat inside an air-conditioned dining room, while the drivers sat in a separate area.

Of course we also had a sneaky stop to get our first glimpse of Mt Popa. We weren’t really sure what to expect, we knew we were here to walk up it and that there was a temple at the top, so this gave us our first real view of the mountain and temple.

Mt Popa is an extinct volcano, but it looks like a giant rock jutting out of the ground. An elaborate series of temples covers the top of the mountain and there is a covered stairway that takes visitors all the way to the top.

Our hotel was on a different mountain and had views directly across to the temples of Mt Popa. The resort was beautiful, I don’t think we saw another person while we there, and our hut was the last in a row of huts, so it was a little distance to the pool and restaurant, but we had spectacular views from our balcony across the valley to Mt Popa. It took us a while to pull ourselves away from the views and the comfort of our balcony, but a massage and swim beckoned before watching the sunset over the temple.

The following morning our driver arrived at 8.30am ready to take us to the base of Mt Popa. There is a cute little village at the base, making the most of the tourist trade no doubt.

The Mountain itself is full of monkeys, which were cute to begin with, but which soon snarled at Sam for taking photos and tried to jump on my back in attack. We soon learned to steer a wide path around them!

It’s about 700 steps up Mt Popa, again through trinket stalls, past a large number of temples and past men and women who clean the monkey poo off the steps. There are ‘cleaners’ at every turn on the steps and each one asks for a donation, we gave to the first, but soon realised we couldn’t give to them all (and I’m sure there were a couple who weren’t quite as dedicated to cleaning the steps as their colleagues!).

The top of Mt Popa consists of a labyrinth of temples and while it’s really interesting, it looks far more impressive looking up at it from the street, or across at it from our hotel balcony.

We had been negotiating getting a guide for Mt Popa before arriving in Myanmar, but in the end decided to just turn up and organise a guide once we were there. This was a mistake; there are no guides at the temple and no explanation boards, so I’m sure there was a lot we missed.