Day Trips from Bagan: A visit to Mt. Popa and Taung Kalat - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Day Trips from Bagan: A visit to Mt. Popa and Taung Kalat

About 50 km southeast of Bagan you can find the holy Mt. Popa, which is both an inactive volcano and Myanmar (formerly Burm)'s most important pilgrimage site for believers of the 37 Burmese Nat-spirits. Although the name Mt. Popa is more well-known many of the people who travel to the volcano actually come to visit the Taung Kalat (pedestal hill), a 657 meter tall volcano plug where you can find the Popa Taungkalat Monastery.
If you plan on visiting the monastery I would recommend taking some time to enjoy the view of Taung Kalat from afar as well, as there are a number of places surrounding the volcano plug providing a nice view of the Popa Taungkalat Monastery.
You can also find locals selling fruit and beverages around the entrance to Taung Kalat.
The other thing that met us as we reached the foot of Popa Taung Kalat was a bunch of macaque monkeys. They were climbing around on the roofs and some came really close to us. Apparently one should be careful with certain belongings such as sunglasses and plastic bags (specially when containing food). Still, in comparison to other tourists destinations we’ve been to that are known to have a lot of monkeys lurking around  like Malaysia's Batu Caves we found that these monkeys in general were surprisingly well behaved.
After the encounter with our furry friends it was time to start climbing the great stairs leading up to the Popa Taungkalat Monastery. The staircase up Mt. Taung Kalat has a total of 777 stairs, and with the warm Myanmar weather you’re bound to get sweaty as you climb towards the summit. On the way up you’ll pass an area with various souvenir shops, and you’ll also see a number of local guys washing the stairs with their buckets of brown water and asking you to give them donations for keeping the path clean.

You'll also pass by a number of smaller shrines on the way up.  They are filled with various Buddha statues, some of them with the oh-so-characteristic neon-lights lighting up like halos on the wall behind them.
No halo here, just umbrellas stitched to the ceiling
I personally found the best part of visiting Taung Kalat the stunning view from the summit.
A monk praying at the Taung Kalat Monastry
It is clear that the monastery is making a small fortune out of donations from visitors, and all around the area you can see donation boxes that seem to be full of money. Some visitors who have donated larger sums to the monastery can even get their name inscribed on plates hanging on the walls of the monastery.
From far away the Taung Kalat Monastery looks like a fairytale castle but truth to be told, up close you’ll find that it is not always quite as clean as one might be used to back home. It is a nice place to visit if you don't mind the fact that you’ll have to walk around barefoot on the not-so-clean floor while in the monastery area. Thanks to all the business that is being created through the monastery's large number of visitors it is likely that the cleanliness will improve with the years though.

My other minus point would be that you’ll constantly be asked for donations as you climb the stairs to the summit, both from the people cleaning the stairs and also from the guards sitting around inside the monastery. It is hard to tell how well the donated money is divided between the people who work at the site, so personally I would have preferred if they had introduced a set entrance fee for tourists to keep these practices more controlled.

Either way the view from the summit was stunning, and almost worth the trip in itself. I have to admit that it was also nice to get a break from all the pagodas in Bagan.

How to get there:
You can reach Mt. Popa by car from Bagan in about 1 1/2 hour, and if you go by taxi it will cost you around 35.000 kyat for 2 travellers. We decided to team up with some new friends we met in Bagan and shared a taxi with them, in which case the four of us had to pay a total of 50.000 kyat.

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Amazing Bagan Resort
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Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan
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Aye Yar River View Resort
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Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort
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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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