Mount Popa and the Bagan plain

Bagan Travel Blog

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Before sunrise, from the top of the Older Sister.

We get up at a rediculously early hour, this time it is a quarter to six in the morning when I open my shutters. We want to be on top of the Older Sister temple before dawn, so we can see the darkness change into light. In the pitch black we “borrow” two bikes (there’s no one awake that we can ask permission from) and walk the first stretch to the main road. We would probably break our necks if we didn’t, because we can’t see any of the rocks that are lying around on the road.

We climb the Older Sister temple like we did yesterday, the only difference being that it is now dark and we have to be even more careful. Seeing the sun come up on the plain of Bagan is an experience of unimaginable beauty.

The sun peeping over the mountains.
Colours are shifting constantly. When the sun has climbed a bit we see a couple of hot air balloons drifting by and we know that Ton and Judith are in one of them. Hot air ballooning over Bagan is supposed to be one of the most beautiful possible flights, but we simply didn’t count on spending an extra $500 and since we had to bring all our money in cash we just can afford it right now.

We make it back to the hotel just in time, it’s 7.30 a.m. when we get there and breakfast is already being served. I am hungry like a bear and chow down four slices of toast and a pancake in a matter of minutes. At eight seven of us leave for mount Popa, the rest aren’t coming. Mount Popa is the home of the nats and the mountain lies a one and a half hour drive from Bagan that leads through a rural area where people are working on their patch of land or in lumbering (palmwood).

Ballooning over Bagan.
This area is not touristic and the people have to make their living off the land.

We make a short stop near a house where peanut oil, palm wine and peanut and sesame sweets are made. As usual the people are very friendly here and are more than willing to explain everything to us, for as far a linguistically possible. The palm wine, called Toddy, contains 50% alcohol and I can feel it slide down my oesophagus and into my stomach, the taste lies somewhere between petrol and diesel fuel. The main ingredient for this rot-gut is the sap of a palm tree of some kind that contains a lot of sugar and which needs to be harvested by making cut-aways high up in the tree and collecting the sap in clay pots. The man exchanging the pots filled with sap for empty ones almost flies up the tree, using an extremely narrow ladder with very high steps. Once high above the ground he wraps one leg around the ladder to have both hands free and starts doing his fast-change routine.

To make Toddy you need the sap of a palm tree.
Once back on the ground he proudly shows us the fruits of his labour. All the products are for sale of course and after a quick visit to the little in-home shop we resume our trip to the holy mountain.

Soon after the stop the road starts to ascend and it doesn’t take long before we have mount Popa in our sights. Before entering the village at the foot of the mountain we have a nive view at the entire mountain, so we stop to take some pictures before being dropped near the entrance of the small temple with the images of the nats. Opposite this temple lie the stairs leading to the top of the mountain. The stairs are crawling with monkeys and it stands to reason that the stairs are therefor littered with monkey droppings, dried, squashed, and in every other possible shape or form. Since the mountain is holy ground and we are on our bare feet again, it is a certainty that our feet won’t be smelling of sweat tonight.

Mount Popa.
Everywhere on the stairs we see people with a cloth in their hands, rubbing the steps. The two or three steps on which they are sitting are obviously clean and that is why they consider it justified to ask every tourist a “Donation for cleaning?” I might even have thought about giving them some money, if only I hadn’t been slithering through monkeydroppings on all the other steps!! It is quite a climb to the top, and the temple there, as well as the view  aren’t the best I’ve ever seen. It is nice to have seen and to have been on the mountain, but it certainly isn’t an experience that will change my life.

On the way back to Bagan it starts getting pretty warm in the mini-van and slowly, but inevitably, my eyelids get heavier and heavier...

We are back in the hotel at a quarter past noon and we eat a couple of slices of cake, before cycling to Old Bagan to have lunch at Sarabha restaurant.

This woman is praying in the temple on the summit of Mount Popa.
Here we coincidentally meet up with Anne and Rudolf, who didn’t go to mount Popa, and it is another fun meal. Also we get some good tips from them, making our schedule even tighter than it already was.

All afternoon we cycle from pagoda to pagoda, bouncing up and down on the saddle with springs that are unable to support my weight, giving my bottom a good beating every once in a while. Not all pagodas are equally beautyful, but we get our share of nice architecture, murals and opportunities to climb the structures.

After a rushing last bicycle ride we are standing on the second highest terrace of the Shwesandaw pagoda, the top terrace is cramped with tourists, but that doesn’t make that big a difference in height.

Heavy transport on the Bagan plain.
Another amazing sight.

When the sun is gone we buy a coconut at the base of the pagoda and drink it leisurely, resting a bit from the tiresome day. The one thing we have to keep doing is tell everyone around us that we don’t want to buy anything. In the end we turn out to be more persistant that the salesmen/women.

Another Maglite lit bike ride to the hotel later, we end up having dinner in our New Bagan favourite restaurant, this time with Riet and Ben.

We start prepairing for tomorrow around nine p.m., packing things and writing my travel log.

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Before sunrise, from the top of th…
Before sunrise, from the top of t…
The sun peeping over the mountains.
The sun peeping over the mountains.
Ballooning over Bagan.
Ballooning over Bagan.
To make Toddy you need the sap of …
To make Toddy you need the sap of…
Mount Popa.
Mount Popa.
This woman is praying in the templ…
This woman is praying in the temp…
Heavy transport on the Bagan plain.
Heavy transport on the Bagan plain.
Murals in the Sulamani pagoda.
Murals in the Sulamani pagoda.
Another magnificent structure in B…
Another magnificent structure in …
The temple of the nats at the foot…
The temple of the nats at the foo…
A thirsty monkey on the steps of M…
A thirsty monkey on the steps of …
photo by: planisphere