"Mount Popa and Kyaukpadaung Township" Kyaukpadaung by Hewer

Kyaukpadaung Travel Guide: 56 reviews and 61 photos

Every time you speak to a local in Burma, they want to know your itinerary. I was a bit wary of this at first because I half expected the hard sell for a guided bus tour to follow, but it seemed that people genuinely cared about what foreigners saw of their country. I must say I found this little quirk endearing. After I went through this routine three or four times, I almost felt scolded for not including Mount Popa in my plans. This surprised me because I'd never even heard of Mount Popa before I arrived here. Muttering in Burmese, a shake of the head or a laugh - whatever the response, it all pointed to how strange it was of me to omit one of the big highlights. So when I travelled by taxi between Mandalay and Bagan and the driver casually suggested that we could do a two-hour detour to the revered Mount Popa, I immediately acquiesced. The journey had been pretty uneventful up until then (so much for the Road to Mandalay ) so this revelation put me back in holiday mode.

I was expecting an isolated mountain with a temple and few monks but there is actually a bit more to it than that. There is a fully fledged community living around the mountain and there seem to be various economies built up around it. Kyaukpadaung Township is about 50 km from Bagan and has a population of just under 10,000. It has a fairly sleepy atmosphere and not much traffic - just a few horses and carts and the odd truck. The whole time I was there, I never saw another tourist, tout or tour guide. There were a few souvenir vendors but they seemed surprised to see us if anything. It seems that leaving Mount Popa out of an itinerary isn't so strange after all (though the taxi drivers of Yangon and Mandalay are doing their very best to change this, I can assure you).

Mt. Popa has also been a place of pilgrimage for many generations. This is the center of Nat worship, or the worship of Burmese spirits associated with natural features. Many of the spirits are said to live here even now...

Old Volcano

Mount Popa is the site of an extinct volcano. It is 1518 metres above sea level and is the tallest of a group of mountains in the area. The volcano hasn't been active for 250,000 years but there is still occasional seismic activity. In 482 BC an earthquake caused fires that wiped out all the forest in the area.

The area itself is regarded as somewhat of an oasis. Mount Popa is generally quite green but the vegetation thins out as you move away from the mountain and eventually gives way to dry, yellowish-brown scrub. You can see this effect when you get to the top and look around.

Tourists and pilgrims alike have been coming here for the past 700 years is to climb Mount Popa. I'm not sure whether the resident leaf monkeys were here when the pilgrims started coming all those years ago but I'm quite sure that if they were, the poor pilgrims would have had their fair share of food offerings pilfered. These little rascals were fun to watch. I wasn't carrying anything but I saw them ransack a young student's lunchboxcompletely while she turned her back. One of them took off with some palm cards she'd written up too and she was furious. I just stayed out of it.

It is also said that snake charmers in times past used to come to Mount Popa to catch their snakes because of the spirituality of the area. I saw neither while I was there though.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Very few touts, laid back
  • Cons:None really
  • In a nutshell:Good place to regroup
  • Last visit to Kyaukpadaung: Jan 2005
  • Intro Updated Oct 4, 2006
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Comments (1)

  • herzog63's Profile Photo
    Jun 14, 2005 at 12:13 PM

    You're so right about those monkeys!! They make for some great entertainment!!! Mt Popa is a very cool place where the touts haven't managed to get an angle yet....we better keep that quiet.

Hewer

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