Popa In the middle of the scorched plain 50 kilometres (30miles) from Bagan rises Mount Popa, an extinct volcano set in a national reserve whose slopes are covered in lush greenery. Beautiful as it is the primary draw is a smaller rocky outcrop rising steeply out of its slopes atop which perches Popa Taungkalat monastery known as the “Olympus of the Nats” as it is home to Myanmar’s legendary 37 “Nats”(animist spirits). With over 700 steps the dramatic ascent to the clifftop monastery is best done slowly but the views from the summit over the surrounding plains and Mount Popa itself are spectacular. Of note are two important ‘Nat Pwes’ or festivals that are held each year, one in May/June and the other November/December where worshippers come from all over the country to make offerings and appease the Nats. Although now dominated by Buddhism, Nats do still play a prominent role in the lives of many people in Myanmar. Other than a visit to the monastery a trek up to the summit of Mount Popa itself is well worth it. There are many species of bird and butterfly to find and the view from the top is fantastic, affording on clear days, a view all the way to Bagan, the Ayeyarwaddy River and beyond. If you’re visiting from Bagan you’ll pass through toddy palm groves where long bamboo ladders are tied to tree trunks allowing locals to clamber up and collect the pots that fill with toddy juice. The sheds along the road are a great stop to have a taste of toddy wine.

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