Day 3: Mt. Popa

by - May 01, 2014

Mount Popa
Having finished yesterday with a sunset panorama, we decided to follow up with the sunrise.  This meant getting up very early and making our way to the temples before 6am.  We had no particular location in mind and (with plenty to choose from) clambered our way up the side of a temple where there were no other people around.  The sunrise itself was not that spectacular admittedly but it was still a wonderfully peaceful scene to admire the temples rising above the haze in the twilight.  Having risen so early we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast and then checked out for our next major journey, this time to Mandalay.

A early start at the temples
The full team at Mout Popa
In order to make the most of our hired vehicle, I had asked the company to factor in a few diversions along the lengths of our major journeys to allow us to see more of the country than your average visitor.  This journey was to be broken up with a visit to Mt. Popa, a major religious site located within a national park of the same name.  The site, a temple perched on a rocky pedestal, is one of the iconic pictures from Burma but is not necessarily easy to get to without private transport – making a visit all the more tempting for us.  It took us maybe an hour and a half to drive from Bagan to the village beside the pedestal where we were greeted with a massive traffic jam that forced us to proceed on foot and expose ourselves to being sprayed with water, as the festival was in full swing.  As daunting as the climb appeared to be from a distance, the staircase to the top was covered and easily climbable – even with the phalanxes of monkeys that guarded the path.  The views from the top over the countryside were impressive, but the temple itself was surprisingly a bit grim – dirty, crowded and a long way from the usual serenity found in Buddhist religious sites.

Dinner in a lake
After a few hours at Mt Popa we continued on our journey on the “Road to Mandalay” – a road that is entirely devoid of the romance that it has garnered from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, being for the most part flat, straight and featureless.  It was perhaps another four hours from Popa to Mandalay and as we arrived the sun was just beginning to set.  We entered the city through the south western suburbs, home to several lakes, one of which contained the iconic “U Bein Bridge” – the longest teak wooden bridge in the world and another of Burma’s most photographed locations.  The water festival was now evident everywhere, with groups of children lining the road and covering every passing car (and motorbike) with buckets of water.  At the lake we found that a range of restaurants had been set up (presumably for the festival) in the lake itself, with tables positioned in several feet of water.  This was too interesting (and ridiculous) a place for us to not try it out, even if it meant breaking every rule of avoiding food poisoning… After dinner we had a look around the bridge itself, ambling all the way across and back for photos and to chat with inquisitive locals before watching the sunset and making our way into the centre of Mandalay to the Royal City Hotel where we would be staying.
Sunset at U Bein Bridge

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