Mount Popa: A Spiritual Burmese Hike
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Mountain Stats
- 300,000 years since it last erupted
- Taungkalat Temple
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Natural Form and History
Natural Mount Popa Myanmar - Natural history
Mount Popa was once a volcano, which grew with strombolian eruptions from a fault between the Indo-Australian and Eurasian plates. A caldera collapsed to the Northwest shortly before it became extinct. A lava plug sits protruding to the South of the caldera, with the looser rock having eroded over the millenia leaving a cliff-lined monolith. The forests have since claimed the mountain, and the buddhists have since claimed the monolith, making it an intriguing feature in the plains of central Myanmar.
Natural Mount Popa Myanmar - Climbing history
The Burmese consider Mount Popa the abode of Nats, which are spirits that are widely worshipped in Burmese spirituality alongside regular theravada buddhism. Parallels are drawn, therefore, with Mount Olympus in Greece. As such, modern climbing history of Mount Popa is inextricably linked with spiritual pilgrimage.
Natural Mount Popa Myanmar - Current status
With Myanmar’s recent opening up of the country to foreign influences, tourism has boomed, and Mount Popa has become a popular diversion on the way between Bagan and the central corridor (between Mandalay and Yangon). The name ‘Mount Popa’ is now generally associated with the volcanic plug and the Taungkalat temple, rather than the actual mountain, which is sometimes called Taung Ma-Gyi (mother hill). As such, most of the tourist traffic is directed towards the Taungkalat rather than to the Popa summit.
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Climbing Experience & Itinerary
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Climbing Experience
You can drive up 700m of the 1,518m mountain, with the traffic splitting there between the Taungkalat temple (most popular) and the summit itself.
There is really just one distinct type of terrain – relatively steep, rocky, either dusty or muddy depending on the season, with the steepness increasing towards the end.
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Trail options
You can choose between the Taungkalat temple, perched upon the lava plug to the south of the Mount Popa (Taung Ma-Gyi) summit, or climb the summit itself.
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Support facilities
Guides and porters
Food & water
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Safety & Accessibility
Visiting Myanmar is best in the short winter from November to January.
Climbing is best in the early mornings or late afternoons, particularly during the hot season (February to April). The monsoon season lasts from April to October, with severe rains and humidity.
Popa is a relatively safe climb. Just be sure to stay on the track. You will be a long way from a good hospital if you were to injure yourself.
Myanmar people are very hospitable, and it is almost unheard of that you will be robbed or harassed. Troubles are more to do with unsafe vehicles, equipment, or infrastructure, as Myanmar has a lax mentality towards safety standards.
Permits, Fees, and Regulations
Permits are not required for this hike.
Getting there and away
The Nyaung-U domestic airport is regularly serviced by Myanmar’s domestic carriers, which are of varying repute. Mount Popa is an hour and a half from the airport by car, which would normally need to be privately hired. There are buses that would take you as far as Kyauk Padaung, 20km away.
If you’re flying in internationally, the Mandalay and Naypyitaw airports are about equidistant from Mount Popa – a few hours by private car, best to be arranged beforehand.
You can hire a car or private pick-up from the airport, costing around MMK 30,000 for the hour and a half journey.
Climbing Mount Popa Myanmar - Special Tips
Tips for amateur climbers
The whole mountain is relatively accessible for amateur climbers. Given that climbing in the early mornings and late afternoons is usually far more comfortable, it would be ideal to arrive for sunrise at the Taungkalat temple, and then take the whole day to include sunset at the summit, or vice versa!
Tips for advanced climbers
Mount Popa shouldn’t provide much by way of technical climbing challenges, but you can always make it a trail run.
Tips for women
Women don’t face any special safety risks in Myanmar. Yet, consider taking your dress cues from the locals, who dress modestly and conservatively, even when swimming and bathing, and particularly at religious sites, such as Mount Popa.
Tips for responsible / safety-conscious climbers
With the temple part of the mountain being a place of important religious pilgrimage, be sure to be on your best behaviour, and respectful of the local customs and beliefs.
Tips for trail runners
There are event organisers such as run-myanmar.com so you’ll want to check if they have any races coming up, in time for your visit.
Tips for nature lovers
There is an impressive array of flora and fauna, and the diversity of butterflies is particularly noteworthy.