Mount Popa is the extinct volcano often mistaken for nearby Taung Kalat, the volcanic spire on top of which stands a Buddhist monastery and Nat shrine. Since few tourists climb Mt. Popa itself, except part way to take photos, it’s important to note that Taung Kalat is really what people are talking about when they refer to Mt. Popa.
“Nats”, are once human spirits representing different elemental and symbolic aspects of life on earth. King Anawrahta of Bagan (1044–1077) designated an official pantheon of 37 Nats, after his attempt to ban Nat worship failed. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Nat worship existed in Burma long before Buddhism arrived and has remained an important aspect, especially in more rural areas.
Taung Kalat is reachable from Bagan by 31 miles of road and 777 steps festooned with Macaques. If you are not a fan of monkeys and are not interested in dodging their excrement and thieving ways for a thousand foot climb, then you are better off taking photos from Mt. Popa. Otherwise, it’s worth the effort just to say you did it, if nothing else. Standing on top is exhilarating, especially if you look straight down! But be careful, it’s not well or strongly railed.
The 4 star Mt. Popa Resort has bungalows with awesome views of Taung Kalat.