Established and maintained by a hermit in the early 20th century, the Mount Popa shrine and monastery precariously sits 2,500 feet off the ground on a massive volcanic formation in central Myanmar. Climbing 777 steps from the base of the vertical pedestal takes you to a monastery honoring what has come to be known as the center of Nat spirit activity in the nation.
In Buddhist traditions of Myanmar, Nats are spirits of humans that met tragic ends and are portrayed accordingly in shrines across the country. One of the most well-known of the 37 spirits in the shrine of Mount Popa is Ko Gyi Kyaw, who died from his wild lifestyle and alcohol abuse. As the patron saint of tramps and alcoholics, his shrine is often covered in bottles of whiskey.
Due to the Nat activity and shrine on Mount Popa, the area is known as the Mount Olympus of Myanmar. The shrine subsequently draws thousands of pilgrims every year, especially during full moon ceremonies two times per year. Non-religious visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the lush mountains, as well as the monkeys that live and beg for food around the monastery.
Estimated 2,000 Rhesus macaques live in the monastery today and because of this, monkey poop is prevalent on the monastery steps (which pilgrims and visitors are supposed to climb barefoot). Consequently, a high number of people make their living cleaning up after the monkeys in exchange of a donation, and this fact has originated mixed feedback from visitors to Mount Popa.
Know Before You Go
Mount Popa is roughly 30 miles Southwest of Bagan. Wearing comfortable clothing covering the neckline and shoulders, cotton skirts (or pants) is ideal. The dress code is the same as for visiting Bagan temples. Since you are expected to walk barefoot, you can also bring socks to protect your feet.