There is a difference between the peak of Mount Popa itself and the temple/shrine on top of the cliff many pilgrims long for.
The Popa Taung Kalat shrine is the favoured home of 37 Mahagiri Nats or animist spirit entities, statues of which can be found at its base. The worship of the Nats dates back to the original religion of the Burmese people prior to the arrival of Buddhism, and have since been incorporated into Burmese Buddhist practices. These spirits were once so important to the country's early kings that it was essential for them to consult the Nats before commencing their reign.
Popa means "flower" in Sanskrit and you will find bottled flowers that you can purchase as offerings at the temple.
The common transport hub for Mount Popa is the nearby town 1 Kyauk Padaung.
- Bagan – Most people visit Mount Popa as a day trip from nearby Bagan. It's only about 50 km away, but due to the conditions of the road and vehicles, it will take at least 90 min to get there. Local pickup along the main road by the Nyaung U Highway Bus Terminal: 1,000-1,500 kyat one-way. Do not listen to locals, especially taxi drivers, that try to tell you that local transport does not run in this direction anymore. Organised tour by your hotel or at the market in Nyaung U per person: 4-6,000 kyat return. By taxi, including the added benefit of being able to stop and visit the few villages along the way: 30,000 kyat.
- Magway – A transport hub for Mrauk U and Pyay. Via Kyauk Padaung. 2-3 hr.
- Mandalay – Via Meiktila and Kyauk Padaung. 4-6 hr, 5-6,000 kyat.
- Yangon – Several buses run to Kyauk Padaung since the city is a junction between Bagan and other major cities. One bus is at 18:00, 10½ hr, 10,000 kyat.
- Mrauk U & Sittwe – You can take a direct bus to Mandalay (08:00 & 10:00, 19 hr) going by Kyauk Padaung or take a bus to Magway (09:00 & 12:00, 16 hr) and catch onward transport, pickup/van or another bus. Make sure the bus really goes by Kyauk Padaung, especially when entering the bus. Often the ticket seller and the bus are different companies, because passengers are shuffled around depending on supply and demand of buses. The rest of the way from Kyauk Padaung, take one of the many pilgrim pickups for 300-500 kyat. 19-20 hr, 24-28,000 kyat.
In addition, the Bagan overnight train from Yangon also stops in Kyauk Padaung. Departing at 16:00 from Yangon and arriving about 07:40. in Kyauk Padaung the next day. Fares are: upper class sleeper 16,500 kyat, upper class seat 12,000 kyat, ordinary class seat 4,500 kyat.
There should also be a train from Pyay, but it could be seasonal. Ask at the local railway station.
Most people are dropped off in the 2 village at the base of Mount Popa at the junction near the highway. There are many shops, some accommodation and lots of transportation options up to the available here. Walking up the 3.4 km to the pilgrim village and the shrine can take up to an hour. Motorbike taxis demand 1,000 kyat, but a shared ride should not be more than 300-500 kyat, or even free if you look like an interesting sight yourself.
A more convenient walk and way up to the shrine, coming from Kyauk Padaung, is directly from the 1 junction along highway (use the GPS marker). The junction is about 300 m before the road winds uphill towards the pilgrim village. When your transport out of Kyauk Padaung reaches the 180° turning road uphill, get off and walk back a few dozen metres and then straight up to the mountain. From Bagan this is not an option.
1 Popa Taung Kalat Shrine (hard to miss the cliff, which is well-illuminated in the morning). To reach the top of the shrine, you must remove shoes and socks and climb the 777 steps to the summit. Take great care during the rainy season as the steps can be very slippery. Along the way are a multitudes of monkeys expecting treats. Sometimes they can get a little aggressive (supposedly, the monkeys like to go after people's glasses) so it is recommended that you keep a tight grip on your possessions. And because of the monkeys, the ground is filthy. People clean it along the way and ask for a donation, but there are plenty of places they don't clean. It's wise to bring baby wipes or tissues to clean your feet when you leave because they will be dirty.
1 Mount Popa Peak (hike up from Popa Mountain Resort), ☏ (NP). The hike takes about 1 hr, and on a mist-less day (e.g. during wet season when the air is cleaned by the rain) you can easily spot Bagan. About 1 km before the peak, you will hit a small temple with pagoda. Take enough water and sunscreen for the top. Free, US$10 for a guide (do not trust the price Popa Mountain Resort quotes).
Mount Popa, and especially the shrine, is primarily a pilgrimage destination for Myanmar people, so the some souvenirs are targeted them rather than foreign tourists. Common things sold are religious items, traditional medicine, flower bulbs and flowers for the shrines. You can purchase sweets and liquor from stalls along the road to the mountain.
There are a few local food stalls available in the village at the base of the mountain as well as the pilgrim village at the foot of the shrine, and there are many fruit vendors. A more sophisticated menu is offered at Popa Mountain Resort that also caters for western tourists.
Not really an evening destination. However, the convenient location of the shrine allows for a great sunset experience.
- 1 Hotel Linn & Restaurant Popa, Byatta Pan Sat Road (700 m from the main intersection, on the way to/from Bagan), ☏ , email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. Hotel-restaurant featuring 28 rooms (standard & superior), all with AC, TV, minibar, private hot/cold shower bathroom, choice of double/twin bed. Room service possible. Breakfast from 7AM to 9PM; the restaurant offers a beautiful view of the premises & rural surroundings (including the 2 main spots of Popa, Mount Popa & Taung Kalat monastery). Wifi from the lobby area. Doctor on call. Massage on request. Mountain bike rental. Small museum, showcasing petrified forest & mammalian fossils, in collaboration with Mount Popa Global Geopark. Souvenir shop. Small playground area. Free parking. Standard: US$35 low season, $40 high season. Superior: $40 low season, $45 high season.
- 2 Popa Mountain Resort (1.5 km before the pilgrim village on the main road), ☏ , , , , firstname.lastname@example.org. This resort is on the side of Mount Popa, overlooking the surrounding area and the cliff with temple/shrine. A beautiful complex with an excellent restaurant featuring Burmese and European dishes. The bungalows are better than the dated rooms. US$45-110, menu US$12.
- 3 Popa Garden Resort, In Popaywa (MyinGyan-KyaukPaDaung Road, NyaungPinSeit Village, next to Popa Golf Club), ☏ , , , , email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: Noon. Built on a 7-acre garden overlooking Mount Popa and the surrounding mountain ranges. Has an excellent restaurant featuring Asian and European cuisines. Somewhat isolated so access to a car will be needed. US$50-110, menu US$15.
Most of the following transport from Mount Popa is via Kyauk Padaung (300-500 kyat with local transport), except for local transport to Bagan.
- Bagan – One of the most famous attractions in Myanmar and probably Southeast Asia. 1½ hr, 1,000-1,500 kyat.
- Magway – A transport hub for trips to Mrauk U and Pyay. 2-3 hr.
- Mandalay – Famous for the U Bein Bridge, the Buddha face washing, as well as the nearby mountains by train. Buses from Kyauk Padaung go through Meiktila. 4-6 hr, 5-6,000 kyat.
- Yangon – A least one daily bus. 10½ hr, 24,000 kyat.
- Mrauk U & Sittwe – Mrauk U is famous for its ancient sights of the last great kingdom and its traditional, surrounding Chin Villages. There are direct buses from Kyauk Padaung, mostly coming from Mandalay, that go to Mrauk U. You can also take a bus to Magway and switch to the bus to Mrauk U (or Sittwe) near the bridge across the Irrawaddy river or in front of the K.H.M. Fashion store. 18-22 hr, 25-27,000 kyat.
In addition, the Bagan-Yangon overnight train also stops in Kyauk Padaung. Departing at 18:00 from Kyauk Padaung and arriving about 10:30 in Yangon the next day. Fares are: upper class sleeper: 16,500 kyat, upper class seat: 12,000 kyat, ordinary class seat: 4,500 kyat.
There might be a train to Pyay; ask at the Kyauk Padaung railway station.