From Bagan we took a day trip to Mount Popa before going back to Yangon for New Years, and it was seriously National Lampoon’s Burmese Vacation. Hiring a car for the day cost five of us $8 a head and we had a list of places we wanted to see. Sinister is the adjective we can best use to describe our driver, and I do not have any photos of this individual because honestly, he was kind of scary. Our day with him did make for a good story though.
Driving out of Bagan, he pulled over and yelled out his window to many a passerby “Come on! Mount Popa!” Not surprisingly at all, no one hopped into our van. We did, however, make a stop at another guesthouse where we were to pick someone up. We were told not to discuss money with the new guy because he was being charged $10, while the rest of us were being charged $8. This guy later told us that he thought he would be on a guided tour.
On our drive, we stopped at a local toddy distillery, that we were not interested in, and were told “Stop. Get out. Alcohol. Photos.” Confused, we asked to continue on to Mount Popa, which he begrudgingly did.
Our next stop was a vista looking out a Mount Popa where we were swarmed by children selling rocks – magical rocks that RATTLE – and petrified wood. Yes, I bought tons of rocks for my friends back in Indonesia, who, luckily, think they’re as awesome as I do.
When we arrived at Mount Popa, music was blaring from a temple where woman, seemingly in a trance, was dancing, monkeys were running all around, and colorful egg shaped human figures were all over. The place was instantly captivating and worth the very awkward car trip.
We climbed the steep steps up to the temple perched on top of Mount Popa, stopping for a quick lunch of noodles where we got a taste of the monkeys’ relationship with the people. It’s not good. After my trip to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, I’m hesitant around our furry cousins, but they are still fun to watch. From a distance. A man walking around beating a stick gave us a nod and a thumbs up — like an trusty uncle who had our back—and made sure that we stayed a safe distance from the monkeys. The old ladies serving up our noodles also protected us… by sling-shotting the monkeys when they got too close.
When we reached the top, were rewarded with a stunning view of wide open space. Looking northeast, we were 300 miles from India, but the area between us and India is currently full of conflict, making it impossible to cross. We also saw an impressive crater that Lonely Planet says is a fun hike and were determined to do it. We descended to find our driver so that he would take us there, as well as the petrified forest.
Explaining the crater was challenging and thank goodness we had Blake to draw it. We were confident that he understood where we wanted to go and he told us to meet him back at the car at 1:15pm. We got some more food, and I was really enjoying an ear of sweet corn when a monkey snuck up behind me and ripped it out of my hands while I was gnawing on it. Where were my sling shot ladies when I needed them?
I hope that he enjoyed his corn…
When we met back up with our driver, he was decorating the car with flowers and said with a big betel nut grin “my lady”, and a woman we had never seen got in the van. We drove for a while, stopped, and were sent up a hill for “45 minutes!” There was a reclining Buddha, and a nice view, but we were really confused as to where we were. Looking out, we were trying to work out if we were on the edge of the crater or not, but you can see in the picture that the trees look big and then there’s a cliff and they get really small, so we figured that maybe we were.
are we on a crater?
Also on that stop, I lost my pretty sunglasses in a squat toilet, and the lady guarding the toilet kept telling me they were gone forever while I was in mourning.
Blake and Joe went back to car to find all the curtains drawn and our driver in the backseat with his lady. When we dropped her off at her house that was nearby, we realized that we had not been to the crater, and probably wouldn’t go there. Our driver and his lady just needed some alone time, and he knew how to distract six tourists for forty-five minutes.
We asked him to then take us to the petrified forest, which we settled on being “stone tree” and he took us a roadside tea shop that had petrified wood as a fence. Stone trees, sure, petrified forest… not quite. I don’t have any pictures from that special stop. We went back to Bagan after that, awkwardly laughing and with no words to describe the day trip. It was National Lampoon’s Burmese Vacation, and one of the weirder days that I’ve had traveling.