The most popular side-trip from Bagan, MOUNT POPA volcano rises 1518m above sea level and is considered to be the home of the 37 nats (animist spirits). Although a handful of pilgrims do ascend the main peak, most people instead visit a temple on top of a volcanic plug known as Taungkalat (737m) on the southwestern flank. There are almost eight hundred steps to ascend, and the tiring walk is not helped by the many monkeys (or by locals asking for donations for sweeping monkey droppings off the steps).

Views from the top are good, but opinions are divided on whether it’s a worthwhile half-day visit. Some travellers come away disappointed, particularly since most people on a budget don’t arrive with a guide able to explain the mountain’s religious significance (travel agents and accommodation in Bagan can arrange a guide for around $30). With or without a guide, many trip itineraries will include a visit to a toddy (palm wine) producer on the road between Bagan and the mountain.

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