Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Finally had a chance to wake up without an alarm clock. Had breakfast on the main deck of the hotel and then met up with U Bo Ni for a drive out to Mount Popa, about 50 km east of Bagan.

First stop was the local gas station. Gasoline is in limited supply in Myanmar so it is rationed by the government. There was a long lineup of motorcycles and scooters but very few cars. We were advised not to take photographs because it is forbidden and could get us into serious trouble with the government. It looked like each scooter was given about a gallon - not sure how much gas we got for the car. 

With gas in the tank, we headed out into the countryside. Very dry and arid landscape. We stopped at a village stall where we got to see how the locals make sesame seed oil, palm sugar and palm tequila. We were then able to sample some locally grown peanuts and pickled green tea with sesame seeds along with a cup of tea. We really enjoyed the tea and were grateful when we were given some tea leaves to take home with us. Apparently, the tea we were drinking comes from Inle Lake.

We carried on with our trip and came across a village celebration. We had stumbled across a ceremony where a young boy was about to become a monk. The young boy looked to be about eight years old! Apparently, the religion here expects each family to offer up a child to become a monk. The ceremony was very colourful with a long line of pretty young girls bearing gifts shuffling to the sounds of celebratory music. At the end of the ceremony, the young boy has his head shaved and is taken away to the monastery. We didn’t stay for the end.

The drive to Mount Popa took about 45 minutes. Mount Popa is an extinct volcano with a variety of temples built on the top. Getting to the top entails a climb of some 700 steps (we were told by our guide it is a total of 777 steps but we never counted to verify this). The stairway is covered but very dirty. You are not allowed to wear shoes and there are hundreds of wild monkeys all over the place that poop on the stairway. We felt a better name for this place would have been Mount Poop-ee! In addition to the monkey poop, several vendor stalls line the walkway and the shrines at the top seem to be a little too gaudy and in some cases, quite tacky.

Before we climbed to the top, we visited the shrine of the 37 Nats at the base of the stairway. Nats are mannequin-like deity figures or saints in the Hindu religion that worshippers pray to for specific outcomes.

After we visited the top of Mount Popa, we thankfully put our shoes back on and headed over to Popa Mountain Resort for lunch. This turned out to be a heavenly resort in the middle of nowhere. Can’t quite figure out why it is here. The lunch was outstanding (especially the vegetable tempura, chicken and vegetable vermicelli and the spicy stir fry beef). We looked at one of the rooms and they looked very nice. The pool area was very scenic and we stole a few minutes to lie in the sun before our departure.

Following lunch we headed back to our hotel in Bagan and relaxed for the rest of the day. Still can’t get internet access! We decided to have a couples massage in the evening. We were hoping they would be quite gentle compared to the massages we had in Shanghai but yet again we had some deep muscle tissue worked on that we didn’t know existed. The part that we found quite odd was stripping to our underwear in front of our Myanmar massage ladies!

We were still quite full form our lunch at Mount Popa, so dinner was pretty light and we headed to bed early to get some sleep ahead of our 5.00 am wake-up for the balloon sunrise trip.

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