Mt Popa is the holy shrine of Nats, Demi-Gods of Burmese Pantheon. Buses from Yangon to Bagan reach Nyaung Oo around 5 AM. Though the check-in time in all Bagan hotels is 2 PM hence I decided to go to the Mt Popa and Salay excursion. Mt Popa is about 50 km away from Nyaung Oo and approachable only by private transport.
Mt Popa is the northernmost peak of the Bago Mountains which runs longitudinally from the north of Yangon. Taung Kalat is a volcanic plug adjacent to Mt Popa. There is a shrine dedicated to 37 nats(spirits) of Burmese pantheon on top of it. There is a stairway of 777 steps to the top. We hired a vehicle from Nyaung Oo at 65000 MMK(~ 3250 INR) for a combined tour of Popa and Salay.
We did not climb the 777 steps because we felt it is not worth to climb 777 steps infested through mischievous monkeys. It is also called Monkey Temple due to hundreds of monkeys around the steps and they are really ferocious. They can snatch the camera, other items from you, as well as a slap, jump on your shoulder and what not.
From Taung Kalat we drove to Salay. Salay is an ancient village and religious center. Here a traveler can witness few old teakwood monasteries and ruins of old pagodas.Plus the laidback, rustic spirit of the village is an added bonus. O
Salay and Mt Popa(Taung Kalat) is best approached by a hired vehicle. We settled for MMK 65000(as of Oct 2019) for the entire excursion from Nyaung Oo.