The magic atmosphere of the Golden Rock
Our trip through the ‘’Golden land‘’ begins with a visit of one of the three most sacred and revered sites in Myanmar, located on the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo at 1100 meters high, namely Kyaiktiyo Paya, better known as Golden Rock. Pilgrims come here to worship and add small gold leaf to the rock, that is incredibly perched on the edge of a cliff. The main legend tells that a Buddhist hermit was given a strand of hair from the Buddha himself, which he then presented to the king with the wish that the hair will be enshrined in a boulder shaped like a hermit’s head.
After finding the rock at the bottom of the sea and with the help of the Thagyamin, the King of Tawadeintha Heaven in Buddhist cosmology, he found the perfect place at Kyaiktiyo to locate the rock and built the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (it means “Pagoda on the Hermit’s Head), where the strand was enshrined. According to the legend, it is the strand of hair that prevents the rock from tumbling down the hill. The pilgrims who visit the holy site three times a year will be blessed with wealth and acknowledgement of their goodness.
Once reached Kinpun, a small village located at the foot of Mount Kyaiktiyo, we immediately realise how holy is this place. There is an incredible crowd of pilgrims, and we have “to struggle” with them to find a seat on the dump truck (rebuilt with seats to fit passengers) that covers the road to the top. Pushing and pushed by the crowd, we climb up the ladder and jump inside the open back part of the truck on an uncomfortable and so tight bench. This kind of vehicle is the only one allowed to get the top. The other option is to hike to the top through a bit steep paved route (around 5 hours walk). Packed like sardines in a can, we are ready to head towards the rock. The truck rushes alarmingly uphill through the spectacular jungle scenery like a roller-coaster, lining on the left side a gorge. Along the way, many people scream, either enjoyed and worried.
Finally, after almost 40 minutes, we reach the top of the mountain beginning the visit of the site with a multitude of smiling pilgrims who came to this place to spend a particular day. From the truck park we walk along the walkway leading to the complex that houses several viewing platforms, pagodas, Buddha shrines, and Nats, until, after almost 30 minutes walk, we start sighting the shape of the Golden Rock. The boulder sits on a natural rock platform turning up to have been naturally formed to act as the base to build the pagoda and lies on an inclined surface, and the area of contact is incredibly and extremely small. It’s 7 meters high with a circumference of about 15 meters. On its top is located a stupa, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, 7.3 meters high.
A lotus flower shape, made with layers of gold leaf, encircles the base of the rock which seems to crash down at any moment. As we come closer to the rock, the crowd of pilgrims become more and more. Here the line is very long, and all the faithful are waiting their moment to pray and stick golden leaves on the rock in reverence. Since only men are allowed to reach the rock and attach the leaf, the women stand just in front kneeled on the floor, praying and lighting candles.
The main square close to the Golden Rock has numerous establishments dealing in religious paraphernalia for worship and offerings made by the pilgrims. As the sun goes down, the atmosphere becomes magical: hundreds of faithful camped out through the site for the night start singing, praying, lighting candles and burning incense while the warm orange light of the sun makes everything more spectacular. The devotion of the worshippers is very strong: monks, families with young babies, youth and elderly, take their place on the ground cooking food and preparing the blankets to spend here the cold night before going back home. Our time in this magic place is over, sure it is not on the way of the main touristic loops of the country, but with no doubt, it is worth a diversion!
Need to Know about Golden Rock
1) Getting there:
From Yangon Central Station, you can take the train to Kyaik Hto railways station (around 9 hrs) from where you can take a taxi, a motorbike or a pick up to Kinpun. The best and cheapest way is to take the pick up.
Catching the bus is faster, you can take a direct night coach to Kyaik Hto or a daily bus towards Mawlamyine and Hpa An and get off at Kyaik Hto. There also regular direct buses from Yangon to Kinpun, less comfortable than the night buses.
Another option (not so useful) is to take a bus/train to the city of Bago, and from here take a pick up or a taxi to Kinpun or Kyaik Hto (about 100 km). The bus terminal is Sawbwar Gyi bus station where buses from/to Yangon and Mandalay depart and arrive. Bago is also the town where you have to take the train if your trip is going on from Golden Rock to Mandalay or vice-versa. There are 3 rides a day, and it takes you almost 14 hours.
The name of the dump converted trucks depart to the Golden rock is called Yatetaung terminal. The fee for the ride is around 3000MMK (2 US dollars). If you like hiking, there is a pilgrim path up to the golden rock, which takes about 4-5h up (about 3h down) and climbs roughly 1000m of altitude. Alternatively, you’ll probably also find more comfortable cabs (5 seats) to reach the top. They can be prepurchased at a small desk in the truck station and the fee is 3000MMK. Anyway, for a more authentic experience, we suggest taking a ride packed in the dump truck with the locals.
The entrance fee at the Golden rock for foreigners is 10.000 MMK (around 6,5 US dollars). If you need, at the entrance gate you’ll also find porters.
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2) Where to eat and sleep:
You’ll find some accommodations in Kinpun or Kyaik Hto. There are also quite expensive hotels on the top of the mountain, the Kyaik Hto hotel and the Mountain Top hotel, located along the walkway to the rock. We slept in Kinpun at the Eternity Resort, just 10 minutes walk from the truck terminal. If you sleep at Kinpun check when the last truck is going down the mountain to avoid getting stranded. On the top, there are several gift shops and restaurants where you can taste the delightful local food. You can look for your accommodation with Booking.com or Agoda.com.
Ceremony: the Full-Moon Day of Tabaung in March is a special occasion to visit the shrine. On this day, pagoda’s platform is usually lighted with 90,000 candles as a respectful offering to the Lord Buddha.