The magic atmosphere of the Golden Rock
After leaving the chaotic Yangon, 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.
Our visit to the Golden Rock
Once reached Kinpun, a small village located at the foot of Mount Kyaiktiyo, we immediately realize 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 (after our tour, a Cable-car was opened on December 2017 – the Kyaik Hti Yoe Cable Car – that connect the Rathi Taung bus stop to the Golden Rock complex). The other option is to hike to the top through a bit steep paved route (around 5 hours walk).
Packed like sardines, but very excited about this visit, we are ready to reach the top of the mountain. The truck whizzes fast uphill through the spectacular scenery of Mount Kyaiktiyo dangerously skirting a precipice on the left side. Along the way, many pilgrims let out deafening screams, certainly amused by the crazy ride of the truck, but undoubtedly also a little scared! Drivers are used to driving on this mountain road but the speed with which they go up in some exposed parts of the path really give the chills. After about 30 minutes sitting on this “roller coaster”, we arrive at the only stop along the way: the Rathi Thaung terminal. Some pilgrims get off at this stop to continue the route on foot (about 1 hour to get to the top), while we decide to stay onboard the truck to get to the end of the ride.
After about 20 minutes, we reach the top of the mountain and the truck stops right in front of the entrance to the site where two big Nats statue stand to protect the Golden Rock complex. From here, a 40-minute walk begins along a walkway leading to the Buddhist complex where we find several platforms to enjoy the beautiful landscape, pagodas, Buddha shrines and Nats statues. At some point, finally, in front of us, we begin to see the shape of the Golden Rock in the distance. The large golden boulder rests on a flat rock that forms the base where the pagoda is then built. 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 to enter the Golden Rock site 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. How to reach the Golden Rock
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 Bago bus terminal is Sawbwar Gyi 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 goes on from Golden Rock to Mandalay or vice-versa. There are 3 rides a day, and it takes you almost 14 hours.
The Kinpun Truck Terminal is located along Golden Rock Mountain road, you can’t go wrong. The fare for the ride is approximately 3000 MMK (2 US dollars). You will be placed on a tough bench with other many pilgrims in the truck bodies. The route is all curves and in some points slightly exposed, but the beauty of the place will make you forget this “roller coaster” ride. The total length of the ride is about 14 km, with a stop at the Rathi Taung truck terminal where, if you want, you can walk along a fairly steep path (about 1 hour) until you reach the Buddhist complex of the Golden Rock or take the cable car. Near this stop, there are also some hotels often used by those staying at the Golden Rock after sunset, when the trucks stop travelling.
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.
3. Where to 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.
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.