Climbing to See the Golden Rock in Myanmar
It was 3 am and I was sitting on an ice-cold bus heading to a town that I didn’t even know the name of. Tired from a day of sightseeing in Yangon, I had just about fallen asleep when the bus stopped. Everyone started filing off. Where was I? Was I asleep? Had I slept? I walked off the bus and tried to find someone who spoke English, which wasn’t happening. A bit disorientated, I decided to follow the rest of the passengers who were setting up beds in a communal room out the back of a small restaurant. I had nothing to sleep on, no pillow and no blankets, but just as I was about to lie down for what would have been a very uncomfortable sleep, someone came and took me upstairs and into a tiny room with a mattress on the floor. On paper it was probably one of the most unappealing rooms I’ve ever slept in but at the time it seemed like luxury, and what I thought might have been a difficult night’s sleep turned into a pretty good one.
I was in Kinpun, a small town seemingly built to cater for the local pilgrims who come to see the Golden Rock, a gold-leaf coated rock balancing on a ledge at the top of a small mountain in Myanmar. It turns out there are other places to stay in the area but since I was using public transport they just dropped me where the locals go. Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened. I ended up staying two nights. The people were really friendly; they obviously don’t get many westerners staying there so they seemed to go out of their way to make sure I was happy. There were a couple of kids who just stared at me for a while, but they eventually came and tried to talk to me. I managed to teach them a few English words and they taught me some Burmese ones, and before long I felt like part of the family.
I was packed in with about 50 other people on the back of a truck. Even though no one had any kind of space to move they were still waiting to throw a few more people on the pile before it would take off. It eventually got rolling, heading up Mt Kyaiktiyo, home of the Golden Rock in Myanmar (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda) I’d come so far to see. The truck stopped half way up the mountain and from there it was about an hour on foot. The Pilgrim path wound up and around, passing small tea-shops, restaurants and souvenir shops, climbing slowly to reveal the stunning countryside below. It was hard going in the late morning heat, but at least I had it better than some of the Burmese guys whose job it was to carry tourists up the hill on stretcher chairs. I later found out that I could have walked all the way from town, which I would definitely have done, but since I’d done absolutely no research I didn’t know it was an option.
Arriving at the Golden Rock
Upon reaching the top I was made to take off my shoes, which meant searing my feet on the boiling ground. The Golden Rock was pretty impressive; it looks like you could just push it off its perch and send it rolling down the hill. It’s a really important pilgrimage site for Buddhists, but bad luck if you are a woman, you won’t even be allowed to touch the sacred stone. There was also a really interesting market and village situated a small distance from the rock area. I’m sure some people miss it completely, but that would be a big mistake. It has to be one of the steepest markets in Southeast Asia and is full of unique items, most of which I didn’t recognise. I even saw the head of what could have been a tiger, or some other kind of big cat. It looked like it had been half cooked and it was just sitting in a market stall waiting to be bought (I’m not sure of the target market for half cooked tiger heads). I asked the lady if I could take a photo but she seemed very against that idea. After a couple of hours of exploring, I headed back down the mountain, back into Myanmar’s fullest truck and eventually back into town.
Further reading: Planning a trip to Myanmar? Check out GoMyanmar.com – it’s a great resource!
I didn’t even need to carry my own bag to the bus stop the next day, the kids insisted on carrying it, even though they really seemed to be straining. I was sad to be leaving this place. The people were really warm and welcoming (just like most places in Myanmar) and there was a really laid-back and hassle free atmosphere.
If you are looking to get off the typical Yangon – Bagan – Inle Lake – Mandalay tourist trail, make sure you get to the Golden Rock, it’ll be a unique stop on your Myanmar travels. Have you been to the Golden Rock in Myanmar? Let me know!
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