The Golden Rock

The next destination on the itinerary was the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, which was a five to six hour bus trip from Yangon. Getting up early, I headed down to reception to check out only to discover that Ben and Fiona had just arrived at the hotel! Unfortunately Daniel and I had to catch a taxi to the bus station, but it was great to have a final catch-up with the two of them before our paths finally diverged - they were about to head off to the Philippines, then China and Russia. The bus journey was fairly pleasant, passing through the Burmese countryside accompanied by almost constant honking of the bus's horn. Here's a strange thing. In Myanmar, they drive on the right, but the vast majority of the vehicles come from Korea and Japan where they drive on the left - this means that the drivers are usually sitting by the edge of the road instead of the middle. Overtaking (which busses do a lot, to pass tractors and ox-drawn carts) thus involves honking to let the vehicle in front know they're about to be passed, then pulling out blindly so the driver can see if the road is clear. Next, more honks to let the person know they're being passed, and finally more honks once the manoeuvre is complete to say thanks. More than once, the bus had to veer back to avoid oncoming trucks - an interesting experience πŸ˜‰ The temple where the Golden Rock is situated is on top of a mountain, and we'd decided to stay somewhere at the top so we could see the rock at sunrise and sunset - the trucks to the top don't run early or late enough to stay in the village at the bottom. A very helpful man who worked at one of the village hotels called another hotel for us and arranged our room at the top, and refused any payment for his time - I can't think of anywhere else where this would happen. He also showed us to the place where we could catch the truck to the mountain.
Truck up the mountain, before the downpour

Truck up the mountain, before the downpour

The Golden Rock

The Golden Rock

The trucks were open-backed, with about six benches fitted in the bed, and their practice was to fill the truck completely before setting off. This meant six people on each of the six benches - fine for the small frames of the Burmese, but a tight fit for wider hipped Europeans - and the back bench was a very tight squeeze. The truck finally set off after about half an hour of waiting, and before long it stopped at a covered payment station. At this point, it started to rain - gentle rain, but still rain. We had a crazy idea that the truck would wait until the rain faded, or they'd put a cover over our heads - no such luck. As the truck pulled out again for the next leg of the trip the heavens truly opened. For people who have never experienced monsoon-level rains probably can't appreciate how much rain there was - we were soaked to the skin within a minute, and with the truck speeding round tight corners on a bumpy road it was impossible to keep my eyes open. The thirty minutes until the next stop passed in a blur - I'd abandoned any hope of keeping myself dry in any way, and was just trying to make sure that my camera bag (with it's rain-cover attached, of course) would stay unsoaked. This was partially successful - my camera was dry, but my laptop had water dripping out of the bottom when I checked it later. Not so good.
The Golden Rock again

The Golden Rock again

Sleeping places reserved for the night

Sleeping places reserved for the night

After the truck ride, there was still another 45 minute walk to the top of the mountain in soaking wet clothes. We passed on the offer of being carried up in bamboo palanquins, but took up the offer of having our rucksacks carried by a porter. Lazy, I know, but spirits were definitely low. The hotel at the top of the mountain turned out to be the luxury option - $100 a night for a twin room - but the views from the window were spectacular. After a quick change into dry clothes, we headed on to the summit and the Golden Rock itself. The pagoda itself is tiny, but is perched on top of a huge granite boulder which is precariously balanced on the edge of another. The mythology behind it says that it is balanced on a strand of Buddha's hair, though I suspect that the rock has been there for a long time before Buddha came around. The rock itself is completely covered in gold leaf, and Buddhist pilgrims (male only for some reason) constantly add more gold on the side of the rock. The site was packed with visitors - making burnt offerings, praying, eating, and taking photos late into the evening. The rock seemed to glow as the sun started to set, and the whole site was buzzing with activity - it was almost a spiritual experience, which coming from a cynic like me hopefully says a lot πŸ™‚ Dawn was also very impressive, with clouds flowing over the hills in waves as the sun came up, though unfortunately the ever-prevalent smoky haze meant that the rock wasn't as well lit as it had been the previous night. No matter - the visit to the rock had definitely been worthwhile.
Prayers and burnt offerings

Prayers and burnt offerings

The view from the hotel window

The view from the hotel window

The journey back down the mountain was far more enjoyable than the journey up - the sun was shining, my pack felt light, and most importantly it was downhill! I was on the front row of the truck back to the village too, so I spent the entire trip stood up looking over the cab, dodging hanging branches, and getting a lot of upper body exercise making sure I didn't fall sideways as the truck went round the corners - it was quite a wild ride! A beer at a cafe at the bottom of the hill was welcome, and then we headed back on the bus to Yangon.
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2 Responses to The Golden Rock

  1. Jonathan says:

    The rock looks awesome; not sure about the strand of hair tale though… πŸ™‚ The honking of the horn… lol! I always think their beeping at me and get slightly irritated by it πŸ˜› $100 per night, isn’t that like a life times wage in Myanmar πŸ˜›

    • admin says:

      The $100 room was a definite indulgence, but soooo welcome after the soaking on the truck…

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