After arriving into Myanmar from Bangkok, we left Yangon to explore the rest of the country first. We knew we would be back to Yangon at the end of our stay in Myanmar to fly out, so we will have more time to sightsee in Yangon then. First, we headed east to visit one of Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist places – Golden Rock and Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda.
Getting there was pretty easy and straightforward. From our hotel in Yangon, we took a cab to the bus station, which was about 20km north of the city center and took almost an hour during the Yangon rush hour. Even though the ride was long, we enjoyed chatting with our taxi driver who spoke English quite well and told us his life story. He was one of the nicest cab driver’s we’ve had in a while; upon arriving at the Yangon Bus Station, he pointed out the right bus to us and even negotiated the bus fare. We were thankful for him because the bus station was really chaotic. Finding the right bus would have been a serious hassle if it wasn’t for our taxi driver.
We expected the bus ride to be a terribly loud and bumpy five-hour journey, but we were pleasantly surprised with it. The bus was actually quite comfortable, the seats were cushioned and wide with plenty of legroom, and the AC worked with an option to turn it off, which hasn’t been present in most of the buses in Asia. The downsides on the bus were the middle aisle seats and the karaoke that played during the whole ride (but that’s normal by now). Another surprise was that the roads were pretty new and smooth, with barely any potholes – so much different than the bus experiences in Laos!
The bus took us directly to Kinpun, a village at the base of Mount Kyaikhtiyo, the closest one to the Golden Rock. We spent the night and early next morning, we walked to the truck station where the infamous trucks to the Golden Rock departed from. Already packed with people, Julie and I were surprisingly the only tourists around. Each truck “fit” almost 50 people seated on narrow bench seats with zero leg room – my knees were jammed into other people’s backs. That combined with very steep slopes, winding roads and strong sun made for an uncomfortable hour and a half ride for everybody.
When we finally arrived to the truck unloading station, there was still a half hour walk to the actual Golden Rock site. On the way, we spotted all sorts of pilgrims – some wealthy ones on palanquins carried by four other people, others who hired sherpas to carry their insane amount of luggage, and some who were on their knees praying. We made our way walking like most of the pilgrims did.
It’s common for sacred places in Myanmar to be deemed a no-shoes zone. This meant not only no shoes, but also no socks – barefeet. The final approach to Golden Rock was in the no-shoes zone. The floor was dirty and sticky, which was not great, but it was part of the journey. Soon enough, the path opened up to a large area where we caught our first glimpses of the Golden Rock.
There it was, the gold-covered granite boulder sitting on the edge of the mountain, on the verge of falling off the cliff. A small pagoda was built on top of the boulder, which is known as Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda. As we walked closer and closer, the surface contact between the Golden Rock and its base seemed smaller and smaller. It defied the laws of gravity and it was hard to believe our eyes. Now we understood why it inspired so many Buddhists.
Legend says that Buddha himself gave a strand of his hair to a hermit who was passing by, who then gave it to the king on the condition that it would be enshrined in a boulder with the shape of the hermit’s head. The king, who had supernatural powers inherited from his parents, found a rock on the bottom of the sea and the perfect place to put it on Mount Kyaikhtiyo. The strand of Buddha’s hair was enshrined in the boulder and is believed to be the reason why Golden Rock doesn’t fall off the cliff.
We admired the rock and took pictures from every angle. I eventually went closer to the rock and joined the numerous pilgrims who were praying, touching and rubbing gold leaves upon it. Unfortunately, women were not allowed into the base area of the Golden Rock, nor were women allowed to touch the rock, so Julie had to stay away. It was a unique experience touching such a sacred Buddhist artifact. I left with pieces of gold on my fingers.
Even though we have visited countless sacred Buddhist sites throughout Asia, Golden Rock and Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda was definitely one of the most unique and memorable. Temples, monasteries and Buddha statues all begin to look alike after so many of them, but none are like the Golden Rock in Myanmar. For a devout Buddhist, visiting Golden Rock must be a divine experience. We can only imagine what that must feel like. For us, it was a sight worth the long journey there and away. We made our way back down by truck the same way we came and left Kinpun village later that day. Goodbye, Golden Rock! Next stop, Inle Lake.
For more pictures from Golden Rock and Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, please visit the gallery!