Oh The golden rock and Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. I hadn’t planned on visiting this monument but I was traveling with Julie, enjoying her company and it was on her list of things to visit. My reasons for not visiting is because its the only attraction in a village that has nothing to offer and its a bit out of the way. Many of you know from first hand experience, that I am easily persuaded, especially when I am in good company. So following Julie (No, I’m not talking in third person- DAD) to the golden rock was a no brainer for me. Also, Joseline was on board so that makes three. It’s a party, it’s a party!
So, history of the golden rock and Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. It’s situated on a hill, built on a granite boulder on top of Buddha’s hair and is covered in gold leaves that only male devotees can apply. Why only men you ask? Gender segregation is still alive and real in the Burmese culture. In many things woman are not given the same opportunities as men. It’s ok though I wasn’t really interested in putting any gold leaves on any rocks here, so it’s all good. This sight is a very important Buddhist pilgrimage. Legend has it that Buddha impressed a celestial king who used his supernatural power to carry the rock to it’s current spot. The boulder sits on a natural rock platform, lies on an inclined plane and the area of contact is pretty small. They truly are independent of each other and the rock sits dangerously on the edge of the boulder. This is just about as unbelievable as it looks. The golden rock is situated 3,609 feet above sea level. The Kinpun village is the closest to the golden rock and is where we stayed the night.
We had taken a short bus ride from Hpa An to Kyaikto, where we were dropped off in the middle of town. We knew to get to the village of Kinpun we would have to travel for about 30 minutes. We were told not to take the motorbike taxis because they were overpriced. Getting off the bus, we were lost and disoriented and were pounced on by a Burmese guy who was trying to take us via motorbike. He said he had to take us to another bus stop and then we would take a bus from there into Kinpun. I asked the price and he said 1,000 Kyat to the bus and then 2,000 Kyat for the bus to Kinpun. We agreed to the 3,000 ($2.25 USD) and we all got on separate bikes. A few minutes later my driver points, but does not stop and says no buses at bus stop and keeps driving. Then he proceeds to tell me that he will drive me all the way there and it will cost 8,000 Kyat. I say NO. I will pay the 3,000 I agreed on. Mind you, we are still driving. They still never stop. So he slows and is speaking Burmese to one of the other drivers, the one we made the deal with. We are literally arguing between bikes while driving down a freeway. I stand my ground though. They are clearly angry but still don’t stop. They speed up on the bikes probably to scare us, but I don’t scare easy. Also, I know God loves me and he will protect me. Not to mention, I was holding on real tight to my driver so if we go down you’re going down with me buddy, as my cushion.
We arrived safely to our guesthouse where we were greeted at the door by our host. The drivers are still fighting with me but I’m a bulldog and I never back down when I know I am right. Julie and Joseline stay silent and let me do the talking because they can tell I’ve got this and I will win. I’m kind in explaining the reasons behind why I refuse to pay more than what I was quoted. I hand over my 3,000 and tell the girls to do the same. They glare at me, but I don’t care. I let them know that I will not be giving them anymore than that, so take it or leave it. They take it and they leave. As our host is showing us to our room he lovingly shamed us because he had told us when we booked to not take a motorbike taxi. We all laughed because he was right we got suckered because we didn’t listen to instructions.
We settled into the room and started to make a plan because we needed to see this golden rock and then go kick rocks back to Yangon in the early AM. The grounds of the guesthouse was a giant flower garden with all kinds of flowers of every different color. As you all know I’m obsessed with flowers and took a million pictures. If you don’t know about my obsession then check this out. The inside of the room was seriously outdated and smelled like cat urine. At first the AC didn’t work, but later it kicked on, however, I’m positive it was so old and the filter had never been changed because we all woke the next morning stuffed up and coughing. But whatever, better than a hot, muggy room. The bathroom was really disgusting and probably hasn’t been cleaned in a few months. On the plus side, there was warm water and toilet paper. It’s the little things.
We headed out to get some food at a little local restaurant that our host so kindly walked us to. We sat amongst locals and ate and even invited a nice monk to sit with us and we asked him many questions about monk life and his journey into monkhood (is that a work? If not, it is now). After lunch we headed to the bus station to embark on the most wild ride of my entire life. Nowhere had I read that the drive up to the golden rock was so dangerous and that I would be risking my life, my lunch and my sanity.
We were ushered into the back of a utility truck with only a canopy over top, and several small benches lining the bed. We were packed in like a can of sardines, I’m guessing 35 or 40 people in the back of this truck. You can’t even move or breathe without violating the people sitting next to you. It’s mid day and of course it’s hot. At this point in time I’m thinking this is the worst part, boy was I wrong. The drive up the hill was like being in an outcross race with 40 other people in one car. It’s a one lane street, seriously steep slopes, 180 degree turns and we are bombing up the hill like we are running from Armageddon. Joseline was sitting on the outside and every time we turned a corner on her side I thought she was going to fly out. Julie is in the middle holding on for her dear life and praying. I’m laughing hysterically, which I’m sure isn’t nice because everyone is fearing their lives and I’m laughing. I have come to realize that I laugh when I’m nervous, I suppose it’s a coping mechanism. Who would have known? While we are on this wild and dangerous ride a Burmese man hanging from the outside of the canopy collects our 2,000 Kyat ($1.5 USD) for the last ride of our lives. The only thing more dangerous than this ride is hanging on to the outside of the truck while its flying around corners on an extreme incline.
It takes about 30 minutes to get to the top, I think, because it felt like a lifetime to me. When we get on solid ground several people are hunched over trash cans and the sidewalk throwing up. I’m lucky enough to say that my stomach is pretty strong so my lunch stayed intact, however, my legs felt like jello and I was having a hard time walking. To get to the golden rock you have to walk up a hill and several stairs to reach the top. Since we are foreigners we had to pay 10,000 Kyat ($7.50 USD) to enter to see the golden rock. I’m not happy about this but what can I do. I just survived the most dangerous ride of a lifetime, I’m seeing this stupid rock. It’s required to remove your shoes before climbing the stairs to the rock, which I did. But then I was stopped by security and they were pointing at my feet and I’m like what? So I put my foot up on the table to show them I took my shoes off. They all start giggling at me and tell me it’s my socks they are pointing at because I guess those are forbidden as well. I’m glad my stupidity can bring humor.
There was some pretty great views from the top and so many people who looked like they had been camping out for awhile up there. People make a real event out of visiting this spot. They bring food and set up camp with shaded areas and gather all together and take naps. We just walked around and snapped some photos. The golden rock is pretty amazing I guess. It does seem as if its going to roll off into the valley at any given moment. I was only slightly stressed while standing under it. We didn’t stay long because after we took some photos what else is there to do? All I could think about was the ride back down to safety and how I was going to handle that. We were all a little uneasy about this so we stopped for a water and fresh coconut before we had enough nerve to head back down the hill.
The ride back down was just as bad but even worse. Mid way down we stopped on a 90 degree slope and the driver hopped out and wasn’t present for a good ten minutes. No blocks are placed in front of the wheels and we are fully reliant on brakes that I’m sure haven’t been checked or changed in years. I’m having a full blown panic attack and can’t stop imagining the brakes giving way and us plummeting down the side of the hill into the valley below. I’m not entirely sure how I held all my marbles together but I can safely say that the golden rock wasn’t worth it for me. It was an expensive excursion and not at all worth the photos or the years I feel the stress shaved off my life. But enjoy the photos just the same and know that I risked my life for them.
Later than night we enjoyed a very nice dinner with locals in the village and were entertained by a small boy who really liked Julie and grabbed her boobs and had some disturbing personal boundary issues. But he was cute and I’m sure it’s not his fault. After dinner we had some beers and sat outside enjoying the serenity of the guesthouse garden and had some great conversations about life, love and everything in between. Those are the memories I will take with me of the golden rock. Also, check out my video here. It doesn’t do the ride justice, but makes me think, why are we going so fast? This is a one lane road, what happens if someone comes the other direction?
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