July 27, 2012
The Golden Rock stupa of Kyaiktiyo is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists. It is busy with devotees during the pilgrimage season (from November to March), but we went during monsoon season, when there were very few people at the Golden Rock. For us, the major part of the experience was the journey.
We had spent the night in Kinpun, at the luxurious Golden Sunrise Hotel. After our shabby accommodations in Bago, I chose our hotel in Kinpun, and of course I chose the nicest sounding one. The asking price for our spacious bungalow with two twin beds was $45, but we were only willing to pay $35. The gentleman showing us the room counter-offered with $38, but that was still over our budget. We are nearing the end of our trip in Myanmar and our cash reserves are dwindling. We asked how far it was to town and were told just a 5 minute walk down the street. So we started putting on our backpacks to leave, and he agreed to $35/night. I think at that point he realized that they would either rent the room or not. We have tried asking for low season discounts at most of the hotels, but instead the prices are much higher than what are listed in the Lonely Planet guide. The room here at Golden Sunrise Hotel is well worth the $45 we are paying. There is so much room it even has a sitting chair and table and the bathroom is large and clean! The included breakfast is just so so, but dinner tonight was good, although on the pricey side (about Kyat 10,000).
We used one of the twin beds and the air cooler to attempt to dry our damp clothes. I completely unpacked the backpacks to avoid developing mold. In the morning I had to re-pack and re-organize. Then we ate breakfast and were on our way to the truck station.
From Kinpun, which is considered a base camp, there is a 45 minute truck ride and then a 45 minute hike. Or you can hike all the way up to the Golden Rock, which takes about 5-6 hours going and 4 hours returning. We opted for the truck. The first truck in the morning leaves at 6am and the last truck
down departs at 6pm. However, these large trucks with 6 rows of people that seat about 35 passengers do not leave until they are full. From Golden Sunrise Hotel it was about a 10 minute walk to the truck station in town. We arrived at 8:30am, only to see a completely full truck about to leave. There was no more room for us to squeeze in. That meant we would be waiting.
If it were high season, another truck might fill quickly, but this is low season and few people are making the trip. We asked how long until the next truck and were told 2 hours. At least there is a sitting area with benches and a TV, where we watched an old Jackie Chan movie. But after 2 hours had passed there were still nowhere near 45 people gathered. If you get stranded and have to wait, there are restaurants nearby, but we had eaten breakfast and were not that hungry. Instead, we munched on some of our snacks. After about 3 hours of waiting they allowed people to climb the stairs into the back of the truck. Unfortunately, I was in the lady’s room at the time, so we missed getting the prime seats, along the edges.
We soon paid our Kyat 1,500 per person and were on our way. The driver floored it and we zipped off, bouncing and swaying and grabbing onto whatever we could to steady ourselves. Our truck was not completely full and luckily the seat in front of George and I was empty, so we were able to hold onto the bench. It was like a roller coaster ride! The best place to sit would be on one of the edges, so you can hold onto the rail. There was a small baby with its parents next to us and I was worried it might fall out of the truck. We stopped about 15 minutes into the trip and I was relived that the dad holding the baby moved into the front of the truck. You can reserve the front seat for Kyat 2,000 per person, and preference is uasally give to groups of five people. The weather cooperated with us and although it was overcast it did not rain. We had prepared for rain and only brought along our dry bag and a couple necessities in plastic bags. But it was much more pleasant not getting soaked.
We reached the truck stop for the Golden Rock at about a quarter past noon. Oddly, only us and a group of French tourist got off the truck. The rest of the locals stayed on, going who- knowns where. There did not seem to be any other roads around, but perhaps they were going to a village on top of one of the other mountain tops. The hike from where the truck dropped us to the stupa took us about 40 minutes. But that was with ideal weather conditions. It was cool and overcast, not hot or raining. The hike was very steep and taxing and we were glad we had worn tennis shoes and not flip flops. There is also the option of being carried up the hill in a chair by four men for about USD $7.
When we neared the stupa we paid our USD $6 per person foreigner entrance fee. You should dress appropriately for a religious site, as men wearing shorts or women wearing skimpy tops, miniskirts, or even trousers risk being denied entry. I always try to wear shirts that cover my shoulders and long or capri pants to Buddhist religious sights to be respectful. But this was the first time I had encountered trousers being inappropriate for women. I thought about wearing my longyi (traditional long skirt), but it was not practical for climbing the hill. It turned out they were not enforcing the dress code, and allowed the French women in wearing tank tops. I have been surprised by how many foreigners I’ve seen wearing shorts and tank tops to the religious sights here. The guide books say not to and most sights also have signs with drawings showing that they are inappropriate.
George and I spent a little less than an hour at at top taking photos of the Golden Rock. Certain prayer areas and the path to place gold leaf on the rock are off-limits to women. So far we have only found one place where women can place the gold leaf and a I added a small square of gold leaf to the Buddha image. It is a strange rule, since nothing in Buddhism discriminates against women like that. As one of our guides explained, it is a rule made by people, not Buddha.
After checking out the view, which was hard to see due to the mist, we made our way back down the hill. We stopped off at the toilet for foreigners right near the bottom. As we walked toward the truck loading area we saw a truck that was just partially full about to leave. We asked if we could get on and the driver nodded. The truck took off right away, as soon as we were both in. This time there was enough room for both of us to hold onto the rail. The trip down the mountain felt longer, but it actually only took about 35 minutes. We were so glad we were able to get a ride back down right away. I was bracing for the worst case scenario of taking the last truck of the evening at 6pm, which goes even if it is not full.
As we walked the 1o minutes back to the Golden Sunrise Hotel we saw dark grey clouds rolling in and picked up the pace. On the last little bit of the way it started pouring. We managed to get back to our room only partially wet, not fully drenched. We really lucked out with the weather, as it had been raining for 3 days straight before our arrival.
Tomorrow we head back to Yangon, to wrap up our visit to Myanmar.