Ever since I saw a strange and somewhat obscure photo of this shimmering rock teetering off the side of a cliff I knew I had to visit. The mysterious land of Myanmar called me in with its untouched and mesmerising culture as soon as I learnt of its endless charms. The tourist trail, if you could call it that, of Myanmar is thread bare with visitors as it is, so stepping off the ever so worn track guarantees a rich, authentic and eye opening insight into a country who charmed us from the moment we stepped foot on to its dusty streets. Visiting The Myanmar Golden Rock Pagoda, one of the countries most holy shrines on the first day of the water festival, well that was one of those amazing and unforgettable travel experiences!
What is this surreal and impossible-looking place: The Myanmar
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What is this surreal and impossible-looking place: The Myanmar Golden Rock pagoda?
The Myanmar Golden Rock, or Kyaiktiyo Pagoda as it is known is a magical and mystical place and a spiritual pilgrimage site for Myanmar Buddhists being one of the most sacred places in the country. The seemingly impossibly balanced golden rock teeters on the edge of a cliff, defying the laws of gravity in staying perched above the village below. Even those who claim to lack belief in a higher power can’t help but be moved by this sight of impossibility and it is no wonder it has become legendary in this devoutly religious country.
Legend has it that the rock itself is precariously balanced on a single strand of Buddha’s hair, the power of the enlightened one holding off the power of nature and allowing the rock to maintain its precarious position on top of the mountain. Standing at 7.6m tall aloft the 1100-metre high mountain it really is a mystery as to how and why this teetering boulder got up here! But in truth, no one really knows how The Myanmar Golden Rock got here and maybe that is part of its charm.
Our wonderful adventure visiting this holy pilgrimage site during the Burmese New Year!
In a move that could be considered both highly awkward and not recommended but also perfect timing, we headed on our own pilgrimage from the town of Bago on the first day of the Myanmar New Year. Known better in Thailand as “Songkran” the water festival of Myanmar is known as “Thingyan” and is a much more local affair with kids throwing buckets of water at passing traffic and stations set up along the roads with speakers systems and hosepipes… those gentle water pistols are hardly anywhere to be seen!
The day started slowly as we waited early in the morning for our local bus and we assumed that the festival was a much more muted affair here than in touristy Thailand. The first sign of things to come came as the wide open door of the bus was thrashed with an entire bucket of water as we waited at traffic lights. Initially, we had forgotten all about the festival and were left a little bewildered as to why such an innocent-looking child would pull such a prank!
Then the heavens opened, and every street was lined with people dancing in the proverbial rain, throwing buckets, and firing hosepipes at buses, cars, bikes and tuk-tuks, only the passing parades of Monks were spared! By this point we were left relatively dry given the protection of the bus…but taking the open-top truck on the rollercoaster ride up the winding track through little villages and pit stops left us without a single dry inch on our bodies! To say it was fun would be an understatement, after throwing everything damageable in a dry sac we embraced the chaotic celebrations and the fact we were targeted disproportionately for being foreign!!
Arriving back in Bago after seeing the Myanmar Golden Rock pagoda we had finally dried off after being splashed and sprayed so many times. But here came the first insight to what would be a wet few days in the Yangon to come! As soon as we exited the station to walk the 3km back to the guest house the screams of joy and pumping music began.
We tried to duck and dive but to no avail, the first was a small child who snuck up behind up to pour freezing water down our back, the next was a group with a huge bucket before being well and truly doused by a station of 5 high powered hose pipes and some passing open trucks full of teenagers with buckets of water…we were dripping, but loving it and the locals were even happier seeing someone from another country share in their celebrations! (Read more about the absolutely crazy times we had during “Thingyan” in Yangon soon!)
A moving and beautiful experience that brought us closer to the amazing culture of Myanmar
For us, as lovers and admirers of Buddhist culture as well as the unique and friendly nature of Myanmar it was a moving experience to visit the golden rock. Such a unique and sacred place for the wonderful country of Myanmar it was a privilege to share it with so many celebrating such a special time of year. The atmosphere in the village and around the pagoda was electric, people had travelled from all over the country to be here and for many, it was a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Myanmar Golden Rock.
The long and winding track up to the Myanmar Golden Rock temple was packed with the open trucks the government put on to ferry people up and down, the tension built as we flew up and down the steep roads but the jaw-dropping visas just made it feel even more surreal. Though I am not sure if it was divine intervention or skilful driving that allowed us to actually get to the top alive! Once at the top there was a short hike to the pagoda itself, lined with people camping out here for days on end and those selling simple foods such as samosas fried in a pan on the side of the street!
It was like a party atmosphere with everyone’s excitement levels building as the pagoda finally came into sight. As we signed in on the foreign visitors sheet we could see we were two of only 15 non-Myanmar visitors that day and with that came quite some attention from the local people in their usually friendly, warm and inquisitive way. For us, the Myanmar Golden Rock was a highlight of a country that was the highlight of our time in Asia!
How to visit the Myanmar Golden Rock / cost
Visiting the golden rock is probably more complicated than it needs to be and sounds worse than it actually is!
Entrance price for foreigners is $6 payable as 6,000 Kyat (Do check before)
We stayed in the small town of Bago in order to take this trip. It is easily doable in a day from here and means you can take your time, spend the night and then head to Yangon or elsewhere the day after. It is also possible to stay in the small village Kinpun at the bottom of the mountain. Bago is easy to get to from Inle and Yangon with buses running several times a day and Yangon being only a few hours away.
From Bago head to the main bus station on the one and only road through town. Here you can buy bus tickets to Kinpun (Don’t get off at the down confusingly named Kyaikto, but just ask for Golden Rock anyway).
The bus takes around 2 hours, they leave every hour and start around 6am. It is best to take the earliest bus you can and book your return together as the buses can get crowded. It should cost around 5,000 kyat each way (£2.81 / $3.67) It is best to book your bus the day before and go as early as you can and return as early as you can.
From Kinpun you should make your way to the truck station. This is a chaotic place where the government have put on some open bed trucks with wooden slats as seats that uncomfortably and in a somewhat uncontrolled fashion fly up and down the mountain. You basically just pile in the first one you can and hang on for dear life for an hour (with the addition of the water flying at us it did feel like a theme park ride!) This costs 2,000 kyat to the top one way (£1.12 / $1.47)
Doable in a day but much tighter.
The bus takes around 5 hours and costs 7,000 (£3.91/ $5.15)
Check times returning and get the earliest and latest you can. Once in Kinpun take the truck as mentioned above or from Kyaikto the short local bus to Kinpun before taking the truck.
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Visiting the Myanmar Golden Rock From the rest of the country:
From elsewhere in the country the trip is hard and complicated. It might be possible to transfer through the capital and onto Kyaikto before taking a bus to Kinpun and then the truck up the mountain but it is best to either go from Yangon or better still stay in Bago for a couple of nights.
TIPS for The Myanmar Golden Rock:
Wear long trousers, a skirt or longyi particularly if you are a woman! Also, women cannot touch the rock or place gold on it, not great and hopefully this attitude with change, but you can still enjoy the place itself and Shorty didn’t place any gold leaf because I couldn’t either.
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