Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shoving 50 pilgrims and a couple of Americans in the back of a truck: Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo), Myanmar


Destination:  Mount Kyaiktiyo, Myanmar

Number of days spent: 1 day

Where we stayed:  Sea Sar Guest House - $12

Best Restaurant:  It wasn’t all that great but we enjoyed the mohinga breakfast at the Sea Sar Guest House.  In a town known for pilgrimages prices are high and quality a bit low.  This town probably offered the worst value for food in all of Myanmar. 

Best of:  As the second largest pilgrimage site to Burmese Buddhists the place is filled with pilgrims praying, making offerings,applying goldleaf, etc.  It’s just fascinating to sit back and watch. 

Worst of:    We both ached for days after the ride up the mountain….bracing ourselves on those wooden benches used muscles that probably haven’t been flexed in a decade. 

Most memorable:  I don’t think we will ever forget our ride up the mountain with 60 of our closest Burmese friends. 

Useful Tip:  This place is easy to reach by public transport from either Bago or Yangon.  The bus (K7000 from Yangon) drops directly in front of Sea Sar Hotel which is a stone’s throw away from the truck ‘shuttle’ (K3000 round trip) up the mountain.  The train station can be reached by a shared truck (K500).  If all this seems confusing, the guys at Sea Sar will be glad to help out.  One word on Buses:  never sit in the first two seats.  They think these are the ‘premium’ seats and when you go to book, they like to put you there.  Don’t do it unless you enjoy the loud pitched horn noise – Horns are used here more than not to communicate just about everything.

Perched high atop a mountain a mere five hour bus ride from Yangon sits the holy site of Kyaiktiyo (pronounced Jack-tee-o) or as most westerners call it, Golden Rock.  Legend has it that the rock maintains it’s balance by, yep, you guessed it – a well placed strand of Buddha’s hair.  Nearly every Burmese Buddhist hope to come here once in their lifetime. 

After catching the evening bus from Yangon, we arrived around sunset and prepared for the hike up the following morning.  There are a couple of options when climbing the hill.  The cheapest is to walk all the way – about 4-5 hours each way.  Nearly everyone, however, opts for the truck/hike combo.  A shared truck that does not leave until 45 people have smashed themselves into the back, rumbles down a paved path, stopping halfway to collect the fare plus what I assume to be a sermon to the masses, complete with collection plate.  The phrase “like sardines in a can” now has a picture to go along with it.  After the 45-60 minute bruising ride, it’s still another 45-60 minute hike up to the top, that is unless you suffer from illusions of grandeur.  To avoid physical activity of any kind, four Burmese men will whisk you to the top in your very own sedan chair.  Believe it or not, there was a tour group, presumably from Thailand, that had hired their services.  Of course, it is nice to offer this service to the old or physically handicapped that would otherwise not be able to hike all the way.    


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However you get there, the view is quite stunning.  The gold leaf covered boulder perched precariously upon the side of the hill shines in the distance.  The views out over the expanse are quite beautiful and the morning haze yet to lift adds a degree of mystery and exoticism to the scene.  Women are still forbidden to actually touch the boulder, but judging by the massive bulge of gold applied to the back of the rock, the men are doing their fare share.  Perhaps it’s the weight of the gold that is sustaining the balancing act these days.  



Posing in countless other people’s holiday photos is quite common practice here and half our time spent at the top involved doing just that.

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Other than the rock itself, there is little else to do here so after making the same, sardine-in-a-can journey back down the mountain, we hopped aboard the train to Mawlaymine!

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