One of the most impressive sites is definitely Kyaiktiyo Pagoda also known as “Golden Rock” Pagoda. The Golden Rock is a 5 hour drive from Yangon and getting there is quite an adventure. The pagoda is situated on Mt. Kyaikto and one can only get there by truck (45 pax maximum). The trucks will not start before they are full which can takes up to 30 minutes but in peak season there are many pilgrims from all over the country. Some foreign tourists like me also want to see the third sacred pilgrimage site but please know that it is not easy as it seems. After a 5 hour drive (we did it in 3,5 hours since we were late for the last truck at 5.30 pm) make sure to be on time, buy a ticket on spot and spend the 2-3 usd for the extra space in the front cabin. Then prepare yourself for the most adventurous ride you will ever experience in Southeast Asia (this comes from a girl (-me-) who survived 6 months driving in Vietnam). The trucks will get you the first camp in about 20 minutes where you mostly will have to wait another few minutes because the path turns into a one way path. When the last trucks come from the top pass you it is your drivers turn to crash the serpentine road.
Is it safe? I hope so! Does it make fun? Oh yeah I like rollercoaster! Does my heart survive this? If you have survived heart breaks you will survive this 45 minutes ride as well.
Some people also walk from the first base but it takes hours. I heard that it takes 7-8 hours to trek from the mountain top to the parking lot and yes I saw three monks doing this. One elder monk and two novices not older than 14 years old. There are not many accommodations close to the pagoda. Foreigners prefer staying at the Mountain Top Hotel, the best choice 7 minutes walk from the Pagoda. Its sister hotel Golden Rock is about 45 minutes away and only recommend for active tourists since the roads are very steep.
As backpacker you can stay also at some guest houses close to the pagoda or do it like the pilgrims and sleep on the platform. Myanmar is such a safe country that you do not have to worry much. However I do recommend you to take only a day back pack since there will be no space for you luggages. The best time to visit the Golden Rock is at sun set. The atmosphere is magical but do know that there will be many pilgrims especially during high season. Also try waking up early for sun rise. It is less crowded and very quiet.
A legend says that Buddha passed by this place and gave one of his strand of hair to a hermit who turned to the king wishing to build a pagoda shaped like his head. The king found a boulder shaped like the hermit head, put the strand inside and it is said that the strand of Buddha’s hair is the reason that the boulder does not fall down the mountain. It is held by the sacred hair of buddha…
P.S: Ladies be remembered that you are not allowed to touch the Golden Rock!
If you do not want to eat in you can visit the local night market. The street food looks delicious but my guide did not recommend eating there. I passed a pancake lady and tried one. While I was eating someone approached me. It was a cute dog looking at me with this huge eyes. “Please Mai, can I have one bite?” Oh geez dogs know how to get me. “Here you go buddy, you can have one bite!” …Well in the end I gave him the whole pancake. Mai was hungry but happy. Mr Dog got a free dinner and was not hungry anymore. 100 Points on my Good Karma Skale! Do good, receive good and that only counts.
So was the visit worth the long ride? I think it was because I slept the whole time to Kyaiktiyo and had fun driving up the serpentine roads. However if one does not like long drives and is afraid of rollercoasters skip this part. To make the long drive more worthy combine it with a trip to Hpa-An which is only 1 ½ – 2 hours away. It is so lovely there and less touristic. Read more about Hpa-An next time.