( ျမန္မာဘာသာ )
Around the end of rainy season, the days before Thadingyut (Festival of Lights), on first Friday of October, as soon as I reached home from office, I thought to travel somewhere to take a break from work pressure and Yangon urban life.
Travelling is the first thing which come into my mind as it makes me feel relax, stress free, peaceful and yet energetic.
Myanmar has a lot of beautiful places, and you will never run out of things to explore and discover in the country.
I had only Saturday and Sunday to go somewhere nearby so I thought of visiting Peaceful Golden Rock (Mount Kyaiktiyo) , where I have been when I was a little kid.
Without planning too much, I just decided the destination, set the alarm for 3 AM and went to bet. After waking up with the alarm ringing, I wore a comfortable pant and shirt and quickly did some packing. I kept one Myanmar traditional dress, one night dress, one shawl and one sweater. Then I left to Aung Mingalar High Way bus station by taxi.
After I reached Aung Mingalar Bus Station, I looked around where to buy a bus ticket and I found ‘Win Express’ bus service. I got a ticket for a bus planned to depart at 6:30 AM. Bus Ticket costed me 8,000 Myanmar Kyats for one way. I still had some time so I ate a heavy breakfast comprising of tea and Pausi (Chinese Dumpling). Our bus started from High way bus station on time. Because I had woken up early morning and I had very heavy breakfast, I quickly fell asleep on the bus. It was a long journey so I also passed some time by listening to music and eating snacks.
It took around 5 hours to reach Kinpun, which is a town at the base of Mt.Kyaiktiyo . After our bus arrived at this basecamp, I had fried noodle for lunch at one of the restaurants out of many. I also bought return ticket for Sunday Afternoon at ‘Win Express’ ticket sale counter there. Some people go to Golden Rock from Kinpun by walking or by riding a truck. Even though I like hiking, I decided to go by riding a truck to avoid exhaustion.
The trucks usually run till late evening with a regular frequency. It was still afternoon so I hung around the basecamp for some time. Trucks keep waiting till they are full with passengers so I took one of waiting trucks. These are open trucks without roof and 7 rows of wooden benches that can accommodate about 40 passengers. There are metal cage baskets behind the trucks to keep bags and backpacks. After filling up passengers in a very short time, the truck started left the basecamp. The journey up to Mt.Kyaiktiyo kept me on tenterhooks as it involved alarmingly fast drive through several hair pin bends. On the way I saw spectacular jungle scenery with layers of green mountains, and the cloudy weather ensured a constant refreshing breeze. It costed me 3,000 kyats for the truck ride. The drivers were very proficient as they were driving those trucks with excellent control on the steep mountain roads. Those layers of mountain and jungle were very beautiful especially for me who loves nature. Those amazing sceneries and fresh air made me felt nice on the way up to Golden Rock.
After about 1 hour ride, we arrived at the truck stop near Golden Rock. We had to walk little bit to reach the main gate of Golden Rock Pagoda. I saw several groups of people on the way who came up walking from the basecamp using bamboo staff. An interesting thing which I noticed was the availability of porters who could be hired to carry up things or people in a basket or palanquin on their shoulders. I felt compassion for those porters who were carrying heavy loads and were trying very hard for their living.
At the main entrance main of golden rock, securities will make sure not to allow anybody wearing short dresses as a sign of respect to Burmese culture. One has to change into a long dress or a Burmese traditional dress before entering the pagoda complex. The changing room is near the edge of a cliff and might cause anxiety to people who are afraid of heights. Also one has to enter barefoot in any Pagoda as per Burmese custom.
After crossing the entrance gate, the path way towards the pagoda is lined with hotels on both sides. I chose ‘ Yoe Yoe Lay’ hotel which is very near to the pagoda, because I wanted to visit the pagoda in night also. Even though the peak pilgrimage season of Golden Rock is November to March, still there were a lot of visitors during our October visit. This could have been because of the fact that the Full Moon day of Thadingyut (Festival of Lights) was coming up after few days. That’s why it took me around an hour to get a room allocated in the hotel. Initially hotel guy showed me a room with the price of 1 lakh Myanmar kyats. I just needed a room with basic amenities to catch a few hours of sleep overnight so I chose another room which costed me 40,000 kyats per night. I felt it was a good deal considering that the hotel was located very near to the pagoda. The room was in the second level of the basement and it included a bed, a blanket, a pillow and a trash bin. Toilet and bath room were not attached and instead they were available per floor on a sharing basis. The room didn’t smell fresh and was dimly lit but the view from the corridor’s balcony was breathtaking and did make up for the room’s shabbiness. Layers of light and dark green mountains made me feel refreshed. I took rest for about half an hour and kept thinking about Golden Rock’s history and significance.
The pagoda is located near Kyaikto in Mon state and it’s at a distance of 130 miles from Yangon. It is believed that Buddha’s hair was enshrined in this pagoda. It’s situated at an elevation of 3609 feet above sea level. It’s the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Myanmar after the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda. It’s a 24 feet tall pagoda built on the top of a granite boulder covered with gold leaves, which is precariously hanging on the edge of a cliff. One always wonders how the boulder is staying there and not rolling off. Mt.Kayaiktiyo became a famous attraction in Myanmar and across the world because of its unique structure and the amazing wide aerial view of the Eastern Yoma mountains on the Paung-laung ridge.
In the evening, I came to the main square close to the golden rock that was crowded. Even though it was drizzling, the main square was full with devotees who were lighting candles, men offering golden leaves on the surface of golden rock and pilgrims who were offering food, flowers, fruits and incense sticks to Buddha. I felt very peaceful because of the nice weather, and the surroundings ambience. I prayed and meditated for some time while sitting there amongst people whose chanting created a hypnotic hum around me. Later I went to the nearby gift shops which had displayed colorful clothes, sweaters and toys which were attractively beautiful and were thronging with customers. The prices were also reasonable so I also bought a sweater, a bag and a hat.
As I still had day light remaining, I decided to visit Kyeepasut (Crow Mouth Cave) which is also visited by people looking for a quick detour. One has to use Mote-Soe-Taung lane form golden rock plaza to Kyeepasut. The lane is full with souvenir shops and Burmese traditional medicine shops. The traditional medicines on display had medicines made out of plant’s roots, tubers and bulbs. Interestingly a lot of shops had medicines made out of animals like big snakes, goat horns, scorpions, etc which were put on display in larger glass jars. While enjoying the fascinating the displays, I reached Crow Mouth Cave. The cave is shaped like open beak of a crow, thus the name. It was pretty crowded, with people carrying coins. It is a belief that people who can throw the coins between the crow’s beak will have their wishes granted. The way back was more difficult because of the steep hike.
At the fall of dusk, I had tea, boiled egg, rice and curry for dinner. After dinner, I came back to the main square and there were a lot of pilgrims including monks, lady monks who were doing meditating, worshiping, telling beads. I found a less crowded place and I meditated there for about 30 min. Golden Rock Pagoda looked more sublime at night because of focus lighting in the dark. A lot of devotees were going around on the main square and some had started preparing for sleep. I sat till late night looking at the golden rock and gazing at its beauty. It had a calming effect on me.
Post-midnight before going bed to the hotel, I found a masseuse and got myself a foot massage. She put some traditional balm on my legs and massaged to relieve on the pain I had due to the whole day activities. The cold mountain breezes relaxed me further and I fell asleep as soon as I went back to hotel.
I always want to watch the sunsets and the sunrises; they give me immense peace and pleasure. I woke up around 4 am and left my hotel to catch the sunrise. When I got to the main square, there were a lot people already present who were waiting to watch sunrise. After an hour, the orange colored Sun rose from between the layers of mountains and layers of clouds. The sunrise was very beautiful and photogenic that I can’t even describe in words here.
The main square also filled with worshipers who were offering food, fruits and incense to Buddha. After I prayed for a while, I went to find restaurants for breakfast. Instead I found Sa-Tu-Di-Tha (donation feast given to all comers) on the way and they invited us to have breakfast. The people who were helping at this donation pavilion were very nice and volunteering with a smile. We, Myanmar people, are famous for being generous and good in nature. They served Mohinga (Burmese Fish and noodle soup) and dessert (Has-Nwin-Ma-Kin) to everybody. I also enjoyed two plates of Mohinga and five pieces of dessert. Mohinga and dessert that I had on that day were very delicious and the volunteers’ willingness to serve with the smile made me that meal one of the most unforgettable meals in my life.
Another interesting thing I did was to donate a metal bell with my name engraved on it. It symbolizes my visit and I hope that my name being under the shadow of holy rock will bring me blessings. As per Buddhist beliefs, women are not allowed to the platform adjacent to the golden rock but they are permitted in the outer balcony and the lower courtyard of the rock. That’s where I hanged my bell. These bells are available at the donation counter and the price of the bell may vary as per the size of the donated bell. At the same counter, man were also buying golden leaves which they could stick to the rock’s surface.
After sitting on the main square and feeling the mist for a few minutes, I went to the hotel to check out. I took the same type of truck to go down to basecamp of Mt.Kyaiktiyo. I saw a lot of people were still coming and I thought they were coming to join for Thadingyut Festivities to offer lights.
The express bus started from basecamp around 2 pm and reached back to Yangon Aung Mingalar High way bus station at around 7 pm. On the way back to high way bus station to my home, I was feeling very happy and light although my feet were tired and heavy.
That unplanned weekend trip was filled with peacefulness of mind and soul that gave me energy to go to office on Monday. Golden Rock is a place that one wants to go again and again even though one has been there in the past. I have been there for two times now and I still want to go again if I have a chance. If you have some holidays, non-busy weekends or you just want to escape from Yangon life, include Kyaiktiyo to the destinations that you are planning to visit. I am sure this trip from Yangon will give you a chance to find your inner peace.
The Golden Rock, the important and well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site, will always be there to give everybody peace and pleasure of stunning views.
Travel Tips by Chaw
- Entry fee: USD 6 per head for foreigners.
- No Entry fee for Burmese citizens.
- Avoid peak seasons and festival days if you don’t like the crowd.
- Check weather before going and bring umbrella, rain coat or hat as needed.
- Advise to wear comfortable, appropriate and modest clothes and footwear. (Long pant, long skirt, warm clothing)
- Find out hotel prices before going and book if needed. If you want to plan when you reach there only, explain them precisely which kind of room you want.(eg. Luxuy room or basic room)
*Please provide your views and suggestions in the comment below.