If you go to Myanmar, you have to visit its golden rock with the name Kyaiktiyo (pronounced as chai-tea-yo). It’s one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country, if not the most important. Many Myanmar people go on pilgrimage to this sacred place, but even for a non-Buddhist this magic place is a must-do.
The golden rock and pagoda are located on Mount Kyaiktiyo. Words can’t describe the atmosphere of this place. The golden rock makes you doubt the power of gravity and the panoramic views are breathtaking. If you can, stay here overnight so you can admire it by day and night. It’s worth it, trust me.
The story of Kyaiktiyo
Legend has it that the Buddha gave a strand of his hair to a hermit when he was around. This hermit gave this hair to his king and asked him to enshrine the hair underneath a boulder that had the same shape as his head. The king found this boulder at the bottom of the sea and put it in its current place on the mountain with his magical powers. The strand of hair sits in between the mountain and the boulder and prevents the boulder from sliding down the mountain.
Some Myanmar people told me another story where the boulder doesn’t balance on the mountain, but hovers above the mountain. When the boulder was placed, the gap was big enough for a chicken to walk underneath it. But in all these years the boulder has sunk so much that only a bat can crawl between the mountain and the boulder and we are unable to see this gap.
No touching, girls
A tradition is that, when you visit this sacred place, you buy a gold leaf (or several) and put it on the golden rock of Mount Kyaiktiyo. But women can’t touch the rock, they’re not allowed to do so and can’t even come close to it, so this tradition is only for men. They make it very clear where you can and can’t come as a woman. It’s actually just one spot where all the men are adding the gold leaves, the other places close to the rock aren’t a problem.
We went by car from Yangon to Kyaiktiyo and it took us around 4 hours. There are buses as well and they take a little longer around 5 hours to get there. When you arrive in the town, you have two options to go to the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo:
Take a truck
The trucks are really trucks, no buses, with an open container with benches. You won’t get a lot of space to sit and the ride to the top is a bit similar like a roller-coaster in an amusement park. It isn’t comfortable, but it’s the fastest option. Half-way up you can choose to go further to the top with the truck or to take the last end with a cable bar. The truck-ride will cost you 2000 MMK (1,5 USD), the cable car costs 10 USD for foreigners, 3000 MMK (2 USD) for natives. Buses go up and down starting at 5 am in the morning to 6 pm in the evening.
Go for a hike
You can also take the pilgrimage path of 11 km (7 miles) up the mountain. I wasn’t so courageous to do this (yet), but I heard that this will take you around 6 hours to go up. It’s another path than the trucks take, so you don’t have to worry about bumping into these fast roller-coasters.
When you arrived at the ‘drop off’ on the mountain, you need to walk for 10 minutes to get to the golden rock. As a foreigner you have to pay an entrance fee of 10.000 MMK (7 USD). You’ll see the office where you need to pay for it on your way. You’ll get a card you have to hang around your neck.
Stay a night
Like I said, it is really worth to stay a night here to see the shiny golden rock with a dark sky. But unfortunately buses only operate until 6 pm. If you want to see the religious site at nighttime, you have to stay in a hotel close to the rock, and that’s expensive. There are only a handful hotels where you can stay as a foreigner, most of the hotels you’ll see are ‘Burmese only’, and at all of them you’ll get a basic room. The hotel where I stayed was Kyaik Hto Hotel, very close to the pagoda. If you want to book this hotel, do it with this link and you’ll get a 10% discount.