Golden Rock is an enormous, precariously-balanced rock coated in gold and topped with a stupa atop Mt. Kayaiktiyo and is, according to our guide, the second holiest Buddhist site in Myanmar (the first is Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon). Paying a visit to Golden Rock is not an easy task, however, as Mt. Kyaiktiyo is not on the way to anywhere. And, as a foreigner, if you want to see the rock at sunset (supposedly the most beautiful time), you are required to stay at one of only three hotels at the top of the mountain at high-end, five-star resort prices. If you don’t choose a sunset viewing, you have to plan several bus trips and a hotel in between. The other option is to do a day trip from Yangon and have everything along the way planned for you. Since the cost of the day trip turned out to be the cheaper of the two options (and there were no rooms to be had at the foreigner hotels for weeks), we went with the guided tour.
We started out with a 4+ hour minibus ride from Yangon to Mt. Kyaikitiyo at break-neck speeds and near misses while passing other cars on the road. We arrived at a large covered pole building with huge trucks lined up against loading platforms, which our guide promptly led us up and haggled to get all six of us (4 Daileys, 1 Italian, and our guide) in the same row. The bench seats were about four inches wide and there were bars on the seats in front of us for hanging on to as we ascended the mountain. I was not totally at ease as we left the station and I read that our ticket price of 2500 Kyat (~ $2) included life insurance. But, the ride that had promised to be vomit-inducing turned out to be more like a roller coaster ride for the 12 km trek. After seeing some of the hills we went up, however, I was not looking forward to the ride back down!
There are a lot of rules (mostly for women) when entering a temple and we had come to this one prepared. I wore mid-calf capris and a wide-strapped tank top. I knew I would have to cover my shoulders, so I also brought along a sarong to cover up for the visit. Our guide said the length of my pants was sufficient, but when we got to the gates, I was denied entry. So, I had to use the sarong as a skirt over my pants and put on my sweatshirt to cover everything else… hello sweaty mess. The female guard was nice enough to take my sarong and dress me appropriately while the rest of my party waited patiently. You also have to take off socks and shoes to enter the area, which is quite a large area and outdoors. You can imagine the state of our feet when we were done. Gross!
Once we got to the top, I got to hold all backpacks, hats, and electronics for my family while the three of them got to cross a small bridge and add gold leaf to the rock. Our guide (also female) was a little perturbed that so many things were off limits to females. She pointed out that there is nothing in any Buddhist teachings that differentiate what a man can do versus a woman, and, in fact, Buddhism promotes equality and balance. Go figure.
All in all, the visit to Golden Rock was a good one. We finished up with a stop at the Kyaikpawlaw Buddha Image, located in Kantkaw. It is well-known because of the “living mole” on the face of the Buddha. Apparently, people have tried everything to cover up the mole, even with gold leaf, but that only lasts for an hour or so and then the mole miraculously reappears. What made this stop even more interesting is having a guide that spoke the local language and told us that the young women selling candles and souveniers were talking about the boys and saying how handsome they were and then began talking about Ray and I as in-laws.
A little fun with the golden rock…
Height challenge (Ray is on tip toes).