Golden Rock, Kyaiktiyo
Golden Rock, Kyaiktiyo

Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) is a very popular place to visit for both locals and foreigners alike. It is Myanmar's third most sacred site after Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay. Locals from all walks of life, from doctors and university professors to seikah (trishaw) drivers and farmers make their pilgrimage to Kyaiktiyo on auspicious occasions such as New Years day and full moon days. 

Although the general area consists of many pagodas and places of worship, the main attraction is the Golden Rock, a boulder of about 20 metres in height with a 7 metre high stupa on top covered with gold leaf giving it is golden appearance. It is thought that the boulder maintains its balance on the edge of the ridge where it sits due to a precisely placed Buddha hair in the stupa.

Placing a gold leaf on the surface of the rock will ensure a prosperous future but this can only be done by men who get to access the rock from a short causeway across from the temple grounds. Gold leaves can be purchased from the booths near the telephone kiosk for a few hundred kyats. The busiest time of day for worship is during sunrise and sunset. During this time, you'll find many worshipers kneeling in sight of the rock bowing in prayer and meditation. Many also place candles along the platform over looking the boulder.

Getting there: Kyaiktiyo is about halfway between Yangon and Mawlamyine. It's much easier to get there from Yangon as you'd have many more options than Mawlamyine.The journey to the Golden Rock itself is done through a number of stages. First of all, you'll need to get to the starting point for the climb up Mt Kyaiktiyo which is the town of Kinpun, about 9 kilometres from the main Bago-Mawlamyine highway. You can get to Kinpun by direct bus from Yangon or by hire car which takes approximately 4 hours. A mistake that many independent travellers make is to catch the Yangon-Mawlamyine bus and get off at the town of Kyaikto (also spelt Kyaiktiyo). Don't do this, as Kinpun is still some distance in from the highway and buses often arrive at Kyaikto after midnight making it even more difficult to get transport to Kinpun at this time of night. From Kinpun, you catch a truck up to the Yatetaung terminal for about 400 kyat. The trucks have wooden benches with limited leg room and are darn right uncomfortable. Ask the driver if you can sit in the cabin next to him.  It will cost 1500 kyat per person and an extra 1500 kyat for each bag you bring in the cabin, but it's well worth it. It's a much better option than to be thrown around in the back of the truck on those sharp steep bends.

Once you reach Yatetaung, you have three main options. You can hop on another truck that will get you all the way up to the entrance to Golden Rock temple grounds for 1500 kyat; get lifted up the mountain on a bamboo stretcher for about 7,000 kyat; or walk yourself up. Walking up the rest of the way is physically challenging as the climb to the top is very steep. If you've not trained for the Olympic Games, or have not ever climbed Mt Everest or have never done strenuous activity in your life, then I would strongly suggest that you take options one and two above and not walk. I've only walked down from the temple grounds to Yatetaung and this in itself, due to the steepness of the gradient and the need to brake frequently, was hard enough to endure!

Where to stay: There are limited places to stay at the top of Mt Kyaiktiyo for foreigners which are located about 30 meters from the entrance to the temple grounds. Kyaitiyo Hotel offers basic rooms for about $15 USD with shared bathroom facilites or $30 USD with attached bathroom. The Mountain Top Inn is a better option for about the same price with attached bathroom.

Where to eat: Definitely not at the hotel restaurant if you're on a tight budget! Although the food at both hotels is good, it can be a little on the steep side. For those on a budget, go to the temple grounds and look for the flight of stairs past the telephone booths. If you continue walking down the stairs, you 'll see a number of stalls which cater mainly for the locals. Bamar dishes can be had here for about 500 kyat a dish.