One of the most sacred places in the country, Golden Rock, a huge goldcovered boulder that is said to be held in place by a single strand of Buddha’s hair, attracts large crowds of Buddhist pilgrims. The site also lures significant numbers of non-believers, attracted by the pagoda’s spectacular location high in the Eastern Yoma Mountains, hanged on its ledge above a jungle valley, seemingly about to plunge into the void.
Golden Rock, also called Kyaiktiyo, which is a Mon name means pagoda on a hermit's head, referencing its renowned back story. Buddhists in Burmese believe that Buddha gave a hermit a strand of his hair, who inserted it into his own topknot for protection. The hair was later presented to the king of Thaton by the hermit on the condition that it must be preserved in a rock with the shape of the hermit's head. The king, after searching for a long while, was able to find a rock that was suitable at the ocean's bottom and, transported same with some supernatural help to its present location, and the hair has been preserving it since then. Rumour has it that one can pass a thread between the rock and its base by gently rocking the boulder back and forth and so far, the Golden Rock has successfully withstood numerous huge earthquakes since inception. Irrespective of what your thoughts may be concerning the story, one thing is clear; that something strange is maintaining the rock up there.
The Golden Rock has a stony trail leading to it which begins from the small town of Kinpun, from where a clearly defined pathway leads 11km to the top of the mountain. Although the hike is comparatively gentle at the beginning, it is a lengthy and perspiring climb – Kyaiktiyo is situated at 1100m, which is 1000m higher than Kinpun itself – and takes no less than 4 hours. During the day, the trail is properly shaded, but after dark is inadequately lit, and it isn't wise to ascend during the night. The locals have built stalls made with bamboo along the road, and snacks and water are extensively obtainable while climbing, as well as little children, screaming “mingalaba!”
However, the majority of visitors to Kyaiktiyo resolve to take an open truck up the mountain from Kinpun, either to the Yathetaun truck stop or to the mountaintop plaza. The fares are clearly inclusive of life insurance, which possibly tells you how exciting the drive can be. It takes about 45 minutes to walk from Yathetaun truck stop up a sharply switch-backed trail to the Golden Rock, but sedan chairs are available if it all proves too much. On the way down, be conscious of the fact that trucks from Yathetaun to Kinpun are not as frequent as those from the mountaintop - except you're touring with a group, you might end up waiting for hours for the truck to fill up.
On the mountain
As soon as you get to the mountain top, a government fee is to be paid by foreigners compulsorily, which purchases a two-day pass. The walk to the main complex from the ticket office is short, an expanse of tiles and small shrines round about the Golden Rock itself. Men are authorised to cross the footbridge to the Rock so as to add to its sheen, however, women have to wait a small distance away.
Believers crowd Kyaiktiyo both during the day and at night time, however, the busiest times are very early in the morning and at dusk, with folks lighting candles, praying and making donations. In the midst of the stalls that throng the top of the mountain, be on the lookout for one decorated with spotlights, you can have the pagoda lighted up in your name for one night if you donate K20,000.
Taking out time to explore past the packed major plaza where numerous silent tracks show the way across the mountains is well worth it. If you wish to embark on a brief, sharp walk, trail the path down beyond Yoe Yoe Lay hotel to a T-junction. On the left is a path that leads 2.5km downwards to Moe Baw Waterfall, whereas the path on the right takes you past a little cave shrine and dozens of ghoulish conventional drug stalls, decked with goat skulls and centipedes, up to Kann Pa Sat, a tiny pagoda with a big loudspeaker that transmits good things. You can go straight back to the plaza (making a 1.5km loop) from Kann Pa Sat or keep going down the ridge, beyond a line of helipads and via beautiful forested panorama to a chain of smaller oddly-formed stupa - and rock- blends. Bodhi Taw Kaw is one of the more impressive places to aspire to visit. Located 1.5km down the ridge from the plaza, there are ranks of little Buddha figures seated on bases enveloping the hillside. The 3km track stops in a zigzag staircase that directs you to Kyauk Ta Gyi, a little shrine located deep in a forested valley; you must go back over your steps from here to the plaza.