Myanmar was certainly a pretty special place. Following on from Mawlamyine we decided that it would be a great idea to go several hours out of our way to visit a rock. Not just any rock though, the Golden Rock atop Mt. Kyaiktoyo is a large rock at the top of a small mountain, teetering on the edge having survived several earthquakes to stay put at the top. It has also become something of a pilgrimage for Buddhists, and has as a result been completely covered in gold leaf. It also has a small pagoda perched atop, said to contain a strand of the Buddha’s hair.
The signs for this little side adventure were ominous from the start. After asking for a taxi to take us to the bus station, the lady at our hotel pointed us to a 15 year old on a scooter. “But we have huge bags, 4 of them?!”. This was met with a shrug. Ah well, “When in Rome…” and all that. We somehow made it, bags and all, to the haphazardly put together bus station. This was more a kind of dirt clearing, with chickens and soup pots everywhere, but mostly shouting. A huge amount of shouting.
Here’s where we realised how spoiled we were in South America and down under. Whilst we’re by no means proficient in Spanish, at least they use the same alphabet. Getting across to people where you want to go with no common language, a completely alien alphabet and bizarre pronunciations (we needed to get to “Kyaikto”, turns out this is pronounced “Chatcho”, no “K’s” required) is pretty difficult. Cue Laura crudely drawing a big rock at the top of a mountain. Unsure of where we were going, we boarded the party bus to “Kyaikto”, “Chatcho”, who knows.
Incredibly we made it! Unfortunately this was just half the battle. The place we needed was in fact a small village called Kinpun. According to our 2013 Lonely Planet, “local transport cruises the road between every 30 minutes or so”. What they neglected to mention was that the transportation is actually a lorry carrying rice, beer and everything else into the village. After another comical attempt at communicating with anybody, we were piled into one of these trucks, being careful not to sit on the crisps, and were sent on our (hopefully correct) way.
How we made it to the right place, I’ll never know. But we did! The journey was actually pretty fun, Burmese karaoke videos to accompany the bus, and the truck was an experience I guess.
The “base camp” village is unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited. Honestly, the closest comparison I could draw would be perhaps Glastonbury. With this being the aforementioned pilgrimage that it is for many, everybody is in high spirits and there are street vendors, music and the smell of food everywhere. Our afternoon was spent exploring and, because of the 40C heat, hibernating.
The next morning was our trip up to the rock. We decided to get up early and beat the heat, but we certainly didn’t beat the masses. Even at 6am there were queues, pushing and general rabble, everybody excited for their day at the rock. One thing that quickly struck us, everybody was immaculately dressed. We tried our best, but after 10 months living from a backpack we don’t really have anything that could be described as Sunday best. The truck up the hill was a trip to remember. Narrow roads, fast speeds and vomit everywhere. I escaped, but Laura was sat a few rows back and had to deal with one poor child’s futile wrenching.
Atop the mountain, I have no idea how to describe this. Kind of like an ultra religious Alton Towers with crowds to match. As two of the few westerners in attendance, we were definite curiosities with people queuing to have pictures with us. One adorable little girl even gave Laura a necklace (and refused to have it back).
The rock itself is quite cool, it’s definitely fairly miraculous that it’s managed to stay in place for so long, and the gold leaf and pagoda give it an edge over other, similar rocks. Here though it was definitely about the atmosphere and the people, with the rock just providing the comparatively small focal point.
This was awkward and difficult to get to, and would never stand up as a landmark to many of the other places we’ve visited. But it was actually fascinating, and was a strangely unique little side trip that was really tempting to overlook for the above reasons, but I’m really glad we didn’t.