Late one evening in Kyaiktiyo, the place in the mountains where the Golden Rock is, I heard chanting over some repetitive hypnotic music. I listened for a while. It sounded beautiful and I got intrigued. I had no idea where it came from, but I was poised to find out.
It was already dark and there are no street lights, the only illumination came from the moon light and the small flash light I had with me. I left my camera at the Kyaik Hto Hotel as I had no idea where I would end up, I didn’t want to risk falling and breaking my camera and it was too dark to take pictures anyway. There is only 1 main street which is a mix of cobblestone and dirt road. I started walking into the direction of the chanting and came to a small dirt pathway that lead down the mountain side. I kept following it for a while, going left and right on several more forks in the path. Eventually after about half an hour I arrived at a monastery to discover that the music and chanting came from the monks there.
I hung back and listened for a while, it was a strange and relaxing experience. I don’t remember how long I was there, but at one point I realized that I had walked quite a bit over dirt paths up and down a mountain side in the dark. I just hoped that I would find my way back. Luckily it turned out not too hard and I got back to the hotel.
The next day I wanted to go back to the monastery to have a look around in the daytime. I asked a fellow (French) traveller if he wanted to come along. I lead the way over the path and when we arrived to the monastery there were mainly young kids playing around and young monks in training. We were greeted very nicely and were allowed to look around and take pictures.
I noticed a young boy reading on the balcony outside. He had one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen and I wanted to capture the happiness on his face. Yet every time I took a picture he looked quite serious. When I showed him the resulting picture he smiled again. I attemted to gesture to him that he could smile in the picture, but he either did not understand or did not want to. I don’t know which one. The result is the picture above. He may not smile in this picture, but when I see it, I remember his smile and the happiness on his face.
My French friend and I were offered tea and betel nut to chew. although we couldn’t really communicate beyond gesturing the experience was a pleasant one.
If you want to go to Kyaiktiyo to hang around yourself you will need to follow a three stage trip:
- Yangon to Kinmon base camp (about 4 hours)
Arrange some form of transportation from Yangon (or wherever you are) to reach the Kinmon Base Camp at the foot of Mount Kyaiktiyo.
- Kinmon base camp to Ya-the-taung (about 45 minutes)
At Kinmon Base Camp you need to climb inside an open truck for a 45 minute ride to the Ya-the-taung bus terminal situated at the mid-way point of the Mountain.This is a cramped situation, they put a lot of people inside these trucks. The road is VERY winding, as it goes up the mountain. So be warned if you have motion sickness. Also, because it is a mountain, rain showers can and do occur from short periods to hours. And the trucks keep driving. So take some kind of rain park with you or you can buy one at location. It rains often there so they sell them everywhere.
Open truck driving up the winding road to the Golden Rock
- Ya-the-taung to Golden Rock
The final stage involves a hike from the Ya-the-taung terminal to the golden rock. It’s a 3 kilometer hike. I don’t remember how long this part took me. Do realize that this is all up hill and the air can be thinner. If it is your thing, there are porters who can carry you and your pack up the mountain. As a foreign visitor you must first stop by at an official station where you must pay for a pass that allows you to visit the area.
There is also the option to hike all the way up to the mountian. This is a two day hike and is quite heavy. My French friend and I hiked part-way down the mountain through small mountain villages to Kinmon base camp, where we continued the rest of the trip down the mountain by open truck. Even hiking down, carrying your pack, is an exhausting task. If you want to hike all the way up the mountain I suggest you should be in at least half decent shape.
As always, enjoy and be a respectful and responsible tourist 🙂
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