Bago and the Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda)

I have been wanting to see the Golden Rock ever since I saw a picture of it on the Travel Channel Facebook feed.  There was something so magical about this rock, I thought.  Who could pass up seeing a rock that is teetering on a strand of Buddha’s hair!!

When we had decided to go to Myanmar, I thought it was necessary to take a side trip to go see this golden rock!  I wasn’t disappointed.  The trip to the rock, and the rock itself were fantastic.

 

I was originally hoping to see the Golden Rock in one day, but after much research, I found that making the Golden Rock a 2 day/1 night event would be the best choice, especially with kids.  I really wanted to see the rock at sunset and sunrise so staying the night at the top of the mountain was a necessary requirement.

The City of Bago

We left our hotel early on the first day at 8am.  We asked our private driver to take us to Bago before we went to the Golden Rock.  Bago was on the way to the Golden Rock so it wasn’t any trouble to see the sites of Bago.   There were four sites that we went to. It is necessary to pay a 15,000 kyats fee to see the sites at Bago.  You pay it at your first site, and then show your stub at the other sites.  I think the price is very high for what you see.  Hopefully the money goes toward repairs of the sites.

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Thomas, Reed, and Lucy in front of the Kyaik Pun Pagoda. Four Buddha images facing each direction.

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha.  The ground was very hot on our feet!

Kambazathadi Golden Palace (the Queen’s Palace (above)). A replica of the Royal Palace.  There was a building for the King and a building for the Queen.  There was some information and artifacts in the King’s Palace, but nothing in the Queen’s Palace.

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Shwemawdaw Pagoda. This was a very good example of a Myanmar Pagoda. It was very pretty.

After going to Bago, I wouldn’t go back.  I wasn’t that impressed with what I saw in Bago.  There wasn’t anything completely spectacular that I haven’t seen already, in Yangon or Thailand. I don’t think it is a must see city if you are short on time.

The Drive from Yangon to the Kinpun (the base of the mountain)

The drive from Yangon to the Kinpun was very pleasant.  Once you finally get out of Yangon, the countryside is very nice.  I was surprised at how flat the area is around Bago; I thought it would be more mountainous.  The road is a paved, one way highway with cars driving about 55 mph.  There are many huge trucks on the road that slows travel down since everyone waits for oncoming traffic in order to pass the slow trucks.

The Truck Station in Kinpun

The only way to get up to the Golden Rock is to take a big truck the last 30 minutes to the top.  I did a lot of research on this portion of the trip as well as watched YouTube videos of the truck ride to decide whether it was too dangerous to bring the kids.  Many of the reviews on Tripadviser made me believe that this truck ride would be quite scary for the kids.  I searched the internet to find if any other families had any input on their trip to the Golden Rock, but I couldn’t find any information on families going up to the site.  My feelings about the truck ride diminished when I was seeing pictures of native kids in the trucks with their parents, and I thought, if their kids can do it, my kids can do it.

We arrived to the bus station at about 15:10.  Luckily there was already a truck that was almost filled.  The back of the truck had 7 rows that would seat 6 in each row; 42 people would get tightly crammed back there.

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The table at bottom left is where you buy tickets for the big trucks up the mountain.
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Sign above the trucks. I love how it says ‘Including Life Insurance’. Someone has a sense of humor!
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Sign with the prices above the desk you purchase the tickets at.

Prices for the truck:

  • One seat in the back of the truck is 2000 kyats.
  • A whole row to yourself or your party in the back of the truck is 15000 kyats (6 seats per row)
  • One seat in the front of the cab of the truck is 3000 kyats
  • The whole front cab for yourself or your party (with the driver) is 15000 kyats (maximum capacity is 5 adults, not including driver).

Our van driver was very insistent that we should take the seats in the cab of the truck.  Since we would take up a whole row in the back of the truck for 15,000 kyats, he said we might as well take the seats in the cab for 15,000 kyats.  I am so glad that we took his advice.  I had the peace of mind that the kids wouldn’t fall out, and we were not crammed next to people on hard seats.  The seats in the cab were comfortable, and I like that I could wear a seatbelt, while Lucy was strapped to me in a Moby wrap.   The kids sat in the back of the cab, while Jacob and I sat next to the driver.  The driver of the truck had us wait outside the truck until the back of the truck was full and ready to go, so that we didn’t have to sit in the hot cab and wait.  We had to pay the driver directly, then he would give it to someone else.

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Waiting for the truck to fill up.
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Thomas and Reed in front of our truck.

Okay, so the ride in the cab of the truck was the HIGHLIGHT to the whole trip to the Golden Rock.  If the kids were asked what there favorite part of the trip was, they would say the truck ride!!  The benefit of sitting in the cab for the kids was that they were bouncing up and down on the padded seats.  The truck driver thought the kids’ giggling was so funny;  he was probably speeding up and taking turns sharper for the enjoyment of our children.

The truck ride didn’t seem dangerous at all.  I would definitely say that the truck ride should not be a reason to NOT go to the Golden Rock.  If you have a problem with motion sickness or do have some hesitation of the drive, I would definitely suggest sitting in the cab; I felt we were all safe there.  If you want the full experience, definitely sit in the back of the truck!!  (I did see one person throw up once we reached the top.)

It looked like there was a gondola station under construction when we were there so in the future, people will be able to take a gondola up to the Golden Rock instead of these trucks.

We got up to the top truck station at about 16:15.  We were able to check in to our hotel, rest for about a half hour, then walk over to the rock to see the sunset.  Sunset was at about 17:50.

We found getting a truck down the mountain was more tricky since we didn’t have our helpful van driver to handle everything for us.  We couldn’t find a main table to reserve a seat so Jacob went directly to the driver of one of the trucks and asked if we could sit in his cab on the way down for 15,000 kyats.  The driver didn’t speak English, but he knew what Jacob was wanting to do and he was completely fine with us sitting in the cab with him.  The ride down the mountain was not as bumpy and fun as the way up.  This driver was slow and cautious so the kids were kind of sad about that.

Hotels at the Golden Rock

There are many hotels at the base of the mountain in Kinpun where the big trucks leave to go up the mountain.  These hotels are cheaper than those at the top of the mountain.  The drawback to these hotels is that it will be difficult (or impossible) to get a truck early in the morning to see the sunrise. Since I wanted to be walking distance to the rock for sunset and sunrise, I chose one of the hotels at the top of the mountain.

There are three main hotels, walking distance from the Golden Rock: Mountain Top Hotel, Kyaik Hto Hotel, and Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse.  The reviews of the three hotels said that the quality of hotels on top of the mountain were all about three stars and very basic.  The only hotel I could find on a hotel travel site (agoda.com, booking.com) was Kyaik Hto Hotel.  The other two hotels I could only reserve on their hotel websites.  I contacted Yoe Yoe Lay Guesthouse about three times, but never got a reply back.  Yoe Yoe Lay looks like the cheapest option and the hotel looks very budget and cheap.  All the reviews I read, as well as our driver, said that Mountain Top Hotel was the best quality.  I contacted them via email and they were prompt.  They chose the best rooms for my family, sent me an invoice, I paid via paypal, then they sent me a confirmation with paid invoice.

When we first got off the big truck at the top of the mountain, it looked like our hotel was going to be a LONG walk.  There are many people who will ask to take your bags for you or even carry you on a stretcher to your hotel.   To my surprise the hotel was only about a 5-8 minute walk from the truck drop off point.  I actually almost walked right passed the hotel.

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The front entrance to the hotel.

The hotel staff were very kind and had water ready for us while we were waiting in the lobby.  Check in was quick.  The rooms were very basic, but it was clean.  The internet only worked in the lobby and dining room, and the electricity went out from 12:30pm to 3:30am.  I don’t know if the outage was planned, but it seemed like it.

The breakfast was simple but good.  You can have as much toast and fruit as you want, then can order eggs to your liking or noodles.  My kids got full.  The breakfast starts at 6:00, and check out is at 9:00 so no matter what, you need to have an early start when you are up here.

As for restaurants at the top of the mountain, I didn’t really see many.  There only seemed to be sit down restaurants at the few hotels.  We had brought up some cup of noodles so that is what we made the night we arrived.

The Golden Rock

Just beyond our hotel, there is a pay booth where foreigners need to pay an entry fee to see the Golden Rock.  The entry fee is 10,000 kyats.  We had to pay for 2 adults and the 2 oldest kids (7 and 9 yrs).  We were given necklaces to where showing that we paid.

The walk from the pay booth to the rock is a good 800 meters up and down a couple of staircases.  The first staircase is where you take off your shoes.  There are lockers that you can store your shoes.  The ground wasn’t hot at 17:00; it was just warm.  I can’t imagine having to walk the 400 meters from where you take off your shoes to the rock in the afternoon sun.  There are many stretches where there is no shade; so just be prepared for hot feet if you visit the rock during midday.

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The front entrance to the Golden Rock Complex. You need to take off your shoes at the top of these stairs.
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The family at the lower viewpoint.
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I thought this was a neat picture with the monks at sunset.

Placing Gold Leaf on the Golden Rock

There is a great opportunity to place gold leaf on the Golden Rock, unfortunately, only men have this opportunity.  Yes, it is too bad that women can’t do it, but that is the culture here.  I was glad that Jacob and the boys could do it.

First, you need to purchase the gold leaf at the building in the picture below.  Then walk over to the Golden Rock.  There are about three guards at the entry point down the stairs to the actual rock.  There were many restrictions before the boys could go down.  They couldn’t have hats and they couldn’t have their iPhones or any camera.

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Building where you purchase the gold leaf to place on Golden Rock
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Gold Leaf to place on Golden Rock

Then walk over to the Golden Rock.  There are about three guards at the entry point down the stairs to the actual rock.  There were many restrictions before the boys could go down.  They couldn’t have hats and they couldn’t have their iPhones or any camera.  Luckily I was standing right there to collect all of these items.  I didn’t notice any lockers to put items in if you were here by yourself; maybe the guards just keep them for safe keeping then return them to you when you are done.

The boys and Jacob were lead down the stairs by one of the guards to the rock.  This was a good thing because the left side of the rock does not have any railing and a little boy could easily fall off (which Thomas almost did!).  He lead them to a spot on the upper part of the rock to place their gold leaf.  Sadly there wasn’t a great spot to watch them place the gold leaf, but the boys thought it was a neat thing to do and they liked the gold residue that was left behind on their fingers.

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The Men of the family putting gold leaf on the Golden Rock.

Sunrise at the Golden Rock

The staff at the hotel said that sunrise happened at 5:45.  Thomas and I left the hotel at about 5:10 while Jacob stayed at the hotel while the other kids were sleeping.  When we left the hotel, we must have walked in to a cloud.  It was very foggy on our walk to the Golden Rock.  And to our pleasant surprise, there were many monks walking to the Golden Rock as well.  Many of the young monks would walk along side us and ask us to donate money or food to their alms bowl. Then we had another boy, who sold packaged food for the alms bowls, tag along with us and walk most of the way asking us to buy his food.  It was rather annoying but that is how he makes money for his family so it was fine.

Once we got to the rock, I was impressed by the amount of people already there worshipping and laying flowers or food.  I’m guessing many of them sleep up there.  Thomas and I found a bench to sit on and enjoyed watching people, especially the monks.  I LOVED hearing the monks chanting, especially in this foggy cloud we were in.  We stayed until after 6:00 and we were still in the cloud so we really didn’t have a sunrise, but it was still a nice experience.

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Thomas at one of the covered pavillions next to the Golden Rock (in the background).
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This monk thought Kate was so cute and gave her some chocolate crackers. He posed with us while we were walking down to catch a truck down the mountain.

IS A DAY TRIP POSSIBLE TO THE GOLDEN ROCK FROM YANGON?

I know that many tourists want to make a quick trip to the Golden Rock when they are in Yangon.  From a map, the trip seems like it wouldn’t take too long, but it is an ALL day event.  This is what a one day trip to the Golden Rock would look like (with a private driver; it would take much longer taking public transport):

  • 4 hour drive from Yangon to Kinpun (the base of the mountain)
  • Wait for big truck to fill up with people (could take 10 mins – 1 hour)
  • Take truck up to the Pagoda complex (30 mins)
  • Spend time at the Pagoda (however long you want to spend)
  • Walk back to truck station and wait for a truck to fill up (could take 10 mins – 1 hour)
  • Take truck down to Kinpun
  • 4 hour drive back to Yangon

So a one day trip to the Golden Rock is possible, but I would definitely not recommend it!!  The great allure of the rock happens at dusk and sunrise; if you took a one day trip, you would only be able to see the rock during the afternoon sun, and . . . the ground is so hot on your feet (since you have to take of your shoes!).

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