Last week, I visited the famous Pagoda in Myanmar called Kyaik Htee Yoe (Golden Rock), and it took five hours to get there by bus from Rangoon. It was an early start – we were up by 5am waiting for our bus ride to Kyaik Htee Yoe mountain, and there were five sleepy people in the bus.
We drove for two hours before reaching a station where we were transferred to a big truck for the final haul.
Although the mountain roads are steep, there are also some more gentle slopes.
The truck has two classes - $3 for riding on the back or $3.50 in the cabin with the driver – although there are only four under-cover seats. Everyone on the back of the truck was wearing a raincoat as we drove up the mountain.
Luckily, the weather was beautiful and it wasn’t raining at first. I felt fresh and alert as a sense of anticipation grew.
The jungle air and nearby waterfalls created a beautiful environment, and it was amazingly fresh and crisp - but not cold.
We passed people who live on the mountain slopes, where they grow fruit and vegetables.
Our truck eventually reached another station where we enjoyed a Myanmar-style tea break – but from there, we had to walk to the top of the mountain.
It takes 40 minutes of trekking, but for the less-abled there is a stretcher service where you are carried by porters for $85 to $120, depending on your weight.
There are many pagodas along the way before you reach another office, where you pay a $6 entrance fee – and a passport must be shown before entering. Then it’s another 15-minute walk up the mountain to reach the destination.
By the time we almost reached the top of the mountain, it had started to pour with rain and it was a challenge – but the sight of two large lions guarding the entrance to Kyaik Htee Yoe pagoda lifted our spirits.
Kyaik Htee Yoe Pagoda is set on a great boulder about five metres high, and it looks like it could collapse at any moment. On the top of the granite boulder is a small pagoda (7.3 metres tall) covered with gold leaf applied by devotees.
According to legend, this Kyaik Htee Yoe pagoda has a single hair of the Buddha, and its is the third most important Buddhist site in Myanmar after the Swedagon and Mahamuni pagodas.
It is believed it is a golden rock of inspiration for any person believing in Buddhism, yet the golden rock and shrine can be touched only by men, not women.
March hosts a special full-moon day of Tabaung, and pilgrims go the shrine, and people light more than 90,000 candles as an offering to Buddha and leave fruit, other foods, and incense for the god.
Kyaik Htee Yoe also attracts pilgrims who pray and stick gold leaf on the rock. Nearby, there is a large village with many restaurants offering traditional Myanmar food, plus guest houses and gift shops.
The sunset gleams from this place.
As it was the rainy season, there weren’t many people out and about, and by 3pm it was time for us to leave the mountain, trekking back down to the truck stop.
In that 40 minutes, we came across a small village where people were selling traditional medicine as teens sang karaoke indoors.
Some Westerners were trekking up the mountain when it was almost dark – some of them in porter-carried stretchers.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhim Sreyneang at email@example.com