One of the most important religious sites in Myanmar, seemingly defying the law of gravity - Golden Rock Temple (Kyaiktio or Kyaikhteeyoe Pagoda), although quite famous, is surprisingly not as touristy as the other destinations in the country - Bagan, Mandalay or Yangon. There are good and bad sides to it. The good thing is that the authenticity of the place is still preserved (unlike the temples in Thailand) and you'll see many more locals than foreigners around. The bad thing - to get there without an expensive, privately run tour or a taxi is pretty complicated, the bus schedules are not clear and the level of English among the Burmese is very low. And... to be honest, the site is one of those that look absolutely spectacular in the photos, a bit less so in real life. Having said that, the whole journey was a great adventure, definitely worth the effort and it left some priceless memories in my mind.
How to get to the Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo) Pagoda
Having traveled extensively in Asia, especially in India, where I'd had some crazy adventures: when a bus broke down in the jungle, a boat was leaking in the Indian Ocean and after over 30 hours spent on an Indian train, I thought I knew what I should expect in Myanmar. But it still surprised me a lot. Read on and I'll give you some helpful tips on how to get to the Golden Rock Pagoda and return to Yangon in one day only by the local transport means. It might not be easy but it's not impossible. There are some articles on other blogs and wikitravel explaining how it all works but the wikitravel description is very vague, and in Myanmar, things can get mixed up very easily. I'm going to share my story here in the hope that all of you who plan to travel to the Golden Rock don't make the same mistakes I made.
Start early in the morning and choose the RIGHT bus!
To ensure that you will be able to see the Golden Rock you must take the first bus in the morning from the main bus station in Yangon (Aug Mingalar). Me and my companions had just arrived to this station on a night bus from Bagan at around 5.30 AM and there were a lot of locals standing around and offering taxis and other services to the passengers. We were asked where we wanted to go and we replied "Golden Rock". We also had a piece of paper with the name "Golden Rock" written in Burmese by one the locals back in Bagan. We showed it to one of the guys and he directed us to another bus which was supposed to take us to our destination. The bus was run by a local man and there were no English signs on it. We bought our tickets for 7000 MMK each (6.70 EUR/7.20 USD) and were told to wait.
It is quite difficult to get any information in Myanmar among the locals as their English is very limited. Sometimes, if you ask about something you will get the wrong information, or you will be told "yes, yes" just because they don't want to loose a customer. Also, be careful as you might easily be overcharged.
At the station, we were told we just had to get on the bus and after we've gotten off, we would need to take a taxi for 2 USD and we will reach the temple. Simple as that! Unfortunately, only in theory.
There are quite many buses that operate the route towards the Golden Rock, however only A FEW of them arrive at the base - a village called Kinpun. Things get a bit complicated here. To make it simple: all the buses run from Yangon via the village of Kyaikto (don't confuse it with the name of the Golden Rock Pagoda) either north to Kinpun or further on south-west to other cities. The best option, if you have only one day, is to take the bus that goes directly to Kinpun (you will be transported from here by a specially modified truck to the Golden Rock). Alternatively, if your bus doesn't go to Kinpun, you can get off in Kyaikto village and take a taxi, moto-taxi or a shared taxi (which will be considerably cheaper) to Kinpun. Kyaikto village is around 14 km away from Kinpun and the ride takes around 30 minutes (depends on what vehicle you are using). Have a look at the map:
It's all confusing because the village of Kyaikto (although it shares almost the name with the Golden Rock) is NOT the closest place to the famous pagoda. In fact, it's 30 km (18 miles) away. The nearest town is Kinpun and this is where you will eventually end up. The DIRECT journey Yangon - Kinpun should take around 3,5 hours. If you go via Kyaikto - considerably longer.
It is also possible to get to Kyaikto by train but it's not reliable and it will take over 4.5 hours.
The local bus ride and mistakes that could have been avoided
We hadn't actually done any research on how to get to the Golden Rock before and, unknowingly, we ended up in the bus heading to one of the towns further south-west via Kyaikto village (instead of the bus we should have taken towards Kinpun, however from the village of Kyaikto it's still relatively easy to reach Kinpun and the pagoda). We asked the driver for a 10th time if this is the right bus just to be 100% sure and after confirming he got a bit annoyed with us, silly tourists. We sat down in our seats. The bus was quite new with a plasma screen fitted in front. Exactly at 6:30 AM we departed.
Driving through Burmese countryside is nice with the exception of pollution. Similarly to India, the amount of rubbish and waste everywhere is overwhelming. The local wooden houses are charming and interesting, pollution is the only drawback. The same applies to air quality. The contamination, smoke and dust particles in places are so high that you're literally not able to see the blue sky. It's like ever lasting mist which is mainly caused, during the dry season, by farmers burning the fields. If you have respiratory problems, this might be an issue. The smell of smoke and dust is really strong and it makes visiting Myanmar less enjoyable, unfortunately.
Chewing betel nut
Hygiene habits in Myanmar can be, euphemistically speaking, controversial for Western visitors. Especially the custom of chewing betel nut can be shocking. The teeth of those who enjoy this stimulant (and I'd say 90% of male population do), as a result, are dyed dark red and seem completely rotten. When you walk down the streets in Myanmar you'll see red marks on the pavement everywhere, if you wonder where they come from - it's because of spitting out the chewed betel nut. And they have to do it repeatedly, also on the bus (they carry plastic bags where they dispose of saliva excess). During the bus ride, if you are sensitive to those kind of things and don't want to listen to long, loud and unpleasant noises of clearing throats, heavy coughing and spitting out, equip yourself with a good set of earphones. Oh, I would've forgotten, to make the journey more interesting, you'll also be 'entertained' by some local music (volume turned up to maximum) and over dramatic soap operas displayed on the plasma screen.
But let's get back to the point. We're still on the bus, now for almost 5 hours, and it doesn't seem we're going to get there soon as there's nothing around apart from fields. We had been told at the bus station it should have taken only 3,5 hours so is there something wrong? We decided to ask one of the passengers but no one had a clue what "Golden Rock" is. We were the only foreigners on the bus and no one spoke even a word in English. So we showed them the paper with the name in Burmese. One man started to shake his head which meant, we were going in the wrong direction. We went to the driver and he started saying something that, from what I could understand, he will stop soon. And, in additional 30 minutes he did.
We had no clue at that time, but it turned out later that the driver hadn't notified us when we passed Kyaikto village and we went on to the town of Thaton which was 100 km (62 miles) behind Kyaikto! When we got off, a young boy came up to us (after a short conversation with the driver) and directed us to another bus that would take us back to Kyaikto. It was 12:30 PM already and we started to be worried we wouldn't be able to visit the Golden Rock. At 1 PM, another bus came and took us back, luckily, free of charge. After 1 h 30 mins it stopped and we were told to get off. The village of Kyaikto was not as we expected, there were no tourists, no bus station or anything that could suggest we are close to the famous temple.
We've noticed, however, a few taxi drivers who offered to take us to the base of the Golden Rock mountain - Kinpun (20 mins ride) for 10 USD per person! We refused and started to look for something else. We found a shared taxi which we agreed to take (for 2.5 USD per person) but we were forced to wait 15 mins for departure to collect more people. It was after 2 PM and we were not too happy about it but we decided to wait. The driver came, we finally left but just after a few minutes we stopped again. The driver got off the car and disappeared. We had no idea where we were, it seemed strange that there were no tourists at all around who would have wanted to see the Golden Rock. After additional 30 minutes we eventually drove off. The shared taxi was quite slow and we got to Kinpun as late as 3:30 PM!
To make things worse, we were told that the last bus from Kinpun to Yangon leaves at 3:30. In spite of all, we decided to visit the temple and either stay overnight or to look for some local buses back to Yangon in Kyaikto (we had been told by the bus at the station in Yangon that there were buses running from Kyaikto until late).
Visiting the Golden Rock Pagoda
In Kinpun, you can find quite many shops, restaurants and a few tourists here and there. Nevertheless, I was quite shocked there were so few foreign visitors there (but I wouldn't say it was a bad thing!). Probably most of them come with prepaid taxis or organized tours.
From Kinpun, you have to take another means of transport - quite original - a modified, roofless truck with some benches squeezed in very tightly, too tightly for most of westerners. Also, there are no doors so you'll have to cross over the barrier and other benches in order to move around. Besides us, there were only 3 other tourists. The fare to go up and down is 2500 MMK (2.10 EUR/2.50 USD) and it takes nearly 50 minutes. The Golden Rock is located another 15 km (9 miles) from Kinpun.
The ride is like a Russian roulette, extremely steep with multiple sharp turns, it almost feel like a roller coaster. I, personally, would have enjoyed it if it hadn't been for the constant noises of spitting behind my back and if we hadn't been squashed like sardines (there were around 50 people in the vehicle!). And it can be a challenge for the faint-hearted! The ride took so long not only because it wasn't possible to go to fast (uneven surface) but also because the driver stopped every 10 minutes to allow the local people to collect religious donations. There were 4 or 5 such stops. Sometimes it took a minute, the other time the driver vanished for 15 minutes.
As a result of all this, we got at Kyaiktiyo Pagoda as late as at 4:30 PM. To enter the site all foreigners must pay the 6000 MMK (6 USD) fee.
What's interesting is the fact that Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) Pagoda is not the only one on the site. There are a few others, like Kyaukthanban Pagoda (Stone Boat Temple) which is associated with the legend behind the story of how the Golden Rock Temple came into existence.
The Golden Rock Pagoda is situated at 1,100 m above sea level (3,600 ft.). It's one of the most important temples in Myanmar and it's visited by hundreds of pilgrims daily. As I've mentioned before, you won't find many tourists around which is a nice surprise. The pagoda itself is very small, only 7 m (24 ft.) high but it's the location that makes is so special. The huge granite rock (on which the stupa is fitted) stands on the edge and seems as if it's just about to roll down the hill.
The name Kyaiktiyo means "temple upon a hermit's head". The legend has it that Buddha himself offered a strand of his hair to the hermit called Thaik Tha. The hermit, in turn, decided it would be a good idea to notify the king about it and ask him to built a temple in order to enshrine the Buddha's hair. The king found a rock in the shape of the hermit's head at the bottom of the sea and transported it to the perfect location - where it is now. The strand of hair made the rock stand still and prevented it from falling off. The boat which was used to transport the rock, turned into a stone and the Stone Boat Pagoda was build on top.
Visiting the site
2 hours is enough to visit the whole site, together with the settlement around. It is a nice place, however, in my opinion, not as spectacular as you could think. It seems much bigger in the photos and it's not that easy to reach (in case you don't want to pay for private tours).
In spite of all, there was one really good thing about getting there so late. The Golden Rock is the most beautiful in the evening when it's illuminated by the warm colors of the setting sun. I wouldn't have been able to see it if I had caught the bus back to Yangon at 3:30 PM.
There is a hotel on the side and now we had to choose whether to stay or to take the crazy truck down (last one runs at 6 PM) to Kinpun. Despite the information that we got in the hotel that there were NO buses to Yangon after 4 PM, we decided to go to Kinpun. We didn't want to waste the whole next day on the bus ride back.
The way back
The way down in the truck is even crazier but a bit faster. In Kinpun, we looked around and we found a guy who was selling bus tickets. He said there were no buses from Kinpun to Yangon but there was one at around 7 PM from Kyaikto village (also for 7000 MMK) which was perfect for us. He was very friendly and agreed to takes us down to Kyaikto on his motorbike and wait with us to make sure we would get on the right bus.
The bus arrived 20 minutes late and... it was full. The guy advised that we take another one from the station which was a 5 minutes drive away. This time we were to buy the tickets there to make sure we would have seats. The station looked like a garage, I would never have guessed it was a station but anyway, we managed to buy the tickets. The only drawback was that we had to wait until 10 PM for the next bus. We thanked our friendly driver and went to the nearby restaurant to relax after such a tiring day. In Myanmar you can enjoy a local pint of beer for only around 1 USD!
A couple of minutes before 10 PM we were back at the station but the bus didn't show up until an hour later... I must admit I had never ever felt so dirty in my whole life. Exhausted and fed up with all this struggle, we surprisingly fell asleep quickly in spite of the loud soap operas, coughing and spitting. The crazy journey was over and we finally got back to the Yangon bus station at 1:30 AM.
If you ask me whether I would do it all again, despite of all the stress, my answer is definitely yes! It's not only a struggle but also a great adventure to travel this way, I have so many priceless memories that I'll never forget. No thing or gadget could compare to all this. The whole experience was real, authentic and hundreds times better (not too mention cheaper) than taking a private taxi or a tour.
Copying without permission is not allowed. If you wish to use any of the site's content (photos or text) or work with us, please contact us.
We welcome questions, advice, support or criticism. However, spam comments will be removed.