Visiting the Golden Rock Temple, Myanmar

The Road to Gold

A half an hour boat transfer, one hour car transfer, one hour domestic flight (that was ninety minutes late), followed by a three-hour taxi ride at the other end – and finally, embraced by the glowing arms of the evening sun, we had arrived. Add to this the recent spate of severe gastroenteritis that had afflicted one of us (unsurprisingly not the one penning the tale with the fuzzy retrospective warmth) and the journey seemed even more arduous.

what to see in Myanmar

Pumpkin has survived Delhi belly many a time but 2016’s Burma belly saw him at his most vulnerable, yet still he powered through our day-long marathon without even a hint of complaint or self-pity.

We had traversed the country to see the Golden Rock – but it struck me that mine had been next to me the entire time.

best of Myanmar Burma

A mere five weeks earlier, we huddled together under our mauve blanket at home, armed with laptops, questioning whether it was worth changing the whole itinerary to accommodate Myanmar’s Golden Rock Temple into our plans  and if you read about my weirdest travel moments from 2016, you will know that we ultimately decided it was.

Golden Rock Temple Myanmar

The visuals had swayed us but as we took our seats for the final leg of the hair-raising, stomach-turning, bumpy truck ride, sandwiched between rows of staring locals, the same questions arose and we honestly wondered what on earth we had been thinking.

visiting Golden Rock Temple Myanmar

My guide lent me a hand, as I clambered out of the truck with the elegance of a drunken reveller awaiting a 4am night bus. I lacked the grace of the local women of Myanmar, who stepped off the truck draped in delicately embroidered longyi, their hair pinned back in a flawless round, lacking any of the humidity-induced frizz mine had been victim to. As we lugged our rucksacks in the direction of the hotel, the rotund edge of the Golden Rock crept into view, a jewel in the coral mist that had started to engulf the sky at sunset.

Golden Rock Pagoda Myanmar

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda – The Golden Rock

Its stature may be smaller than the photographs would have you believe, measuring in at just over 7 metres in height but this takes nothing away from the surreal sensation of watching a 2000+ year old boulder dangle menacingly from the edge of a hilltop.

top attractions Myanmar

We had reached the holy Golden Rock just in time for sunset. Photographers repeatedly boast of golden hour imagery but at the Golden Rock Temple, even their  nomenclature took on a meaning of its own.

Myanmar travel highlights

For Buddhists in Myanmar and beyond, the pagoda here bears immense importance, since legend has it that the temple overlies a strand of Buddha’s hair. A surge of adrenaline masked our myalgia, as we joined the hundreds of Myanmari worshippers who had gathered here, their spines bearing the collective weight of not only their children but also their overnight baggage.

best places to visit in Myanmar

This was no special festival – the visual would have remained the same whether we had arrived a day earlier or a month later, for the Golden Rock Temple, also known as Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, is considered one of the three most important pilgrimage sites in Myanmar, drawing in crowds from far and wide, who think nothing of traversing the country on this spiritual voyage.

Buddhist pilgrimage sites Myanmar

In the society I live in, even to take a child on an overnight trip locally, it is quite customary to see parents packing car seats, high chairs, several bags of supplies, bottles, nappies, buggies, rain covers, sun cream, plastic packets of food, all deemed essential for any well-kitted out Mummy bag.

sunset at Golden Rock
Sunset at Golden Rock

And yet, on this cumbersome journey, which some families had commenced on the polar end of Myanmar, doting parents had arrived with barely a backpack each, somehow equipped with all they needed for their three to four children for an overnight adventure.

Kyaiktiyo Myanmar

Babies smiled with a sparkle in their eyes, the plump rosiness in their cheeks completely indistinguishable to their baby brethren here in London, who have grown up immersed in a world of gadgets and contraptions. Toddlers ran around the broad-girth tree trunks that their fathers had hallmarked as home for the night.

hotels near Golden Rock Myanmar

Our belongings were safely locked within the confines of our clean and comfortable room at the aptly named Mountain Top Hotel. Just a few hundred yards away from the pagoda, the 4 star hotel, whilst not drowning in unnecessary luxuries, was more than sufficient for our needs with an enviable proximity to the main attraction, welcoming staff and cosy beds in which we would soon fall into a deep slumber.

Mountain Top Hotel Myanmar

Whist we nipped back to line our tummies with hearty Burmese cuisine, the locals who had arrived on pilgrimage were competing for spaces near the temple itself, some under swaying tree branches. Some were simply content with catching winks amongst the candle-strewn territory of the worshippers.

Buddhist holy sites Myanmar

All seemed to share the unanimous glint in their eyes, the jubilant sense of elation of a dream fulfilled, an adventure about to unfold. It was a joy to witness such communal spirit and be privy to their united sense of purpose on this balmy and buzzing evening.

Golden Rock Temple travel blog

Their dedication was humbling but on a personal level, for me, the defining moment of catharsis during this trip arose when I stood back in silent observation; I watched the men and women alike bow down, almost in tandem to the low-level hypnotic hum of prayer. Delicate flames caressed the black skies above us, the streams of candles made electricity seem redundant, the Golden Pagoda – a gleaming beacon throughout.

Burma highlights

Pumpkin followed in the shadow of the male worshippers, who stepped across a small  bridge and laid down thin slivers of gold leaf upon the sacred rock, a perk of their gender as I waited back with the other women behind the outer balcony beyond which we were not permitted entry.

monks kyaiktiyo pagoda

Cohorts of ruby-red-robed monks ambled purposefully through the hubbub of the streets, some of preschool age and some showing their life experience and wisdom in the streaky grey bristles of their beards. They gathered donations with the clanking of semi-filled buckets and the ringing of bells, their profound sense of spirituality as apparent in their gait as it was in their gaze.

young monks Myanmar

Every so often, however, a monk with a selfie stick would appear, reminding us that behind the raw, stripped back harmony here, like so many other aspects of modern life, even religious pilgrimages are evolving to accommodate modern world practices.

monk with selfie stick

In every destination you visit, there is always more you wish you could have seen, more days you needed for discovery & exploration but after this experience in Myanmar, I felt felt no FOMO and no greed. 

To have seen the Golden Rock that very first moment in the distance, to have smelled the molten candle wax mixed with the floral scents from holy offerings was enough.  To have heard our guide thank us, yes us, for enabling him to come on such journeys in the name of his occupation was hugely humbling and counter-intuitive in one, given that the only ones who owed thanks were us.

Myanmar travel blog tips

With such proximity to the pagoda, we set our 6am alarms for the next morning and shunned the mirror when they sounded, painfully aware of what it would reflect back. Instead, we slipped our arms through warm sleeves and returned at dawn to see it in a newer, bluer light. 

The road to gold in Myanmar may be one you only travel once but when you reach it, one view is never enough.

Myanmar travel blog tips
Within touching distance of the Golden Rock

23 thoughts on “Visiting the Golden Rock Temple, Myanmar

  1. Lovely photos. Enchanting description!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 8, 2017 — 11:43 pm

      Aww thank you! It was such a special experience & destination that I really wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it justice with my words.

  2. Amazing photos and great post! Myanmar has been on my list for some time–can’t wait to hear more.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 8, 2017 — 11:45 pm

      Thanks so much Heather! So pleased you enjoyed it. This was one of the most special places we visited in Myanmar & as a country in general, it was one of the most mesmerising & intriguing I’ve been to so I’ve been wanting to get round to writing up my blog posts for so long!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 8, 2017 — 11:45 pm

      Thank you!

  3. wow. i hadnt heard about this and I went to Myanmar! I cant believe I missed it it looks amazing and great for photos. My tummy, too, did not agree with the food in Myanmar!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 8, 2017 — 11:48 pm

      Haha, ok I must have just gotten lucky with my tummy then Andy as I’m normally the first to pick up such bugs but was ok this time! It’s definitely not one of the main attractions for most first visits to Myanmar I think & we dithered for ages about whether it was worth a big detour but overall, I’m glad we went for it, even if we were doubting our decision the whole way there!!

  4. Haha we would fall into category of ‘cannot leave house without taking all contents of said house’. What a really magically different experience! Sounds like the major detour was worth it

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 8, 2017 — 11:59 pm

      Haha! The families who had come from so far were so inspiring – a real lesson in how spoilt we can be in the Western comparing what we think we need with what we actually need. They had such little luggage yet were camping overnight & were all so happy & well fed without a high chair or gadget in sight! Was so magical to catch a glimpse of the rock in the distance & watch the pilgrimage unfold around us ☺

  5. Wow, what an incredible experience Shikha! I remember you telling me about the long journey when you got back, but it sounds as though it was definitely worth it. What a special moment to witness the people who had made the pilgrimage there, and such a lovely experience for your guide too.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 9, 2017 — 12:00 am

      It was so deeply moving Emily. One of the most spiritual & cathartic experiences I’ve ever had on my travels – after the 7 hour journey that is!

  6. Myanmar and the Golden Rock Temple seem so charming and definitely worth visiting, Shikha. This seems like an awesome experience. When’s the best time of the year to go to Myanmar?

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 9, 2017 — 12:01 am

      We went in November Agness, which was lovely weather. Definitely recommend a visit to the Golden Rock if you get time whilst you’re there.

  7. You took some lovely photos of the Golden Rock. And you have some lovely memories of Burma! We didn’t make it to this site on our visit — it definitely looks worth it though!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 20, 2017 — 8:56 am

      It was definitely a bit of a trek getting there so I think that’s why it’s not on many of the itineraries that include Yangon, Mandalay & Bagan. So glad you enjoyed your time in Burma too – such a special place isn’t it?

  8. Thanks Shikha for letting me share this amazing trip to a part of Burma I never knew existed. The photos of the Golden Rock are quite captivating…on one side the beauty and contrast of the colours of gold against the sky, and on the other hand the simplicity of the luggage carried by families to allow them to attend the pilgrimage to such fascinating place. merci.please continue to write your travels so that I can share them sitting in my chair.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 20, 2017 — 9:01 am

      Thank you so much for reading Fabienne & for your lovely comment! Hearing that the post made you feel like you were being transported away is the biggest compliment you could’ve given me, as that’s exactly what I hope people will feel when they read. It was such a spiritual & wonderful experience quietly watching how they go about their pilgrimages. I too had actually never heard of this place until we starred researching the trip ☺

  9. I love your writing Shikha, I felt like I was there with you every step of the way!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 20, 2017 — 9:18 am

      Aww thank you Keri! For me, the passion behind blogging has always been the writing so comments like this just make my day ☺

  10. What a wonderful post it is with amazing pictures. You are lucky enough that you have visited to such an amazing place. I request you to try other Southeast Asian countries as well.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 20, 2017 — 9:20 am

      I’ve tried quite a few other South East Asian countries – if you have a look around my blog, you’ll spot posts from them as well.

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