The next morning I left for the Golden Rock at Mount Kyaikhteeyoe. The Golden Rock is Myanmar’s most sacred place. The gold leaf plated rock sits on the edge of a cliff and for some reason doesn’t roll off. On top of the rock is a stupa containing one of Buddha’s hair. Buddhist pilgrims flock to the site regularly and usually stay overnight.
Little did I realize it was about to be the worst 24 hours of my entire trip so far. I woke up stomach sick. I was able to control myself but going to the bathroom constantly. My hostel insisted I leave for the bus station three hours early so I did. A few minutes into the taxi I realized my bus ticket was missing so I had the cabbie go back to my hostel. It took fifteen minutes for them to handwrite a new one, and another $2 that I gave the cabbie for waiting (I had originally haggled down that $2.)
I ended waiting at the bus station for over two hours where there was only one tiny hole in the ground bathroom with no window. The smell inside was so bad that every time I went in (which was frequent) I vomited a little too. I knew I looked green when the bus attendant asked me if I was ok.
A lady on the bus sat next to me who first piled her bags on top of me (she refused to put them in the overhead) and then later on she begged me for money. I put earplugs in and tried to sleep but that was almost impossible. The TV in the bus played music videos (American songs re-created to be Burmese,) a Burmese soap opera for teenagers, and a Burmese pageant. The entire bus was glued to the TV; the four seats across were full as well as the folding seats in the middle. Thankfully the bus was only 5 hours.
I got to town, bought a bus ticket to Bago for the next day, and found a hotel. I ended up at Sea Sar Hotel, which I saw in lonely planet but there was also a representative at the bus station. I got one of the nicest rooms, $25 (on sale from $35) for a private room with air con. Kinpun, which is the town below the mountain, is full of outdoor shops and local restaurants but no western tourists or hangouts. I wanted a decent spot to hang out in and relax after seeing the Golden Rock.
I checked in then headed straight for the pick-up truck area to go up the mountain. The truck station looked like a trailer truck gas station on the side of a major highway. The trucks we rode to the mountain were massive. Six to ten rows of metal open air seats. As soon as one filled it left. It cost $2.5 or $3 to take the truck up; a 45 minute trip.
It turns out a 45 minute trip really meant an almost 2 hour trip. The truck didn’t pull out for over 30 minutes and then it stopped repeatedly for half an hour at a time to collect donations and other nonsense. There was a metal bar sticking into the side of my leg and as usual the seats in front were too close and my knees we’re squished against metal too. The truck drove at full speed which would have ordinarily been fun since it was a winding bumpy road, but in this case I was in serious pain. I spent the whole ride talking to a 20 year old Myanmar boy who spoke great English and works at a hotel in Yangon. He works 6 days a week and makes $200 a month; he’s one of three kids who still lives at home making that kind of money. His dream is to travel the world except he can’t afford to.
We reached the peak after sunset at 6:30pm. It was then that the boy asked me where I was staying and I told him the village below. He then informed me that apparently trucks only run from 6am-6pm. No where was this written at the station below. I immediately ran to the ticket office, and then the fancy hotel on the peak, and both places informed me that I was stuck up there for the night. I was stuck with the masses of Myanmar Buddhists who apparently came to the rock to sleep overnight on the concrete ground. I begged multiple people to drive me down the hill but all refused. It was Saturday night and the Rock was packed with visitors.
There was only one hotel that had rooms available and I had no choice but to go there, Yoe Yoe Lay Hotel. The hotel is located on the opposite side of the Golden Rock so I bought my admission ticket and headed that way. Past security I felt like I stepped into a carnival. Loud voices and music, colorful eclectic clothing, colorful LED lights everywhere, and gold accents.
The cheapest room at the hotel was $60 for two single beds. It said satellite TV and wifi, which meant 4 local Burmese stations and no wifi. The security guard, Steven, who checked me in, said he’d give me the room for $50 since he felt bad for me but when we got there he straight forward asked for a large tip. There were no room prices anywhere so I assume as usual I got taken advantage of as a tourist.
After checking in I headed to see the Golden Rock. There were thousands of tourists in family groups squatting on the floor eating dinner and socializing. It’s tradition to come with your whole family. Everyone was staring at me and I ended up taking pictures with a bunch of teenage girls and boys who waited on line to stand next to me.
The Golden Rock is incredible if it’s true that it’s holding on by itself. However, the site was incredibly disappointing because they’ve modernized it. The tiny gold stupa on top of the rock has an interchanging colorful spot light on it, which makes the religious symbol seem more like an attraction than sacred grounds. Also, the restaurants, shops, statues, trees and shelter areas near the rock are lite up with colorful LED lights.
There were a handful of people praying below the rock but for the most part people were there to socialize and take pictures of it. There was someone on a loudspeaker all through the evening and then at dawn his loud powerful voice came back. It was impossible to sleep through even with earplugs.
There was absolutely no tourists there my age. There were a few older tourists and I quickly realized that this is the type of site I’d see on a Yale trip with Bob. I ended up spending $80 on two hotel rooms, $5 on the truck, $6 on the entrance fee, plus a good night sleep. That’s an extra $90 that I will honestly say wasn’t worth it for me.
The next morning I eventually peeled myself out of bed and into the madness outside. I had breakfast then headed straight for the trucks after snapping a few shots of the rock during daylight. The truck was even rougher on the way down because it never stopped and I just constantly flew into metal bars. I made it back to my original hotel at 10am and had three hours to relax before my next bus.
My bus to Bago was uneventful, just cramped and hot. Just before 4pm the bus made one of it’s many stops on the side of a road and a big man got on asking for me. He drove me on his motorbike to the center of town where my next bus would get me in a few hours. He offered to take me around to all three pagodas for $5 but I politely declined. He then asked if I wanted to go to a coffee shop and I said yes. He drove me to a local spot where I tried Myanmar coffee for the first time. It’s similar to Vietnamese coffee, tea with condensed milk and sweet milk. Much too sweet but he suggested I add some of the table Chinese tea to dilute it. He insisted I taste a pastry, which he promised wasn’t sweet. The pastry looked like an empanada and was filled with chicken and sautéed onions. I learned that he’s from Bago and is a school teacher who has three kids, all of which finished university. He’s never been outside of the country because it’s too difficult to get a passport and visa. When the tea was finished he blatantly asked who should pay the bill (in a tone that meant I should) so of course I said me. Little did I realize all the little cigars he’d been smoking were from the restaurant. Duped again by a local but worth it to not wait an extra hour at the “bus station.”
My 12 hour bus for Inle Lake left at 6pm. I hadn’t been able to get on the Internet for a few days so I had absolutely nothing to watch and only a paperback book, but there were no overhead lights. I also found out that the bus ticket should only have been $13 and I was charged $18.