Exploring Golden Rock on Thadingyut

Two years ago this week, I was with friends exploring Kyaiktiyo Pagoda also called Golden Rock, on Thadingyut. Thadingyut is a famous festival but I don’t think anyone will be able to travel to celebrate it in 2020. Since this hasn’t exactly been a year of travel, I’ve been enjoying my Google Photos sharing with me where I was on this same day in the past. So let’s take a trip down memory lane.

How We Got to Golden Rock

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (Golden Rock) is up on the summit of Mount Kyayktiyo, about 15 km from a town called Kinpun and around 200km from Yangon, in Mon State. We rented a car from Yoma Fleet and headed out of Yangon to explore. I am not big on driving in Myanmar, so I was in the passenger seat navigating. Whenever I’m the navigator, there is certain to be some hidden treasure. That or else Myanmar is just so packed with treasures anyone would stumble upon it.

a view of a rough road in Myanmar with a woman holding a baby looking out over rice paddy

In this case, we got off the beaten path which slowed us down a lot. But if you ask me the views were completely worth it! We saw water buffalo, incredible huts built above water, and kids fishing with some creative fishing nets. It turned out we were also parallel to some train tracks! It was a bumpy ride. But we made it to Golden Rock on Thadingyut just in time for the sunset!

The Ride to the Top of Mount Kyayktiyo

The ride to the top of the mountain was half of the adventure! Private cars are not allowed on the road up. There are corners and switchbacks that take you up the steep incline. Instead, we piled into trucks. We were amazed at how many people they could fit in these trucks and how adventurous the ride was! We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the views on the way up! It was hard to capture them the way we were bouncing around but you can get a rough idea from the photos below.

The Walk after the Truck

When the trucks stopped, there was still a bit of a hike upwards. People created innovative ways for those who weren’t able to walk up the mountain to make it to the pagoda. It seems no matter what your walking ability, there is a way to reach the summit! I loved seeing the creative solutions on the mountain and the dedication to reaching this sacred spot.

What is so important about Golden Rock?

The story says that a hair of Buddha is actually holding up this rock. It looks like it should fall from its precarious position. Pilgrims come to Golden Rock year-round to touch the surface (only males are allowed) and to pray in this auspicious setting. It is the second most popular pilgrim site in all of Myanmar.

We went on a holiday called Thadingyut, also known as the lighting festival of Myanmar. It is the second most popular festival in Myanmar after the New Year Water festival. On this holiday, over 10,000 candles are lit on Mount Kyayktiyo. The energy was incredible; so many happy people in one place. While the crowd was overwhelming, the feeling was so welcoming and bright.

We saw very few tourists, and mostly locals there celebrating their holiday. I would have liked to stay longer and enjoy the environment but the last trucks go down just after sunset. The hotels at the top of the mountain were all booked up for the holiday. So our only choice was to head back down to our resort.

Being at Golden Rock on Thadingyut

It was pretty amazing to be at Golden Rock on Thadingyut, the most crowded day of the year. I really enjoyed the whole experience. However, I hope to get back someday when its not so crowded. I would love to compare the environment on a normal weekend to the festival vibe.

There is an option to hike up the mountain, but its recommended to leave plenty of time for that hike. Next time I’ll have to arrive a day earlier. Ideally I will set out in the morning to see a different side of Mount Kyayktiyo.

Tips for Travelers to Golden Rock on Thadingyut

  1. Book early – the hotels at the top of the summit can be fully booked weeks in advance
  2. Organize your transportation – remember you will have to ride one of these trucks to the top. If you are bringing luggage, speak to your hotel about the best way to arrange it. If you drive, ask about the best place to park your car.
  3. Dress appropriately – this is a religious site so its important to follow the general rules in Myanmar for visiting Pagodas. Cover your legs, no cleavage, etc.
  4. Consider the trip back down – if you don’t get a hotel at the top, there are a few nice places to stay in Kinpun. Most of these require a short drive, but would be difficult to walk. Check the timing of the last trucks coming down. In 2018 it was around sunset.

Overall, have fun visiting Golden Rock on Thadingyut holidays!

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