Situated between the gorgeous Hpa-An and hectic Yangon, Kyaiktiyo is better known by travellers as the Golden Rock. Perched on a mountainside that overlooks the nearby town of Kinpun, the giant rock is covered in gold leaf and a golden stupa that contains one of Buddha’s hairs, donated by a monk. But the attraction is something of a one-hit wonder, and staying on the mountaintop can cost as much as $50 USD for a room. So, for many tourists the question is this: is it worth it?
What is it?
Kyaiktiyo, or the Golden Rock, is a giant rock perched perilously atop a boulder. It is covered in layers upon layers of gold leaf pressed to its surface by worshippers. On top of the rock there is a small stupa. Inside this stupa is a hair from Buddha brought there by one of his worshippers in a treacherous journey. Only males may approach certain closer areas of prayer, and, supposedly, from November to March many people come here to make pilgrimage.
Once you’re at the top of the mountain, you will be asked to respectfully take off your shoes for the 10 minute walk to the Golden Rock. On your way, there will be restaurants and vendors selling religious trinkets like prayer beads and the ever-present thanaka. The mountain is well inhabited by healthy-looking dogs who seem to be treated well by the monks.
When we visited in late May we were in fog so thick we could barely see a few feet ahead of us. It left the mountain in a state of cloaked silence, broken only by faintly tinkling bells and the occasional murmur of speech. The fog was so dense that we actually got lost. We couldn’t see the giant golden rock engulfing the horizon. Once we found and approached it, we were treated with a quiet viewing point from which to view the Golden Rock. On our side, candles of prayer surrounded by incense sticks flickered in their shelter from the wind, wax dripping to their slanted bases. We walked around the Golden Rock, taking it in, and then walked down some steps to view it in full.
On a clearer day, we could imagine the incredible view of the area. Friends who stayed at the top of the hill told us that it was gorgeous to see it at sunset and under the stars. It’s amazing to see, and really a geological wonder. Apparently there have been multiple earthquakes in the area, but none have tipped the boulder, leading people to believe it is blessed or otherwise holy.
Although our time looking at the rock was brief, it was quite cool to see. I was especially pleased with it since I’d seen the sight in random books and magazines in the past without knowing what I was looking at, and it was just incredible to see something that was imbedded in my mind in person.
I can imagine, however, that in high season it may be very busy, though the weather will be better, and so will the view.
Although we stayed in Kinpun for a night, it would have been very easy to merely stop in Kyaiktiyo for several hours on your way to Hpa-An or elsewhere in order to see the Golden Rock and then go back down as the town was not overwhelmingly enjoyable.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Pann Myo Thu Inn. While the staff were quite lovely, showing us around and helping us to book tickets, I can’t recommend for you to stay here. Unfortunately, at the time of our stay, it was just not clean. So unclean, in fact, that my travel partner, Ranah, made an executive decision that we would no longer stay in s***holes. We found rat poop on the floor and we got our second case of bed bugs in less than a month.
I can’t speak for the rest of the places to stay in town, however I would nevertheless recommend that you splurge a bit and stay at the top of the mountain.
While there are some restaurants and shops in Kinpun, the food wasn’t great or fresh and the shops weren’t wildly exciting. Honestly, there’s just not much to do.
At the top of the mountain there are a lot more facilities, the food looked better and fresher, and at least you can watch the sun set over the Golden Rock and the horizon’s mountainous expanse. Furthermore, the friends we made who stayed up at the Golden Rock did not have bed bugs in their hotel. For us, this, in combination with more time at the top, made the extra money seem worth it.
Since we regretted not staying at the top, I’d like to warn you so that you don’t have the same regrets.
How to Get There
To get to Kyaiktiyo, you must ask for transit to Kinpun. From Yangon, this should cost around 8,000 kyiat.
Most of the buses stop in Kinpun at around the same place, at a bend in the road by a bunch of shops and restaurants and leading up to some hotels. This is also where you can get a truck to the top of the mountain.
The truck will cost 2,000 kyiat either way.
The truck is a bit of a wild ride, very bumpy and full of unexpected stops. It will also be crowded and first-come-first. Expect the unexpected. You might find yourself a seat to someone’s child or chicken. Or, like two of our friends, you may find yourself fearing for your life in rainy weather.
There are seats at the front which are supposedly VIP and cushioned, but they really didn’t seem worth the effort. They looked just like all of the other seats.
On the way down, find the truck where you left it. They come periodically, around every 15-30 minutes or so from around 6 AM to 6 PM, and they don’t tell you which one to get onto etc., it just comes. When we went, it was raining and people were quite desperate to get down the mountain, so it was a mad dog-eat-dog rush to get onto the truck, and not everyone was polite. So, if you want a seat, be ready and waiting.
What to Eat
Kinpun has a small street lined with restaurants, betel vendors, and shops. However, the restaurants kept to a certain quality that I was not wildly impressed with. Not because it wasn’t good, everything we ate was pretty decently tasty (albeit not the best food we’ve had in Myanmar), but rather because it was not fresh. It was not made to order, but rather it was dished out of large steel pots.
This can be fine, especially if it’s reheated for you. To be clear, this concern is not because I have a particular affinity for hot food, but rather because I am aware of and concerned about food safety. If your food is not thoroughly cooked, you are much more likely to get food poisoning. I did not want food poisoning. Thankfully, however, we didn’t get food poisoning in Kinpun, so while you should tread with caution, you don’t need to tread with too much caution.
If you’re eating in Kinpun, there’s a restaurant near the bus station that advertises that it doesn’t sell deer meat. It has tiled walls, the food was relatively fresh (made in the last 2-3 hours), it was cheap, and the food was notably better than the other place we’d tried — all for under 2,000 kyiat.
However, there are far more options at the Golden Rock because of the big tourism boom up there. Hotels offer food, and if you turn right down a lane upon reaching the Golden Rock, there are dozens of vendors selling freshly made soups, fried goods, and noodles.
What We Did & What It Cost
We stayed in village at the bottom of Kyaiktiyo, Kinpun, for 1 night, went to the Golden Rock in the morning, came back from the Golden Rock, picked up our bags, and took the last bus to Hpa-An.
Ranah and I took a bus from Yangon to Kinpun, not stopping in the ancient city of Bago, Myanmar’s shortest-lived but most expansive empire. This cost us 8,000 kyiat/$7.41 CAD/$5.82 USD.
We stayed at the Pann Myo Thu Inn. The staff were lovely and extremely helpful, but we also found rat poop and picked up bed bugs. This cost us about 6,800/$6.30 CAD/$5 USD each, after a discount. Because of this, and because there was very little to do and not much delicious food to eat in the town of Kinpun, I would recommend that you splurge a little and stay on top of the mountain.
We then took the truck up to Hpa-An. For everyone we’ve spoken to, this is a bit of an adventure. There are usually far too many people on the truck, and there is usually a wild clamour to get a seat. As we went in rainy season, our adventure included foggy roads and occasional moments of terror. For others we spoke to this also included roosters and children on their laps. This cost 2,000 kyiat/$1.85 CAD/$1.46 USD each way.
Once at the top, we had to pay an entrance fee of 6,000 kyiat/$5.56 CAD/$4.39 USD. We then walked around and explored, unable to even see the rock because of the fog. However, the bad weather made the experience a bit more memorable and moving. Even so, we only spent about half an hour walking around in the fog, though other people spent as much as two hours walking around.
We didn’t eat or drink anything at the top, though there are a bunch of options to do so. Instead, we came back down and ate in town. Both of our meals in town were very cheap, costing less than 2,000 kyiat/$1.85 CAD/$1.46 USD for a meal. Since breakfast was included with our guesthouse, we ate out twice.
However, the quality of food in Kinpun terrified me for my future meals in Myanmar. Nothing was freshly made. Instead all of the food was sitting in the large metal pots. The second meal we ate, near the bus station, was better than the first, and the food had been cooked in the last 2-3 hours, which was better. They advertised not using deer meat, which I assume must be a problem locally and which is also a good way to find them.
So, for a place to stay, a trek up to the Golden Rock, transit there and away, and food, we spent 28,800 kyiats/$26.68 CAD/$21 USD.
So, Is It Worth It?
Really, of course, this depends on you and your priorities and time constraints. For us, though, we did find it to be worth it. The Golden Rock was very cool.
However, we would have done it differently. We either would have done it as a day trip on our way to Hpa-An, or we would have stayed at the top near the Golden Rock so we could watch the sunrise and sunset.
If you have any tips to add regarding your experience in Kyaiktiyo, please comment below!