The first time I saw a photo of Golden Rock at Mount Kyaiktiyo, I knew that I had to visit Myanmar (also called Burma). Since we don’t have a lot of time in Myanmar, we had to fit it in to a day trip from Yangon. It was not for the faint of heart!
We opted to take the train from Yangon to Kyaikto, a similar sounding town. The Myanmar train is an adventure in and of itself, but we were pleasantly surprised that we were exactly on time. Arriving around noon, we took a shared pickup truck to Kinpun, the small town of restaurants and hotels that serves as Mount Kyaiktiyo’s “base camp.”
After a quick lunch, we went to the truck station. Large open-bed Mack trucks were converted into seating for 40 plus people. Since there are only two of us, we were squeezed into the back corner of a ready to go truck full of Myanma tourists and Buddhist pilgrims. The ride up was absolutely terrifying as we were squeezed into too small of a space with little handholds. At one point, I really was convinced we were going to fly off. But we made it intact to the top!
Since we arrived at the heat of the day, most of the stone was hot. Shoes have to be removed far in advance of nearing the Golden Rock, but thankfully there is a pathway of marble to the top that was quite cool on our bare feet.
I had read online that women weren’t allowed to get close to Golden Rock and, but this turned out to be a bit of a misrepresentation. Women aren’t allowed to walk right up to the rock and paste gold leaf onto the rock, but we can get close enough for viewing. Many women pilgrims sat below the rock, prayed and lit incense.
The site was surprisingly empty while we were there. Sure, there were plenty of tourists, but not like I was expecting. Trucks full of foreigners began arriving around 4pm, most likely in time for sunset, but we had plenty of space in the mid-afternoon.
Due to fact we were on a day trip, we had to get down the mountain before sunset or risk having to walk back to Kinpun. We caught a bus and arrived in Kinpun around 4:30. Since the next train out was at midnight (!!) we opted to try for a bus instead. A lot of bus companies have a stand at Kinpun, so we picked one with a bus leaving soon, took the half hour shared pickup back to Kyaikto and hopped a bus to Yangon.
After a short stop for dinner around 6:30pm, we watched an interesting Myanma movie about love, revenge and death that ended just as we arrived back in Yangon at 9:00pm. It was a bit of a long day, but a really interesting one and totally doable (as long as you are okay with skipping sunrise or sunset!).
Today we are leaving Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand and unofficial capital of the north. I was admittedly a bit apprehensive about visiting Chiang Mai after the mixed reviews, but I fell completely in love. This is a place I will be definitely have to visit again someday.
If you are considering visiting or looking for new ideas, here are five fun things to check out.
1. Meditation Retreat at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Ryan and I spent four days meditating at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a beautiful temple on the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. One aspect of the retreat was the “noble silence,” meaning we couldn’t talk, read, write, play games, watch tv or movies for the entire time we were on retreat. It was tough, but a great experience. If you are considering such a retreat, I highly recommend looking into this one.
2. Rock Climbing with Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures
If you enjoy rock climbing (or want to take an intro course), check out CMRCA. Crazy Horse Buttress has a great many pitches bolted to international standards. It was my first, serious foray into rock climbing and I had an amazing experience. Great instructor and associate, great climbs and super safe.
3. Cooking Class with Thai Farm Cooking School
I’m not the chef in the family, but I really felt like one during this full-day course. Thai Farm made everything so easy and fun (shout out to Benny who was great!). Now I know that making a red curry paste isn’t impossible or that I can even roll my own spring rolls.
4. Elephant Nature Park
One of the biggest things I wanted to do in Thailand was play with elephants. Originally I thought I’d like to ride one, but after reading about how horrible the domestication process is for the elephants (breaking them), I decided I wasn’t interested and instead would spend the day at the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center for the elephants.
The park had all sorts of “damaged” elephants. One had stepped on a land mine, one had a broken hip, several were blind, others had injuries that weren’t healing properly… but all were treated with dignity and respect. Each elephant had their own mahout, or caretaker, not only to provide the care and support the elephants need, but also because other people will actually try and steal the healthier ones to use them for logging or trekking (what many of these elephants were saved from). We even saw a new rescue arriving during our visit, although I don’t yet know her story.
This day was really powerful and although the elephants weren’t “in the wild,” they were definitely free.
5. Sunday Walking Street
The Sunday Walking Street had an almost festival atmosphere as they wandered the streets of the old city. Vendors lined the streets with almost anything you might need… eye masks, jewelry, wooden utensils, purses, clothes, toys, paintings, lanterns, paper goods and so much food.
We almost skipped the Sunday Walking Street altogether until a Thai friend said it was the best of the three big ones. So we went and I am so glad we did!