One of the most revered Buddhists sites in Myanmar is the Golden Rock in the Mon State. It is the precariously hanging boulder on top of Mt. Khaiktio, splendid in golden color with the accumulation of gold leaves pasted by devotees to the rock. The place was not easily accessible in the old days and pilgrims would climb the mountain for days just to reach the rock. Nowadays, you can reach the summit in a matter of hours.
We visited the place on our way to Kayin State. The road is cemented but some parts are so narrow and dangerous for vehicles approaching from opposite directions. There are three stages in going to the rock. The first stage is coming from the town of Khaiktio or from the national highway (AH1) to the base of the mountain where the truck terminal is located.
At the terminal, there is a line for trucks that will ferry passengers to the top. Interestingly, the trucks are all Japanese brands – Fuso, Hino and Mitsubishi. In a place with so many Chinese-branded motorcycles and vehicles, Chinese trucks are nowhere to be found. They say the steep inclination of the roads required trucks with power, and it seems the Chinese models are not up to the challenge! The truck ride is the second stage, a roller coaster ride to the last stage.
Somewhere near the top, all trucks have to stop and wait in a makeshift parking area along the road. The road from here on narrower and steeper that only one way is allowed. Those who are coming up should wait until a batch of trucks going down has passed before they can go up. We waited for at least half an hour before we were allowed to go up. It is a little bit scary as if the bus will fall as it drives so close to the edge of the road. Sometimes you hold your breath when the truck is accelerating in a steep part.
The end of the road is the parking area for the trucks at the summit. Everybody has to go down and walk the rest of the way to the rock. As you get down, cargo boys with big bamboo baskets approach and offer to carry your backpack and your stuff. They jostled for space with the ubiquitous souvenir sellers. We have to walk for another 30 minutes to reach the rock. I was surprised because the area along the road is commercially developed. It has stores, souvenir shops and even hotels!
We passed in a section where some people are waiting in a table. After a few steps someone shouted “Foreigner, foreigner!” I didn’t think the guy was running after me. It turned out they were government employees responsible for collecting fees from foreigners. Locals were exempted from paying the fees and since we looked like Myanmar, we passed them without being noticed except for one. He assumed that we were foreigners because my wife was wearing a cap with Vietnamese red star! They were able to differentiate the Vietnamese red star from the white star of the Myanmar flag. We paid the required entrance fee.
Finally we arrived at the rock. It was an impressive site. The Golden Rock tilting on one side and it seems an invisible hand is holding it back from falling. The whole rock was golden with all the gold leaf pasted by the pilgrims. People are milling around. Some are praying, some are sleeping in their plastic mats. I wondered why people were sleeping and out guide told us that pilgrims are staying for days to take advantage of the rare opportunity to visit the place.