When planning a trip to Myanmar, the Golden Rock Pagoda is often a question mark for many travelers. The Golden Rock Pagoda (or Kyaiktiyo Pagoda) is a rock that’s painted gold with a small pagoda on top, perched on a cliff. What makes the Golden Rock so special is that the rock looks like it’s balancing on the edge of the cliff, withstanding gravity and regular earthquakes in the area. Legend has it that one of Buddha’s hairs lays underneath it, which is partially why it will never fall. This has led to the rock becoming one of the most important holy sites for Buddhists in Myanmar, with thousands of locals visiting the site every weekend. One Saturday morning we decided to hike up and become part of the crowd.
The closest town to the Golden Rock is Kinpun, which is about 15 kilometers north of Kyaikto, a city on the highway roughly halfway between Hpa-An and Yangon. We took a bus from Hpa-An and arrived in Kyaikto about three and a half hours later, or coming from Yangon it takes around five hours. We had a few options to get to Kinpun from Kyaikto, either by taxi (which is expensive), on the back of motorbike, or with a converted pickup truck with benches in the back. .While motorbikes are the cheapest option, if you have large bags you may opt for the trucks, which can store your luggage on top. We only had to wait around 15 minutes or so, until the truck was packed full of locals and off we went. During the 20 minute journey the driver stopped many times to pack even more people on, some hanging onto the back and others on the roof, but eventually we got to Kinpun.
There are two ways to get to the Golden Rock Pagoda from Kinpun, either on converted trucks that fit around 30 to 40 people on benches and take you up a very windy road, or hiking up 13 kilometers. The hike was our choice and takes around four hours, so you’ll want to start early in the morning, possibly before sunrise.
Dat Paung Su Pagoda
When we arrived in town we spotted a golden rock up the mountain just above Kinpun. It looked too small and close, so we were pretty sure it couldn’t be THE Golden Rock, but didn’t know what it was. We were told that we could hike for around two kilometers to the golden rock replica, which was another small pagoda by the name Dat Paung Su Pagoda, and enjoy the sunset from there. Equipped with the offline GPS app Maps.me on our phone, we made our way up the mountain along the main path. At a junction with a narrow and overgrown path we decided to trust our GPS and go left. After 500 meters or so the path was blocked by fallen tree branches, but there was a small trail around it, leading us to Dat Paung Su Pagoda.
The pagoda and the Golden Rock replica were pretty small and looked a little forgotten by the world, but the views from the top were unobstructed and really nice. We sat down for a bit and watched the sun starting to set before heading back down to Kinpun. As the path is pretty steep and uneven in parts, it’s a good idea to head down while there’s still some daylight left.
If you’re staying a night in Kinpun, this short hike up to Dat Paung Su Pagoda is definitely worth the effort, especially for sunset. Remember to bring your headlamp in case you are a bit late descending.
The hike to Golden Rock Pagoda
We started our hike to the actual Golden Rock Pagoda in the dark at 5am to avoid the heat of the day. Equipped with headlamps and some snacks, we started walking on the same path we had the evening before. We were surprised by how many people were already up and about in Kinpun and the number of shops and restaurants that were open that early. The trail was easy to follow and generally pretty wide, so walking in the dark for a while was no problem. During all four hours of the hike we passed countless food stalls, restaurants, and houses all along the path. There were a few small temples along the way where we were “asked” for a small donation before we could move on.
After the sun came up and we climbed higher up the mountains, our calves started to burn a little, but we were rewarded with beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. The path led us along a ridge of the mountain for a while and flattened out before turning into a final set of steep stairs to reach the top of the mountain and the Golden Rock Pagoda.
On the trail we only saw a dozen other hikers, all locals, but once we reached the top we saw a very different scene. First we passed dozens of trucks that drive people up and down the mountain, but didn’t think all of them could have been in use. Once we walked a little further, we saw how incredibly busy The Golden Rock gets on the weekends. with hundreds of locals and a handful of westerners.
Before actually getting to the Golden Rock Pagoda we passed more restaurants, souvenir shops, people selling all kinds of food, and a few hotels. Being foreigners, we had to pay an entry fee of 8,000 kyat (around $6 USD) before we were allowed to move on to a security checkpoint roughly 100 meters in front of the Golden Rock. Here we had to take our shoes off and the guards made sure we were well covered up, meaning long pants or skirts for women and no shoulders showing.
Once we had passed the security checkpoint, another small replica of the Golden Rock and more street vendors, we finally arrived at the main square and got to see the famous Golden Rock Pagoda. The rock was quite big and it did indeed look like it might slide down the mountain any time. You can go down a set of stairs on one side of the rock, walk underneath it, and then come up on the other side. Men are even allowed to go and touch the Golden Rock, once they have passed an additional security check. There were quite a few men next to the rock, most of them sticking golden paper squares on it.
As the Golden Rock Pagoda did not actually have any spiritual or religious meaning to us, and we were getting a bit overwhelmed by the crowds, we lingered for a little while before heading to a nearby restaurant for lunch.
Instead of hiking back down, we chose to hop on one of the converted trucks that were bringing people up and down the mountain in a constant stream. We climbed on the truck and sat down in a row with five people across, which left no room for anyone else in our row. There were quite a few rows, and the truck was filling up fast with far more people than could have safely fit. Somehow they managed to squeeze two more people into most rows, including ours, and we set off down the hill. The truck ended up driving down the steep and very curvy hill in an insane speed, always stopping at the last second before going into a bend. After 20 very scary and uncomfortable minutes, we arrived safely back in Kinpun, just in time for some lunch and our bus to Yangon.
Visiting the Golden Rock Pagoda was a nice detour on our way to Yangon from Hpa-An, although we enjoyed the hike up more than seeing the actual pagoda. The views from the trail were nice and being almost the only people on it gave it a special feeling. Going to visit on a weekday if possible may thin out the crowds and make the visit to the top even more enjoyable.