Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, only opened its borders to tourism a few years ago. I desperately wanted to visit this remote land before hordes of middle aged white dudes in safari hats and cargo shorts stormed the country, so in January of 2015, I arrived in the capital, Yangon. I was either going to spend two days in Yangon OR I was going to spend one day in Yangon and have a day trip to the Golden Rock Pagoda, also called Kyaiktiyo Pagoda before heading to Bagan.
Now, this rock is fucking famous. It’s a big ass motherfucking gold boulder that appears to defy gravity off the edge of a cliff (and legend has it, is also perched on a strand of Buddha’s hair). It’s a sacred site, and one that travel guides say you “can’t miss.”
So why was I pish-posh about visiting it?
Because it’s a fucking rock.
My research told me it was an important cultural site, but my gut was like, “if I’m having a good time in Yangon and I meet great people, why break that flow to schlep over to something I’m not super passionate about?” So, I decided that if an opportunity to go to the Golden Rock presented itself/fell my lap I would go.
That opportunity did present itself when my taxi driver offered to take me the next morning for USD100. He would drive me the 3 ½ hours, wait for me for 6 hours, and then drive me 3 ½ hours back. Most drivers charge $120-150, so I considered this a good deal. Okay, fuck it, I’m going to the Golden Rock.
The next day he picked me up before sunrise. The drive itself through rural Myanmar was stunning. Honestly, I would have paid $100 just to admire the silhouettes of monks walking, backlit by the sun just starting to peek through.
Nearly four hours later, my driver left me off at the bottom of the mountain, and I had to take a RICKETY ASS RIDE on a JANKY ASS TRUCK for a damn HOUR to reach a fucking ROCK.
As I was sitting on the luxurious wooden planks of the truck, an Indonesian woman named Riska chatted me up.
Now, if you’ve never met an Indonesian, let me tell you this: they are so. fucking. nice. They are smiley and chatty and generous and 50 shades of lovely. So I knew at this moment that even though I just threw down $100 to visit a fucking rock, I was going to have a great time with Riska.
And then guess what the fuck happened? Riska turned around and there were THREE MORE INDONESIANS sitting behind us! Christmas on Christmas on Christmas!
That hour long ride felt like five minutes. Riska, Gerald, Pedro, and Hanna had me stitches the whole trek up. When we got to the top, we took pictures by the Golden Rock (yup, guys, still just a fucking rock) and Riska, Hanna and I bemoaned the fact that because we are women and our vaginas are so dangerous, we weren’t allowed to approach the rock like the big, strong, superior men were.
I spent the afternoon with my new Indonesian friends, exploring, taking pictures, meeting locals, and smiling constantly.
A few days later, after I had moved on to Bagan, I learned that Gerald, Pedro and Hanna were also in town. We were staying at different accommodations, but we linked up, rented bikes and spent the day exploring the pagodas together. My favorite moment was when Hanna turned to me and said, “local food?" So often I meet travelers who have an aversion to local food. They want the comfortable restaurant with English menus in an air conditioned setting. My Indonesian friends wanted to go off the beaten path, sit with locals on teeny tiny chairs (whyyyyy are all the chairs so teeny in Myanmar?), and have a fucking experience. That was the best meal of my trip.
So am I glad I went to The Golden Rock? Fuck yes I am.
Final note* I gave the Golden Rock some shit in this post, partially for comedic effect. Although I am not religious (and therefore a rock is a rock is a rock to me) I still respect the value of this site to Burmese Buddhists. If you are short on time, I would recommend skipping it. But if you have the cash, a free day in your itinerary, and you appreciate people watching, it can be a lovely place to see.