Day two in Yangon was actually a weird bonus day, because when I arrived, I had asked my hostel to help me book an overnight bus to Bagan, and the next available bus was one night later than I had in my “plans.” However, the beauty of traveling by yourself and with no *real* plans is that you can pivot on a moment’s notice (or less!) and rework your itinerary as it suits your needs and current situation.
So in this case, I had an extra day in Yangon!
Now, I don’t particularly love cities, so I immediately started looking up potential day trips because… why not?!
After combing through a bunch of different options, I settled on a crazy day trip out to see the Golden Rock – 3 hours each way via bus, plus 30 min each way in a truck, plus a 30 minute each way hike… with the first bus out at 6:30am and the last one home at 4pm. Totally doable, right? Relaxing and stress free? ABSOLUTELY! Err… riiiight.
Either way, completely my kind of crazy day trip. So I had my hostel book me the outbound bus ticket because if my middle name isn’t Adventure, I don’t know what it is. (Psssst: It’s Susanne….)
So on to the actual day!!!
The Yangon bus station is NOT actually in the city center, so you have to leave from your mid-city accommodation about 2 hours before your scheduled departure due to distance and traffic….so I was up at 4:20am and in a taxi by 4:30am to the bus station. -_-
Once I arrived and my driver FINALLY found the WinExpress area (it was actually super difficult, I don’t blame him! There are tons of busses and it is NOT labeled!), I thanked and paid him, and walked over to the ticket hawker with my receipt from the hostel. He read it and looked at his clipboard and was SO CONFUSED. Apparently my hostel had written down a 6:30am bus, but there was no 6:30am… only a 6am and a 7am.
We finally figured out that I was booked on the 7am… but the traffic had been superlight, so it was only 5:20 when I arrived… so he asked if I wanted to jump into the 6am bus.
YES, WHY YES I DO!
We assigned my seat and with that settled, I was starving and set off to find something to eat. I was originally planning to just get a bagged pastry buuuuuuuuuuut as I walked down towards the shop, a street vendor was PACKED and when I peeked over, I knew I was going to have to be awkward and try to eat there.
Fried rice, fried egg, and a ton of different veggie sides.
For 600 kyat.
So I made the “I am an awkward American and don’t speak Burmese but will you please help and feed me because I’m pathetic and hungry” face… and she understood and waved me into a seat right next to her. Then she whipped up the rice and egg, and picked out sides for me. And THEN as I was eating, she made a brand new side of some kind of awesome chickpea-esque bean salad and fed it to me as a special dish. THANK YOU KIND MISS.
After I finished eating, I walked back over to the bus area and we boarded. It was a nice air-con limo bus, and I’m SO glad I had prepared and brought a hoodie, long pants, and headphones…. Because it was FREEZING and they did play some random videos.
I ended up passing out for the entire ride – I woke up a few times but fell right back asleep. Thank goodness I have tons of practice sleeping in moving vehicles from all of my other trips!
The last stop was Kinpin, which is the town you get off in to visit the Golden Rock. When I debarked, the driver helped me get a return ticket for 4pm that afternoon, because apparently a lot of the earlier busses were sold out and he didn’t want me to be unable to get back to Yangon. Such love for nice humans, seriously!
Annndddd then he pointed me in the direction of the trucks and I set off!
Weirdly, it took me like 20 minutes to find the truck station because I didn’t know what in the hells I was looking for… but it was really only like 2 blocks away. En-route though I ran into about 20 people who wanted a photo with me, and while I was debating which way to turn at a corner, a dog legitimately walked up to me and bit my leg.
Yeah. I have no freaking idea.
BUT! You’ll know this truck station when you see it. There are tons of tourist signs in English (there’s no other English anywhere else that I saw in Kinpun) and it’s super busy.
The trick here also is that you do NOT buy a ticket. You just walk up to a truck, hold up fingers indicating how many humans in your group, and they wave you onto a truck. It doesn’t matter if it looks full, you’re getting in. Seriously. This is the view I had from my seat…
I was prepared for the truck ride to be terrifying and crazy based on everything I read online… but to be honest it was just cool! The truck was packed, yeah, but the “hairpin turns” were taken at a completely reasonable speed, and we weren’t too close to the trucks in front of us.
All in all, I actually really enjoyed the ride up the mountain…
So as I mentioned, the trucks only take you PART of the way up, and once you get to a certain point, you have to continue either on foot or in a litter. Due to this, there are TONS of porters with these really interesting backpacks to carry large loads of people’s things. I wasn’t sure at first WHY you would have so much at a shrine, but I was soon to find out!
As I was walking up, I noticed a “Foreigner’s Fee!! 6,000 kyat!!!” sign outside of a building. I knew there was an entrance fee, but I didn’t know it was just for foreigners.
I went in, signed the guestbook, and paid… and then they gave me a tag to wear to identify me as a foreigner. Umm… because I look Burmese? Ok. Cool. Thanks, guys!
After I paid the fee, the path up narrowed a bit and I really started to get a feel for just HOW MANY people were making pilgrimage to this site on the same day as me. It was more than a little humbling, to say the least…
As you follow the footpath up to the Golden Rock, there are TONS of places to take photos, as the path winds serenely around the mountain, providing excellent viewing points. However, my favorite photo of me with the Golden Rock is this one…
Once you ascend to the top of the mountain, there are two security guards and a metal detector, which you can see off to the right corner of this photo. There’s also a stand selling gold leaf, which you can adhere to the rock for blessings/luck, and a sign that says, “No bags, no cameras, no phones.”
Ok, I can understand that, it’s a sacred site and all…but what are single pilgrims/visitors supposed to do with their things?! I stood around for a good 15 minutes while I contemplated this conundrum, until finally another two clearly-travelers popped up in my line of sight. I asked what they did, and they said they had just met because they’d watched each other’s bags, and offered to watch mine as well.
I handed them my pack and happily walked over.
The guard FREAKED OUT.
Apparently, in addition to a ban on bags, phones, and cameras, there’s also a ban on WOMEN.
So…. The guys who had my stuff suggested getting as CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to the rock and they would take a photo for me.
You can see how much that pleased the security guard.
SORRY DUDE MAYBE YOU ALL SHOULDN’T BE SEXIST!
I actually also took a NICE shot of Golden Rock too…
Annnnnnnnnd then you have this last, typical shot of me. I like this one because it gives me a good segue to ramble at you all about the lore of the Golden Rock. As you can see in the photo, the Rock is poised on the precipice of Kyaiktiyo Mountain, in Thaton District of Myanmar. The story is simple, and may remind you of the Shwedagon Pagoda story from Day 1 in Yangon… Essentially, a hermit was gifted with a hair of Buddah, which through some trials and tribulations found its way to a King with supernatural powers, who enshrined the hair at Kyaiktiyo Pagoda and actually serves to perpetually levitate the golden rock on the edge of the mountain.
So here you go. Classic photo of me in a TYPICAL me outfit because COLORS. The girl watching the front of the shrine-area also did NOT like my pants, so she made me rent a skirt and I SWEAR she talked to someone from my derby team because my pants were BLACK and this is the skirt she gave me. Bloody brilliant.
At this point I’m wandering around with the other two travelers, one is a student from Switzerland and one is a doctor from Malaysia. We’d been chatting and we walked down together after spending time just chilling out and appreciating the atmosphere. By the way… everyone with all the stuff? They had CAMPING SUPPLIES! EVERYWHERE you looked on the paths in the afternoon was covered in these little makeshift tents with families inside hanging out, napping, or eating. It was pretty darn cool!
Anyhow, as we were walking down to the truck area, the Malaysian doctor offered both of us kids a ride back to Yangon in the taxi he rented for the day. Now, I know what you’re thinking…. But I know you ALSO know what I did.
The Swiss kid said he’d go if I went, so we figured we were safer together…. So we accepted! It saved us a ton of money even though I’d already bought my return ticket, AND it ended up that his driver took us to a bunch other cool shrines on the way. Plus, we got back HOURS earlier than we would have, directly dropped at our hostels!
Oh, and on the way, we stopped for a BOSS lunch, which the Malaysian ALSO refused to let us pay for… Seriously, the kindness of strangers! When I tried to argue with him to let me pay for something, he told me not to worry about it, and that, “In Asia, things are different,” and that I would pay it forward someday. I ended up relenting and just thanking him profusely before and after passing out in the taxi on the way back…
Once we arrived at my hostel, I thanked him AGAIN and raced out because I had JUST enough time for my evening activity… which you’ll just have to wait to hear about in my next post!