Wowa-weewa! My sense of time is all sorts of messed up right now. Last night / this morning we were all woken up at 2 AM (after having slept at 11 PM) to get ready to go see more pagodas. On today’s agenda: the legendary Kyaiktiyo + more.
Kyaiktiyo is something of a Burmese legend. I’m not entirely sure what Kyaiktiyo (ကျိုက်ထီးရိုး) translates to in English, but it’s a very important religious site for Burmese Buddhists. It’s a little pagoda on top of a big golden rock. The golden rock hangs over the cliff, literally, and according to Buddhist legend, it hasn’t fallen off for forever because it’s held there by hair from Buddha himself. Kyaiktiyo is pretty awesome looking in real life – I grew up seeing pictures of it in Burmese calendars, and it was pretty sweet to finally get to see it up close.
What the Burmese calendars don’t show is how to actually get to Kyaiktiyo. It’s in the Mon state, almost five hours away from Yangon, hence our 2 AM wake up call. The road to Kyaiktiyo isn’t smooth either; none of us got any sleep on the way there because of all the bumps in the road.
Side note about our ride there: we walked outside our hotel this morning to what looked like a party bus. Big bus/van, with flashing disco lights. At 2 in the morning. In America, this would’ve looked like we were going to a club. The inside of the van turned out to be pretty much a regular van (that seats 12 people). Except the van had a DVD/VCD player on the ceiling… so needless to say, the parents were all singing Burmese karaoke on the ride to Kyaiktiyo (I still don’t know where those karaoke CDs came from). Imagine waking up at 2 AM, hoping to catch up on sleep during what you know will be a 5 hour ride, and instead, hearing 5 adults singing Burmese karaoke for hours. No chance of sleep whatsoever.
Anyway, Kyaiktiyo sits on top of a bunch of little mountains (33 to be exact), so once you get to the base of the mountains, you can either walk 7 miles up (many Buddhists do this as a pilgrimage), or ride up in a truck. Now this truck ride up is nowhere near a regular truck ride up… imagine the bumpy Jurassic Park ride in Universal Studios or the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland, and up the thrill level by 50. It’s a giant pickup truck, but with literally 50 people in the back, so everyone’s cramped like pigs. But the crazy part of this is how people get on the truck – once the truck enters the waiting area, people literally run to the bus (while it’s still moving) and jump on. Men, women, children, toddlers, and elderly people – everyone runs for the bus and climbs on for a seat. On the way up, being the spoiled little American princes and princesses we are, we were so scared of fighting people for a cramped little seat in the back… we bribed a couple of drivers so that we could sit in the front area with the drivers.
The truck takes 40 minutes to get up the mountain, then everyone is dropped off at the bottom of the last mountain. From there, you have to walk up the rest of the way – about 15 minutes. Like all other Buddhist pagodas, you can’t wear shoes once you reach the entrance, so imagine thousands of barefoot people walking around on the hot cement and marble. Not pretty. In an attempt to remedy this, there are occasional water stations where people can wash their feet, but this actually makes it worse!!! All you see on the marble is dirty, muddy foot tracks. Gross. (or in Burmese, ညစ်ပတ်)
I will say though, that once you get to Kyaiktiyo, all of the pushing and all of the proximity to other people is worth it – it’s INSANE to see this huge golden rock dangling off the edge of the cliff looking like it’s going to fall on the people below.
We spent about an hour at the top taking pictures and whatnot. If you’re a guy, you can actually go up to the rock and try pushing it off! Unfortunately, women aren’t allowed in sacred areas like this, so I had to settle for just taking pictures of dudes pushing it.
On the way down, going down to the base of the last mountain was much less crowded. I think there were a bunch of people earlier because they wanted to avoid the mid-morning to afternoon heat. Good idea.
Once we reached the base of the mountain, we faced another ordeal – we sat in the truck!!! It wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, but it was definitely the bumpiest car ride of my entire life.
We drove for a bit back toward Yangon, where we had lunch and stopped in Bago for the afternoon. There were two big attractions in Bago: the Shwemawdaw Pagoda and the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha.
After spending hours yesterday at Shwedagon, the king of all pagodas, Shwemawdaw looked small and empty, but it was still pretty. Unfortunately, a pretty big part of the pagoda was damaged in earthquakes.
Shwethalyaung was cool in its own way – if I’m not mistaken, it’s the largest reclining Buddha statue in the world.
By mid-afternoon, we were all exhausted and dirty, so we drove back to Yangon, and enjoyed an awesome Burmese dinner and a much needed foot massage. Zzzzz.
All in all, a crazy tiring day, but crazy amazing things. Highlight was definitely Kyaiktiyo (minus the thousands of people, the sweatiness, and the dirty floor). Plus, I’ve seen Kyaiktiyo for years in pictures, and it was cool to be able to stand a few feet away from it in real life.
On the agenda for tomorrow: hanging out in Yangon – it’ll be a more relaxing day!