This was my second visit to Kyaiktio, I loved the first trip there and noticed a myriad of windy mountain paths which I thought would be ideal for doing some short treks.
I hired a driver to pick me up at my hotel in Yangon at 7:00am and we got to Kinpun, the base camp, at around 10:30am. I took the truck up to the terminal (1500kyat, 10 minutes) and checked into the Mountaintop Inn. This hotel, while being quite expensive, is actually your best choice at the top and I would not hesitate to stay here again.
Filled my daypack with 3 small bottles of water and I set out with a photo of a good map ($1, from the hotel, photo of it on my ipad as I don't like to hassle with unfurling maps en route) towards Kyauk Htat Gyi ("chow ta jee"), 3,575 feet. The hike was up and down, sandy dirt steps, big rocks, through pagodas and villages and quite lovely the entire way. I stopped here and there to take photos of the spectacular scenery and also of the buddhas at each mountain pagoda. It took about 2.5 hours to reach Kyauk Ta Gyi, and I was glad I finally made it there at around 3:30pm as it would be too treacherous to go back in the dark. (if you get sidetracked as I did and go down the little side paths for other stupas/viewpoints, this will eat up some of your time!) I met up with a group of folks from Yangon, one of them was an English teacher & we were able to converse easily, and I was amazed they were hiking in just flip-flops! No compaining at all, real troopers!
We parted at the "restaurant row" area, where the locals can stay for a couple thousand kyat (compared to the $80 us 'naing-gen chata' have to pay!) and I went back ot the hotel to take a quick shower in time to catch the sunset.
The sunsets at Golden Rock are magical, and it is a shame that so many people just go up there for the day, snap a few photos, then head downto catch the bus back to Yangon! The plaza area was alive and bustling with pilgrims (this is high season for people to make their pilgrimage to the temple) and I heard that the place was so busy this year that people were just sleeping at the plaza in the open air. Weather was mild enough to do this, they were lucky!
My hotel seemed to offer some pricey food for western tourists, so I opted for the street food, mostly vegetarian, plus they were also selling bags of freshly steamed rice so my dinners were around 1500 a night. I brought the food back to my hotel and dined in my room, enjoying some whisly I brought with me form Yangon. Alcohol is available in the tourist hotels, but not anywhere in or around the Rock. It is a very holy place so it is not permitted at all.
On day 2, I got up early, had breakfast, and started my hike at 8:30am. I had intended to head to Kyee-pa-za and Mok-so Taung, but the locals at the shops at the bottom of restaurant row didn't know the route. I went down a route that headed down the mountain into the valley & ran into some young men who were snapping pictures of each other. They said they were going to the falls (Mo-baw Falls) which I also planned to visit, so I just went with them. It was a slippery hike down to the falls (albeit spectacular scenery!) and this took about 90 minutes or so to arrive at the falls.
Plenty of local people there (most seemed to be in their 20s!), jumping into the bathing pool at the base of the falls in their jeans and T-shirts. There were stands renting (?) trunks to swim in. One thing that was disappointing on this trail was the amount of garbage strewn about. I noticed this all over Myanmar, and I scaled quite a few mountains on this trip. Wherever there were people, there were literally mounds of litter everywhere. :-(
I bid farewell to the guys an dheaded back up the slippery, rocky trial to try to find my way to Ko-na-win monastery. Had some villagers point me in the right direction and finally found it, abotu 30 minutes later. A simple monastery, it is inhabited by one monk and the requisite shelf of buddha images. The guys was askign for donations. He wanted dollars, but since I had given several hundred kyat at each place already, I figured a few hundred more was suffient here as well. (I encountered at least 10 pagodas yesterday, and there were more to go today!) From the monastery I took a road that branched, the trail I wanted was to the right, but on the left was a lovely plain of golden stupas in a field, so I went up that way to check out the scenery.
The hard part was next. Trying to find my way down to the truck terminal. I followed some villagers for 30 minutes or so who said they were headign in that direction, and when they arrived at their village, they pointed me to another trail. I made it down to the terminal 30 minutes later. Next was the thousands of stone steps (literally, your knees will hate you for this!!!) to the top of Ya The Taung ("ya-TAY-tong"), a mountaintop pagoda. A friendly monk will welcome you and try ot talk your head of (in hislanguage) as you stand, mouth agape, gazing at the scenery. The temple itself was also pretty cool, but I had my route to finish so after 30 minutes or so, left for my next destination, Apyin Mya Sein.
This was a very pretty hike, and part of the road was paved and smooth, easy to walk up. Apyin Mya Sien is a very colorful pagoda, lots of unique and colorfully-painted buddah images and it looked like they were constructing some new ones when I was there. From there I passed a few stupas on my way up to a village (not on the map) that had its own new and pretty pagoda, and then I arrived at Sa-Ma Taung, my favorite of all the mountain temples. A lovely and quiet place, magnificent panoramic views. Made it a perfect spot for me to relax for a while and chug water. My final destination was the next mountain peak, Wei-zar Taung ("way-zah-dong"), at 3,681 ft.
My legs had had about enough of the steps, but this was the final set of steps to the top. Weik-zar had some interesting buddha images on a hillock, and stupas all over (some in varying stages of disrepair).
The hike down from Weik-zar to the truck terminal took only an hour, but then I had to hike that hellishly steep mountain road back to my hotel near Golden Rock, another 30 minutes! I figure I hiked about 8 hours that day, a pretty good workout for the legs.
TIPS for hiking Kyaiktio-
Wear trekking/hiking sandals. Boots wil be too hot and heavy, and if you are doing the trip like I did on day 1, you will have to remove your footwear at every pagoda you pass(there is no avoiding this, and there ar numerous pagodas on the way!)
Bring food and plenty of water. There is slim pickins on the way, and mostly snack food. You can purchase some real food at the stands the night before, which is what I did, plus I brought the extra fruit leftover from my breakfast.
If you do the day 1 hike, make very sure you go all the way to Kyauk Htat Gyi. There, you will see a man who performs an amazing feat. If a person purchases a bell to adorn the hti (stupa top), the person puts it in a bag near the rock . The man climbs up on a wire, and slides across to the stupa, stopping midway to pray. When He arrives at teh rock, he pulls up the bag and attaches the bell tothe hti. Then, he slides down another wire, headfirst! (Bring a video camera if you can, very cool to see this!)
Women are not allowed near or on that rock, beware.
Bring plenty of small bills (100 kyat, 200 kyat denominations) for donations.
Bring your own toilet paper. PLEASE take back the used tissue with you (bring a small plastic bag to put it in) so that you do not leave any litter. There is enough there already!
Safe trekking! :-)
Here is a link to my site with photos of the above treks, etc.
Here's the map