26.01 1, Kha Khat Wein Monastery, Bago and Kyaiktho Kinpun (Golden Rock) at sunset
The four of us staying for the extension week set off from Yangon in a minibus which would be with us for the whole five days. We would be going a little further south than we had so far into Kayin and Mon States where there are somewhat less foreign tourists. After eventually leaving the hectic traffic of Yangon the route first took us north through Bago State. We drove through agricultural land consisting mostly of paddy fields with low hills visible in the distance. Occasionally some water-buffalo were to be seen beside the road.
The first stop was at the Kha Khat Wein Monastery, a sort of university for monks. Here they hold the same meal time ritual queuing to receive their rice in a long line as we had seen at the schools. Visitors especially from Thailand come to give them offerings.
The next port of call was the town of Bago where we avoided the crowded main Pagoda and visited the old Dama Lin Khar Ra Pagoda guarded by two white elephants instead of the usual lion/dog mythical beasts. One lone monk was chanting amid the heavily gilded surroundings which included the ceiling. At least he had a loudspeaker system to help him to be heard.
Our destination was the famous Kyaiktho Kinpun or Golden Rock Pagoda on top of a hill further South of Bago. We had expected to have to walk up the last part of the way but the road has been extended right to the top of the ridge on which the Golden Rock is perched. However it is no normal road and is only used by special trucks which transport the visitors, pilgrims and tourists alike, crammed together in rows of seats on the back. Not comfortable but our guide said it used to be much worse. The ride is hair-raising to say the least, but the trucks look very substantial and must be very powerful. The ride lasts about 25 minutes for the 11km and 1000m of ascent. At the top beyond the road end there is a huge paved area which makes the construction at the top of Pilatus pale into insignificance. We were staying for two nights at the Mountain Top Hotel at the top of the hill (1150m). This was apparently quite unusual, most people only staying one night.
We were just in time for a sunset visit to the Golden Rock itself. There were lots of pilgrims coming to pay their respects at it, but only men are allowed to approach it closely to add yet more gold leaf to the already thick layer of gold. We stayed until it was completely dark, the rock being rather garishly floodlit like many of the buildings around.