Life Insurance Included By: Maia Coen

[From Imprint Tours Myanmar tour, January 2015] Golden Rock with worshipers

Our first destination in Myanmar was the Golden Rock. We had heard much about it and were inspired by the pictures available online. The Golden Rock is exactly that, a rock placed so precariously and unusually that the people believe it could have only been placed there by a divine force. Believing it to be sacred, they built a temple upon its crown and painted it entirely in gold.

Our flight arrived early in the morning in Yangon, where we were still very far away from The Golden Rock. After a leisurely early lunch we took a taxi to the bus station, a short 20 minutes away. It was a hubbub of activity with busy people bustling all around.

Yangon lunch

It was more of a market that happened to allow buses to pick up and drop off. There was a long line of buses surrounded by various stands selling a variety of products. Fruit, toys, water, clothing, and pretty much anything else you could ever need. The air was filled with dust kicked up by all the commotion and the smell of gasoline from the running busses. We made our way to our designated station and asked for instructions. We were told to sit and wait and they would tell us when our bus arrived. The room, if you could call it a room, had no front wall and barely one in the back. We gingerly sat down upon a bench and began our waiting. I had my first, and certainly not last, experience with Myanmar’s squat toilets during the waiting period.

Myanmar bus

After a seemingly endless wait, probably only about an hour and a half, we were told that our bus was here and that we may climb aboard. I couldn’t help but think "finally!" We boarded the bus and I went to our designated seats while dad talked to the bus driver about the ride. He came back to the seat looking sheepish as if he knew he was about to tell me something I would not like. He proceeded to tell me that instead of the three hour bus ride he had promised it would be a five hour ride. I groaned and tried to settle into the seat with less legroom than an airplane and imagined I was anywhere else. Luckily the ride was only four hours which was a blessing in itself. Throughout the ride we had hoped to get some sleep because it was some ungodly hour of the morning at home and we were exhausted from jetlag. Just as I had closed my eyes I heard the loudest horn I have ever heard in my entire life. Not once but five times. The driver weaved in and out of other vehicles and laid on the horn like it was a dying person that needed to be revived. And it was loud, so loud, the whole ride. And as if the horn were not annoying enough, for the majority of the trip there was an irritable TV show playing on a mounted television. It was loud and obnoxious and in another language. Needless to say we did not get any sleep. When we arrived I clambered off the bus as fast as I could happy to be able to move my legs. We asked for directions to the golden rock and were told to "walk that way and this way" to get somewhere. Obviously, the instructions were not very specific. Their English isn’t great in Myanmar. So we grabbed our bags off the bus and headed up the hill toward our instructed destination.

Golden Rock special transport

We learned we were only in the staging town for the Golden Rock. Unfortunately it was not the best of places. There was trash covering the ground and the smell was rather unpleasant. On a plus side the street food was excellent. After asking another person for directions we came to a kind of loading station with a bunch of truck-like vehicles. The vehicles were big open-backed trucks with rows of long benches for sitting. We placed our bags in the back and climbed aboard. The seats were thin and hard, it felt like I would fall off with the slightest motion. Once we were packed like sardines into the vehicle the engine started running and we were off.

"Including Life Insurance" sign

As we were leaving I made the mistake of reading the sign posted above us. It listed the prices and then "Life Insurance Included." As if that wasn’t terrifying. With that sign in mind we began to climb up to The Golden Rock. It was high up at the very top of a steep winding road. There were steep inclines, high speeds, hairpin turns, and the not so occasional bump in the ride.

steep and windy road

We were holding on for dear life as we bounced around in the back of the truck. The only possible way to explain what it was like is to refer to the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland. It was exactly like that only there weren’t seatbelts.IMG_0731 Golden Rock from the villageAfter an hour long thrill ride we were finally on top. The Golden Rock was in sight. We descended the metal ladder and wove our way through the masses of locals to our hotel. We quickly got checked in, dropped off our bags, and headed straight to the rock. We were determined to get there before the final daylight was lost. We reached the entrance of the temple grounds and were told to remove our shoes. IMG_0746We did so and continued on trying unbelievably hard not to think about what we were stepping in. The whole area was a bit touristy with lots of colorful flashing lights. It looked like Disneyland and Las Vegas got tangled up together. We finally approached the Golden Rock and looked up at it for the first time. It was incredible! The light was perfect and the rock illuminated. It really was unbelievable that such an enormous rock was sitting right on the edge of a cliff so perfectly. It looked as if it would fall over with a single nudge. Votive oil lampsThere were hundreds upons hundreds of worshipers. Holy men in their robes, poor people preparing to camp or sharing a meal, there were people rubbing gold leaf on the rock itself, and they were preparing to light thousands of oil lamps in some sort of light ceremony. The whole scene was an awesome spectacle. IMG_0759And we were the only westerners present. The people were clearly not used to seeing westerners so we were the object of much curiosity. With my blond hair I was a popular photographic subject. We walked around the temple area for a while longer and looked at the rock from all possible angles before heading back into the main area for dinner. We picked the more authentic of the two available restaurants for dinner and settled in. We ate from small plastic chairs and round tables. We ordered two dishes and shared them. One was called hot and dry chicken and it was amazing. We weren’t sure if it was chicken or something else entirely but it was absolutely delicious and we never found it again after that night. We retired to our hotel room after a long day and did little more than wash our feet before we fell into bed.

lit oil lamps

rubbing gold leaf on The Rock

crammed trucks

In the morning we packed up all over again and set out to get back down the mountain. The loading area was even more crowded in the morning. When a truck arrived to bring people down there was a mad dash for a seat. People shoved and pushed and had no regard for waiting in line. After I realized I wasn’t going to get on the truck by being my usual polite self I proceeded to shove my way to the front and climbed into an available seat with dad right beside me. We began our journey down and started our eventual four hour bus ride until we were back where we started in Yangon ready to start the tour. We probably spent about an hour and a half actually viewing the Golden Rock compared to the almost 12 hours it took us to get there and back and it doesn’t even matter. Travel makes a trip and it sure was an interesting one. It was tiring, and uncomfortable, boring and downright irritating but I will never forget it. Even though I only spent an hour and half with the Golden Rock it was absolutely worth it. It was an incredible experience that I would do again in a heartbeat. Bend like a willow right?

2 happy Golden Rock visiters