Thirty agonising minutes later we pulled up and I ran to the loo.
Emerging to the amused array of waiting staff I followed them to the dining room, where we ordered a lacklustre lunch which I barely touched.
The driver suggested we get ready as the truck to the Golden Rock would be leaving in fifteen minutes.
The Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda is atop a mountain surrounded by a large forest park. It’s possible to take the 4-6 hour pilgrimage on foot, but in our poisoned condition we decided to take a truck instead.
I wanted to put the bags in the room, but the driver said he’d take care of it.
We rushed to the truck with ten minutes to spare.
The flatbed truck had hard planks crossing the space in the rear. A few families sat right in the middle, with no one at the front or back. We watched as a monk boarded and the families parted to let him sit at the front, which seems to be a special privilege.
We climbed in and went to the back. The rest of the seats were filled and waited the remaining five minutes.
Two hot and humid hours of uncomfortable waiting later, we set off…
The back seat of the truck turned out not to be the best choice. The truck drove at breakneck speed, not slowing for corners or potholes. By the time we arrived I was exhausted simply from trying not to be thrown out.
We two foreigners were ushered out and the rest of the passengers drove off into the distance. Looking around we were in a rundown looking tent camp/truck garage. A group of boys in blue motioned towards a series of switchbacks leading up the hill, so we started walking.
Getting up the hill
The hill was surprisingly steep and hard going in the 40°C humidity of Myanmar’s rainy season. The tarmacked road looked to be lined with inviting tea houses, but they’d all closed for the off season.
We had no idea how long the hill was, but after a couple of hundred meters we were joined by more boys in blue. Four were carrying a simple wooden sedan chair and one walked alongside me.
H sauntered on effortlessly, whilst I sounded like a steam train puffing up the hill. The earlier stomach issues and lack of lunch were sapping my energy and I really wasn’t enjoying the hike.
“It’s very steep” pointed out one of the boys in blue. “It gets steeper”.
“You look tired already; you’re not going to make it”
Me: “Well, thanks for the encouragement. How far is it?”
Him: “A long way. We could carry you. Only $50. You look tired.”
Me: “I’ve done worse.”
Him: “Alright, $40”. Shake of my head “It’s off-season, we’ll take $25”
Me: “I’m not being carried up there.” It felt a bit too colonial for my taste.
Him: “You will. You look ill”. He didn’t look too concerned for my health.
I had been considering a tactical vomit, but they wouldn’t give us any privacy and I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. We plodded on, me sweating profusely, him patiently walking in circles round me, like a shark circling his prey.
Him: “$10”. The younger boys carrying the palanquin looked underwhelmed at the prospect.
I stopped, completely devoid of energy, and prepared a rehydration drink. They stopped with me and continued their taunts. Drinking only made the stomach cramps worse, so I slumped down on the nearest thing, which happened to be the palanquin. “$6” he offered, and I shrugged.
Having come this far I couldn’t face walking down any more than up. Hating him and myself, they lifted me up with a grunt and the four carriers set off at a better pace, leaving my tormentor behind.
Some way short of the top my stomach had settled so I called my litter bearers to a halt. I gave them the $6 that would no doubt get taken by the leader, and handed out $5 per carrier to keep for themselves, which cheered them up a lot.
At the Golden Rock
A lot more hiking later we reached the peak. Despite the mist this time of year the clouds broke long enough to get a few photos.
Having had enough of the increasingly cold rain we hiked back down again, only to be told the park had closed and the last bus had left, but one of the road repair crews was kind enough to give us a lift back to town.
Arriving back at the hotel our tour driver spotted us and asked what we were doing. Apparently we were supposed to stay at the top and had The Golden Rock Hotel booked up there, so we could see the sun rise shining on the Golden Rock.
Unhelpfully he he’d not mentioned any of this before we left, so we hadn’t taken any luggage up, and were now stranded without a hotel. Even if we could have got back into the park there was no way we could have faced hiking up the mountain again in the worsening rain.
The Golden Rock ‘hotel’ where we’d eaten lunch was just a restaurant. We trudged through the mud to find a cheaper hotel, pettily hoping it was still overcast in the morning so there couldn’t have been any photos anyway. The only place open was the Golden Sunrise Hotel, which was just rubbing it in.
Never have two people been so happy to wake up to a dark, overcast, rainy day that would have made photos impossible, doubled with the knowledge that we didn’t have the hike down to contend with.