Dominic Horner forgoes the main attraction of Kyaiktiyo to visit the area’s popular waterfall. Photos by the writer.
It’s fair to say that when most people go to Kyaiktiyo their primary motivation is to visit Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. But did you know that you can have a totally brilliant weekend in Kyaiktiyo without even visiting the golden rock?
Saung Hlaing Gyi waterfall located just a few miles out of town is one of the best outdoor swimming experiences in Myanmar. En route you’ll cross a bridge with a bunch of tea shops lining the river—a scene worth a photo stop, as some of the tables are actually in the river. The water is a bit skanky though, so save the swimming for the waterfall.
Wild river, actually, would be better suited to describe the waterfall. The rapids and currents are strong here, meaning most of the swimming involves floating around in rock pools or pulling yourself along with a rope. This isn’t the place to work on your butterfly, but is perfect for those who love soaking in sweet Mother Nature.
Food options are limited to say the least. Pack a picnic or—if you get really desperate—visit the stalls selling tea leaf salad and mystery meat along the river. Beers, on the other hand, are readily available—phew!
About half an hour outside Kyaiktiyo in the direction of Yangon you’ll find the adventure park/zoo/hotel Sane Let Tin. Though not as impressive as Saung Hlaing Gyi, it is still good fune, with zip lining, rock climbing, assault courses, paintball and two swimming pools. Hotel rooms start from US$40. Most of the activities cost about 15,000 kyats for foreigners so your bill can tot up pretty quickly if you’re not careful.
We gave most of what was on offer a go except for the paintball, which was out of action, and everything seemed pretty solid. The zoo’s got bears, tigers, orangutans, otters, elephants; you name it. It’s just a shame that they’re kept in such appallingly cramped conditions.
How to get there
Take the bus or train. Or perhaps better for a weekend trip is a personal car. Expect to pay about 150-200,000 kyats for a driver. The journey takes between 3-3.5 hours.
Where to stay
Sane Let Tin has rooms but there is a wide range of options in Kyaiktiyo. Our personal pick goes to Pepper Garden Resort. It’s pretty, close to the waterfall and good value for money. We’ve also heard good things about Shwe Hinn Thar (of Ngwe Saung beach fame), a few minutes down the road from Pepper Garden.
What to do
Saung Hlaing Gyi Waterfall: Swim, take beautiful photos, jump off rocks, try not to drown.
Sein Lae Tin: Rock climbing, paintball, zip-lining and various other adventure park-y activities. Suppress tears while walking round the zoo.