Site Name: Maelan Pagoda
Area: Karen State or Mon State (depending on who you ask)
Similar to the more well known ‘Golden Rock’ pagoda at Kyaik Hti Yo this site is believed to house a strand of Buddha’s hair. There are 6 such sites in the region. What makes this one so significant is that it’s only in the last year that non-Karen people have been allowed to visit. We were in fact the first foreigners to visit this site as it is not on the tourist trail at all. So much so that we became somewhat of an attraction ourselves. This is of course changing and the infrastructure to take large numbers of tourists is currently being put into place. Now is the time to go.
The reason for this site having been cut off was due to the war between the Karen insurgent army and the Myanmar army. However, as things change in Myanmar, peace has been declared.
There are 3 main points of interest here:
1. Near the beginning is the golden boulder that houses the hair. The boulder becomes golden by monks applying thousands of sheets of gold leaf to the surface over many years.
2. If you follow the trail down the other side you will come to a smaller golden boulder with amazing views of the Karen jungle and Maelan Stream. When we were there they were building a path, but at the time it was about a 1 hour barefoot round trek to get there and back.
3. The monk under the rock is near the first golden boulder. It is a stone carving and painting of a monk under a rock. There is a story about how he got under there – he committed heresy and was encased in stone as punishment.
There is no fee for entering this site, though I would suggest donating into one of the boxes. It doesn’t have to be a lot – around 100 – 500 kyat should do.
It takes just over 3 hours to get here from Mawlamyine. There is no coach so you need to hire a driver. Your hotel can help arrange and you can expect it to cost around 120, 000 kyat for a car for a full day (you won’t need a full day if you do just this) that can fit up to 20 people (sitting on the floor of a covered tray).
It’s a good idea to stop in Bilin to eat before driving onwards to Maelan. Only Karen vehicles are allowed near the site so you will need to change car at Maelan. It costs 1000 kyat for a return trip to the top of the mountain. You can walk up the hill, but for 1 USD it’s much safer and faster to go in a Karen truck.
The Karen people of this area are strictly vegetarian. You cannot take meat to this site. Please consume any meat you are carrying in nearby Bilin, which is still Mon State.
This site and area are controlled and maintained by the Karen military forces, therefore it is not unusual to see army vehicles around and they do not present any danger. It is likely your driver to the top of the mountain will be an army member, ours was a lieutenant.
This is a sacred site so footwear is not permitted. You will need to leave your shoes at the entrance.
Shoulders and knees should always be covered.