Thingyan water festival in Myanmar is the largest, most famous festival in the country. Everywhere shuts down for 4 days whilst locals dance, drink, throw water at each other and celebrate out on the streets. This Buddhist celebration happens every year (normally around mid-April) to mark the Burmese New Year over a period of 3-4 days. The rituals include the throwing of water to represent the cleansing process as you leave one year to the next, washing away the sins in the process.
I was lucky enough to celebrate Thingyan whilst in Yangon a few years ago, and it was pure madness and joy. The Burmese locals we met were so warm and friendly. They greeted us like friends, shared food, stories, and even offered us a lift home in a torrential storm that left Yangon without power for 3 days.
In this blog I take you through my experience celebrating Thingyan and give some insight into a topic I couldn’t find anything about online! I strongly encourage anyone reading this to go try it themselves!
I’d done my research before leaving, and the excitement of being in Yangon during Thingyan had given way to worry that we would be stranded because of the festival shut down. I’d trawled all the usual internet sites, trying to find someone who had been and was ready to tell me it would all be fine. But the thing about Myanmar is not many people have really travelled there, so I found nothing in advance, and in we flew from Bangkok on an almost empty plane eagerly ready to find out what was in store.
Arriving at Yangon airport, we booked a taxi which apparently cost a little more than the usual rate but in the grand scheme of costs whilst travelling around Asia, (more on that here) it really wasn’t a lot. As the taxi drove through small towns, it slowed to allow for groups of children and adults to spray the car with hoses and water guns as we passed them by. This was just a snippet of what was in store…
When we arrived at our hostel in central Yangon I was surprised to encounter pretty quiet streets. It turned out, there is quite the Thingyan schedule to follow! Because the government relax the rules around crowd numbers during this time, there is a start time, lunch break and set end to the water throwing each day during the festival. We’d arrived during the ‘break’ and so took a nap to power up before the fun kicked off in the afternoon.
We headed into town in after mid-afternoon heat (around 40 degrees) so the soakings on route were very much appreciated! All around Yangon there are water-spraying stations set up (known as pandals). These are raised platforms that are paid for by local businesses and filled with adults and kids with hoses going full pelt, at anything and everything that passes. There were large open trucks carrying youngsters who drove around all day past the pandalsto get their soaking! We were invited up onto the platform to give some locals a hand at spraying, they were super friendly and really happy to have us up there with them, and the feeling was mutual.
Adhoc dance areas and performances were set up all around the streets, with canopies and seating for anyone who wanted to chill out and watch the dancing for a while. We were invited by some South Koreans to join them and share their whisky, why the hell not?!
Later in the day we headed to Yangon City Hall and Mahabandula Park which was where the majority of the bigger entertainment was focused. The large stage right by the City Hall was set up for live music and positioned with water cannons all around. What can only be described as ‘heavy Burmese techno’ music starting playing and everyone went wild! We danced along with the locals whilst getting absolutely soaked by the cannons. That’s honestly one of my favourite memories from Myanmar and probably my whole experience backpacking South East Asia, as it was just such a real, local experience.
The celebrations carried on like this for the next couple of days, so we spent our mornings sight-seeing and afternoons getting soaked. The festival didn’t in any way stop any sightseeing we had planned, and we jumped in super affordable taxis to the main sights which were all still open as usual. This included the amazing Burmese golden temples and giant buddhas which are dotted across the city, and were full of people giving offerings and worshipping as usual at this special time of year. Plenty of places to eat were open throughout the day selling beer and the most delicious of food. A lot of the more normal shops in the main shopping district were completely shut for the holiday, this didn’t matter to us anyway as we were there as tourists. But I do wonder what the city would be like when the festival isn’t underway… Guess I will have to go back to find out!
To find out how I spent the rest of my time in Myanmar, check out my South East Asia itinerary here.