Leaving Thailand just a week or so before the famous water festival I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed, so near and yet so far, we had booked our flights to Myanmar before we realised! But what we also didn’t realise is that not only does Thailand celebrate the water festival, but Myanmar do too and they call in “Thingyan!”. But sheer luck or damp misfortune we ended up in the former capital of Yangon on the first day of the 3 days festival where it was a case of stay indoor or embrace the festivities and get soaked… we did the later for 3 days straight, well, what else were we to do! Here’s the amazing Thingyan water festival in Myanmar!
Thingyan water festival: The most important festival of the year!
Thingyan water festival, which roughly translates as ““transit [of the Sun from Pisces to Aries]” is the start of the Burmese/ Myanmar New Year and usually falls around mid April. It is a Buddhist festival and begins a few days before New Year and last anywhere from 4-5 days which culminates in New Years Day. The first 4 days of the Thingyan water festival are characterised my water throwing, parties in the street, carnivals and performances. This symbolises a cleansing of the previous year and an entry into the New Year with a fresh start. The final day, the beginning of the New Year, is the most important and most religious. People dress in their finest clothing and head down to the temple to pray before joining with their families for a celebration and meal.
During the days of the Thingyan water festival it is not only water throwing that can be observed, but there are more regular Alms giving to the monks, who walk through town without getting a single drop of water on them as is the respect they are given. They will engage in their own cleaning in a much more spiritual and traditional way.
Many people during this time will also observe the Eight Precepts of Buddhism rather than the usual five for a lay person which includes having only one meal before noon and is more reflective of how the monks live day to day. As well as the wild celebrations on the streets, monks offer cleaning at the temples too, but of course, this is a much more muted affair!
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A different experience to Songkran in Thailand
For me I always wanted to experience Songkran in Thailand and ironically many people in our hostel had crossed the border to avoid exactly that. But here in Myanmar the festivities might be similar but they are very different too. Most coming over from Thailand to Myanmar commented on how much more intense it was over here, likely due to the fact that even whilst spending the entire day right in the mix of the celebrations we would only see maybe one other westerner.
Whereas in Thailand in places like Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai you will be lucky to point out the locals…just look for those with a shirt on! In Myanmar the festivities are much more intense and much more local with water flowing non stop for 4 days!
Heading out on to the wild streets on Yangon and ending up in front of a stage on an open top truck!
Here in Myanmar it is very much still a local affair done in a way that isn’t one but changed or tainted for tourism. There are no topless water pistol skirting tourists completely oblivious to the culture going on around them. Instead here its ramped up a level.
People pile into the back of small open top truck with a bin full of iced water and make circuits around the city, targeting those on foot! The city street are insane, every few meters is a station that has been set up my locals which usually includes several huge speakers with music blasting out, a huge reservoir of water and as many hose pipes as is humanly possible hooked up to the mains! These blast anything that comes by including opening car door, dosing tuk tuks, drenching people on bikes and especially targeting tourists!
The faces of the locals light up brighter than ever when you pass them by and they realise that a westerner is joining in with their celebrations. We even got invited on to some of the trucks heading around the city. This took us on an amazing tour around the soaking streets of Yangon all the while shaking peoples hands as they poured freezing water over us or sprayed us in the face with frankly inappropriately powerful hose pipes!
The highlight for us however has to be when the truck we were on turned down into Independence square. Where we had been stood just a short whilst ago watching famous Myanmar performers on a huge stage whilst getting showered and standing in a literal river!
Now the truck was headed into what could only be described as one of the most surreal scenes we’ve seen in our entire lives. Hundreds of hose pipes blasting each truck to the point where it was hard to see or stand before we arrived in between the stage and the crowd. The moment they realised westerners were in front of them the crowd of thousands began to ignore the singer to wave and holler at us as we jumped up and down in front of them dripping wet!!
A crazy few days where the party keeps on going
The stages set up my the authorities were next level, here local gatherings are not allowed except for over Thingyan. There are huge high sponsored platforms which are covered in high power hoses and boom out music, one even used a fireman’s hose and actually knocked my off my feet, sprayed me in the eye and completely disoriented me!
It’s like a crazy battle field out there with no one but the monks or elderly safe to walk the streets. We even had little kids creeping up on us and pouring ice cold water down our backs literally one step outside the hostel…waiting for the westerners to enter the chaos!
It really is like a lawless, insane place during the Thingyan water festival. Even if you want to head to the shop for a drink you have to go out prepared to get soaked to your skin and even in the shop itself you are never safe! The loud music, beeping and singing does on from dawn to dusk with people dancing in the streets beneath the showers of water and without a sign of slowing down right until the end.
Finally, a day of rest for the New Year and time to head to the temple!
Finally, after 4 days of getting soaked through, as our clothes were still dripping wet on the balcony outside the hostel we awoke to silence!! Birds singing in the sky again, the gentle hum of traffic and the sweat smell of incense. It was New Years day, a time for reflection and prayer in Myanmar. Locals now walked the streets in their best clothing, dodging the piles of water bottles and puddles still on the wet streets of Yangon on their way to the temple. Monks gathered down back streets to perform ceremonies to bring in the New Year. There was a calm after the storm and also a sense of relief that we could now finally explore Yangon without getting soaking wet!
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