My trip to Myanmar this year was a fun and exciting experience as the dates fell on the most important national holiday called Thingyan festival, a celebration done to welcome the Burmese New Year at the end of the hot season on mid-April. This Theravada Buddhist celebration is similar to the ones in neighbouring countries of Thailand (Songkran), Cambodia (Chaul Chnam Thmey), and Laos (Songkran/ Pii Mai).
The most remarkable thing on this four-day period is the water-throwing activity all around the country. It is inevitable to get wet when you walk outside, as every people go out to gather at a loud party and splash you to “wash away” the bad luck and sins from the previous year. Large roads are filled with wooden stages called Pandals where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the cold water coming from different sources, ranging from buckets and small containers, to water guns, garden hoses, and even fire hoses. Several teens are also on-board container vehicles to drive through the main parts of the city to shower all the passersby they encounter.
I was in the old capital, Yangon, when it all began. On the first day of the festival I woke up early to start my adventure and just right after I went out of the hostel, my clothes got wet when some residents saw me walking in a distance near them while holding their cups of ice-cold water. “Happy New Year!”, perhaps, was what they meant as they greeted in Burmese language after I received my first blessing in the morning. Further I walked and I saw more and more people on the streets, filling up these large platforms and spending their time together pointing their hoses in every direction as if there’s no tomorrow. After I passed these areas, I was already completely wet!
The most festive area is the street in front of Yangon City Hall, where people flock together to watch several performances on stage while enjoying a rain-like atmosphere set by the sprinklers all over the place. On the side there are also stations where some get soaked happily. It is a joyous involvement to mix-up with them while celebrating an occasion like this when everyone is feeling lively. In Maha Bandoola Park, a public swimming pool was set up where most of the children were playing, while other else walked around with their water pistols, drenching everyone in their sight.
It was already afternoon when I walked back to my place and changed clothes. I couldn’t get dry as anyone who saw me would take an opportunity to empty his containers for me, and this happened in my entire stay even on my trip to Bagan the next day. Other than the monks and the elderly, no one is safe from being moist outside – it is the time when all is treated equally.
This kind of experience shouldn’t be missed when visiting Myanmar, as it only happens annually. It is rather unique to the Buddhist nations, and aside from welcoming the New Year it is also a perfect way to feel welcomed by the locals. To come and play with them at this very moment will surely serve a great memory in your travel journal about this country.