No Longer A Thingyan Virgin!
Before leaving Myanmar in August of 2017, I made a promise to a few people to return in 2018 around the time of Thingyan, Myanmar’s New Year Water Festival. I had no set plans to return to the country, but as the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.“
On February 28, 2018, I returned to Myanmar; the country that will forever hold a special place in my heart. At the time of my return, my plans did not include any of the festivities surrounding Thingyan, since my visa was only valid for 28 days and the festival didn’t commence until April 13th. The focus of my trip was to add to my previous list of adventures in Myanmar by visiting two new states; Kachin and Rakhine. On top of the places I planned to visit, it was equally important for me to make time to see a few of my “adopted” friends and families.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself racing against the “immigration clock”, and the start of Thingyan was approaching quicker than my ability to book a flight to my next destination. Hence, I decided to unofficially extend my time in Myanmar until after the festival. By far, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was blessed with the opportunity of experiencing Thingyan in a way that not many foreigners get to experience; backstage access to opening ceremony, tickets to the music stage and cruising around town n an open van with local friends. The days were long, traffic and crowds around the moat were quite intense and although I’ve never been, it felt a lot like a rave with tons of water thrown from every angle. From babies to seniors, everyone happily enjoyed the celebration. I couldn’t help to think how the experience would’ve been the complete opposite had it been held in different parts of the states.
So What Exactly Is Thingyan?
Thingyan is Myanmar’s New Year Festival which usually takes place mid-April. It’s a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four days leading up to the New Year. During the time of the celebration, you will find many of the streets empty, in comparison to a normal day. Many of the businesses go on holiday and several of the non-city natives travel back to their hometown or village to celebrate the New Year with family.
As my first official water festival, I had no idea what to expect. During this time last year, I was in Laos and was fortunate enough to experience a taste of their New Year water festival called “Songkran”. I remember the days of riding my motorcycle through the villages, on the Bolaven Plateau, and being doused with water. By the end of the first day I had reached my limit. All of the soggy feelings from being fully soaked in wet clothing became uncomfortable and somewhat of an intolerable experience. Needless to say, based on my experience with Laos’ Songkran, I started to dread Thingyan. Nevertheless, I had no choice but to stick to the plan.
Over the course of the four days, I came to understand that no one was exempt from being drenched with water; not even if the temperature of the water was cold enough to send your body into shock. Simply put, if you were out walking the street as a pedestrian or food vendor, riding a motorbike, driving an automobile with the window down, you would instantly find yourself at the mercy of someone else. Unfortunately, Thingyan is all about having fun and the use of the word mercy is non-existent. LOL
The feeling of organized chaos and community is what I enjoyed the most about Thingyan. During the day everyone was free to engage in water activities, but at 12pm the public water festivities ceased until 3pm. Needless to say, this was the time for people to scour for free food vendors around the city, which is yet another fun and generous tradition to experience during the festival.
From the hours of 3pm to 6pm, the official water activities commenced. In the evening, many flocked to the night walking street (east of the Mandalay Palace) to enjoy traditional foods and desserts of Myanmar. Additionally, there were several private parties that took place around the city.
On the fifth day, the official day of the New Year, the temples were packed with people who go to offer prayers for success and their well-being in the new year. Another tradition, which takes place on the day of the new year, is a house blessing ceremony officiated by a Monk. Fortunately, I was able to attend a portion of the celebration at the home of my Shan brother and his wife.
I put together a video to capture a snippet of how exciting the days were during my Thingyan experience and I hope you enjoy. If you are thinking of booking a trip to Myanmar to celebrate Thingyan, scroll below to check out some simple tips on how to survive the experience.
How to Experience and Survive Thingyan?
- Wear clothing that will dry quickly, unless you find joy in walking in wet clothes all day. I swear by my Uniqlo Airism tops, I never leave home without them.
- Find a few local friends willing to give you a full Thingyan experience. Keep an open mind and be polite you won’t have to search too hard
- Don’t skip on the free food vendors, the experience is worth it!
- Wear a water repellent jacket and a hat, it adds a layer of warmth when the water gets too cold.
- Protect your phone and camera by using a waterproof case or pouch even if you don’t plan to participate in the water activities.
- Do your best to get a full night’s rest, as you will need it!
- Leave your attitude and any negative vibes on the other side of the bed. Thingyan is all about having fun and if you’re not fond about water fights you should probably plan to stay indoors.
- Have an AMAZING time!
Lots of luv,