Myanmar Thingyan for Travelers
Thingyan is the Burmese New Year Water Festival and usually falls around mid-April. It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days culminating in the new year. Formerly the dates of the Thingyan festival are calculated according to the traditional Burma luna calendar and but now have fixed Roman calendar (13 to 16 April) equivalent - it often coincides with Easter. The dates of the festival are observed as the most important public holiday throughout Burma and are part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year. Water-throwing is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on the first four days of the festival. However, in most parts of Burma, it does not begin in earnest until the second day.
What is the meaning behind throwing water ?
A festival celebrated since 9th century, or the first Burmese Empire before the spread of Theravada Buddhism in the empire. It is one of the ancient (either Brahmanic or early Verdic Hindi) beliefs or practices to dive in the water or river to cleanse the soul spiritually. The main reason of pouring water on each other during Thingyan derives from such practices, to clean the soul from all bad deeds of the previous year and to start a new year with fresh soul and body. April being one of the hottest months in Myanmar, people have fun pouring water on each other for 4 straight days under the sun with sweet smile surprisingly without getting sick.
If you plan to take part in the water festival in Myanmar, here are a few useful tips that you should be aware or prepared of:
1. Expect to get wet : At the Thingyan Festival, water is thrown at you from all kind of sources and all possible ways i.e. tin cans, bowls, watering pipes to fire hoses. Regardless of who/what you are, what you are doing or wearing, you will be poured and get wet from head to toe. So be prepared to have fun while getting drowned under big fire hose as you will not be able to escape from it.
2. Embrace the madness : This is the time of the year where the whole country celebrates. A party that last for three days and a party at a size of a town. The main areas of the festival will be an absolute riot. These 'pandals', temporary raised stages erected on main roads are usually furnished with high powered water jets with which the occupants proceed to hose anyone and anything that passes by. The Burmese pile themselves into jeeps, pick up trucks and cars, some even with the doors missing, packing as many people into and onto a vehicle as possible. They then tour the city 'visiting' each pandal with the apparent intention of just getting absolutely soaked.
3. Who are spared from throwing water : A few people gets special permission not to get wet during Thingyan and these are monks, nuns, pregnant ladies and those taking Sabbath (who are wearing white blouse/shirt and brown longyis). So please make sure to avoid throwing water to these people in whatever condition you may be in even though it is very unlikely for these people to come out and play water.
4. Water proof Accessories : You can buy waterproof folders for your phone and other belongings just about everywhere. Make sure you test them before you trust them though.
5. What to wear : Wear something that will weather the wetness. Do not wear jeans as it would get really heavy on you. Do not wear flip flops nor heels but sandals with adjustable straps or light shoes. Flip flops will be washed down into the drains and it is very difficult to walk in shoes going up the pandals, cars or evening walking the congested long roads.
Here are the lists of accessories and clothes you might need :
- Sunglasses (however, you are likely to get yours lost or broken within 4 days.)
- A Hat (optional)
- Sun block and Aloe Gel to sooth the sunburn at night. (Under a hot sun, it is very easy for foreigners to get sunburn.) All make up accessories should be water proof, otherwise you will look like a panda.
6. Do not bring or wear anything valuable : It is very likely that you will have fun, dancing and drinking and throwing water the whole day that it is very easy to lose valuable items such as sunglasses, earrings, rings, necklaces and etc.
7. Book Accommodation : Things can book out a fair way in advance, especially because many Burmese people return to the big cities for the celebration. Book ahead! Lot of travelers are visiting their home towns or travelling elsewhere to celebrate Thingyan. Place like Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle and beaches tend to be fully booked with people coming in for the celebrations. It is very normal for beach hotels to double the room price as well.
8. Pre-Organise Transport : One thing we discovered is that transport rarely runs a few days before, during the festival and a couple of days after. Flights will be full and ticket price are expected to double. Reserve your tickets early. Trains rarely book out as you can only buy tickets up to one day beforehand. This could be a good option if buses and flights are full.
9. Not a time for business : Thingyan is not a time to do business nor entertain your business partners. All the offices and enterprises close down for five to ten days of Thingyan and nobody has a thought for business. It is also very likely for almost all shops to be closed on the 13th - 17th of April. Thingyan is time to wash away not only sins but also problems and worries of everyday life.
10. Yangon and Mandalay : The biggest celebrations are at Yangon and Mandalay. The celebrations at Yangon, befitting a port and capital city have a modern flavour. Those at Mandalay, the country’s cultural centre, are more traditional. Since the celebrations are held over three or four days depending on the calendar of that particular year, you can cover both cities.
11. After Thingyan effects : Hangovers, sore throat from screaming and shouting are very common. Also it is advisable to buy insurance for injuries and accidents as a great amount of alcohol consumption often leads to accidents and fights even though it may not be serious.
As well as the water fun, there is also traditional singing and dancing in the evenings featuring the traditional Thingyan dance at night. After 3 days straight celebrating water festival, on 1st day of Buddhist calendar year, locals perform meritorious deeds at monasteries, pagodas, elderly homes and orphanages e.g. washing the elderly's hair and letting loose fish and cattle.
Of course there are people who celebrate the new year by doing good deeds. Many people enter Thingyan meditation camps, some as a normal Sabbath keepers some as nuns and monks fasting and keeping the Eight Precepts or Ten Precepts and go to the monasteries and pagodas to offer alms-food.
Feel free to contact LITS for your Thingyan trip.