Myanmar is a land of festivals. There is a festival for each month of the year. Then there are state festivals at the national level, local festivals, pagoda festivals, and sports festivals.
Festivals are for merry-making, for preserving the traditions, for religious observance, for competition, and for commerce. In this article, Go Myanmar Tours provides you with an essential guide to plan a trip to Myanmar in festival time.
The merriest festival takes place in April at the turn of the Myanmar year when the whole country gets wet in the Thingyan Festival in Myanmar.
The holiest festival is in May to commemorate the birthday, Enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Most Exalted Buddha.
The most somber festival is in July when Wazo robes are offered to monks who go into retreat for the three months of the rainy season.
The happiest festival is that of lights in October when young couples are allowed to marry after a moratorium of three months.
The rowdiest festival takes place at Taungbyone, north of Mandalay, when certain sections of the populace celebrate the festival of the spirits.
The most strenuous festival is in November at the annual Mayor’s Marathon in Yangon when people from 8 to 80 run the whole course or part of it.
Thingyan Water Festival
- Expect to get wet
At the Thingyan Festival, water is thrown at you from all kinds of sources: squirts, tin cans, bowls, buckets, sprinklers, garden watering pipes, fire-hoses. No passer-by is spared. In spite of the requests in the newspapers, ‘Don’t throw water on the postman,’ he gets splashed, and he probably likes it. So you too won’t be spared. With your foreign features, the merry-makers would delight to turn their full attention to you. Expect to get wet.
Don’t be angry
When you get half-drowned by that big house, don’t get angry, because that is what they want to do to you. So take it with a spluttering smile. And don’t go out in that suit; wear something that will weather the wetness.
- Not a time for business
All the offices and enterprises close down for the three or four days of Thingyan and nobody has thought for business. If you are thinking only of business and don’t care for fun, stay away. But if you want to learn merry-making Myanmar-style, come and your days will be full of water and your nights full of lights at the many pavilions which provide dance and song and skits beyond midnight.
- Yangon and Mandalay
The biggest celebrations are at Yangon and Mandalay. The celebrations at Yangon, befitting a port and capital city have a modern flavor. Those at Mandalay, the country’s cultural center, 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. The only action you need take is to make your flight and accommodation reservations early as there are a lot of travelers visiting their home towns for the holidays and Mandalay hotels tend to be fully booked with people coming in for the celebrations.
- Check dates
A deeply religious festival takes place on a long lake 3000 feet above sea level against a backdrop of blue-green hills and amidst people of exotic races. Four Buddha images, hardly recognizable as images, so encrusted with gold they are, are conveyed on a huge boat in the form of a mythical bird, on a slow journey around the lake for the reverence of people of the Shan State, who come in their boats to celebrate this annual festival.
You will need to check your dates early as the festival is held according to the lunar calendar and the dates shift on the international calendar.
You will also need to make early transportation and accommodation reservations. But your visit will be worth it because you can make side trips to the State capital, 4700 feet high, and past some of the most beautiful sceneries to a cave of the thousand Buddhas deep inside a mountain.
- Be respectful
If you wish to observe the magical zone where human life overlaps the life of the spirits, no better opportunity is offered than at Taungbyone, a small town north of Mandalay, easily reachable by train or car. Mediums and followers of the spirits gather here every year to perform their observances and rituals. Images of the various spirits nat are displayed in their shrines and are propitiated in the proper conventional manner.
It is a raucous and rowdy festival in an ambiance of extra reality. Participate in the contagious joy but be respectful of the culture and beliefs.
Check dates of the festival which is determined by the lunar calendar. Also, make early transportation arrangements since a lot of people will be going that way. You can make a quick day trip from Mandalay.
- Beat the start and finish
The Mayor’s Marathon has the start-line in front of City Hall. Since several races are run on the same course there are different start times for the different races. To catch them all and to enjoy the warmth and excitement of the crowd, competitors, fans and watchers, be at the start-line by four in the morning.
Then walk the several blocks to the Aung San Stadium to cheer the competitors, young and old, as they come down the stretch, and watch the winner drive off in the first prize motor-car.
Tradititional Regatta Festival
If you are fond of jogging, and even if you are not you can run in the Marathon. The race is not for professionals. It is run more to make the people health-conscious. So you can join in the run, not for the prize but for the fun of running. Of course, you will have to send in your name by the required date.
- Be there
The annual Traditional Regatta is a major national event which is held in Kandawgyi Lake, just east of the glorious Shwe Dagon Pagoda, for about a week in December.
The opening and closing ceremonies are grand spectacles featuring the resplendent traditional royal barge, war-boats with oarsmen and warriors in traditional costumes, decorated floating platforms with stage, screen and TV stars, stages with dances of the indigenous races, and the racing boats.
There is also midway of exhibition and sale booths of the state and private enterprises.
- Don’t miss them
There are so many other festivals in Myanmar taking place Yangon and in one town or another throughout the year, which you should see. Check up on them with Tourist Information heading hotel lobbies have complimentary copies periodicals and write-ups.