Take your pick: Songkran or Thingyan

YANGON, 12 April 2017: The countdown to Myanmar’s longest holiday and largest festival has begun as the mercury rises in Yangon.

Thingyan, which literally translates into “transit”, marks the beginning of the Burmese New Year and is celebrated in a four-day water festival.

The timing of the festival is calculated according to the Burmese calendar, which this year begins, 13 April and culminates with New Year’s Day 17 April.

The same calendar days are celebrated as New Year in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and other nations with a concentration of Buddhists such as Sri Lanka and some states in northern India.

Thailand is known for its boisterous behaviour during the week-long festival. It has prompted a ban on powerful water guns and cannons.

However, visitors to Myanmar say there is no doubt the water throwing is at its most energetic level in the cities and towns of Myanmar. Anything that moves gets a bucket of water, so the trick is don’t roll down the taxi windows.

There is a traditional side to the festivities.

“Celebrated over  five days, Thingyan showcases our rich religious and cultural heritage. It is also the best time to experience first-hand the warmth and fun-loving nature of Myanmar people,” said Daw May Myat Mon Win, vice chairman marketing of the Myanmar Tourism Federation.

“For tourists this is an excellent time to visit the country and join the festivities. In Yangon there are small “pandals” (a stage with dance performances or people with water buckets and hoses throwing water at passers-by) and the Mahabandoola Park, China Town and Indian town are popular venues to celebrate the New Year.”

Some bigger stages will be positioned along avenues like Pyay Road and there are several big open air concerts organised around Yangon. It’s generally possible to buy tickets on the spot. Yangon City announced there will be more than 90 stages all around the city.

Mandalay has traditional been a popular destination to  to celebrate the festival. The roads along the moat of the Mandalay palace are busy areas, while some people head out to Amarapura (U Bein Bridge area) or Pyin U Lwin (the botanical gardens) to join the fun.

In rural areas like Bagan and Inle Lake the stages will be smaller and often families simply gather in front of their hours to enjoy music, splash water at passers-by and enjoy typical Thingyan snacks.

Thingyan is the one time where it is acceptable in Myanmar to douse one another, every day for four days, from morning 0900 until evening 1800. During this period, which coincides with the hottest time of the year in the country, locals and visitors squirt water on others and themselves using hoses, plastic water pistols or other devices. The evenings are usually quiet as everybody goes home after a full day partying and prepares for the next day There are very few parties in the evenings.

“I believe the yearly Thingyan festivities can be best compared to carnivals in Brazil, the Mardi Gras or carnivals in Germany,” said Edwin Briels, a tour operator and expatriate living in Yangon who joins the festivities  every year. “Instead of confetti we use water which is very refreshing in the summer period.”