3 Interesting Festivals to Experience in Myanmar

Because of recent events in Myanmar, we at World Nomads have had a long hard think about whether we should even continue publishing articles about the country. In the end we decided we should. Our reasoning is explained in this piece about ethical travel: "Controversial Destinations: To Boycott or Not?" Please read it.

Traveling the world in search of the best festivals is a great way to experience local culture, food, and traditions. If you’re a festival lover, you’ll want to visit Myanmar in time for one of these three incredible celebrations.

Which begs the question, will your trip to Myanmar coincide with one of these three festivals?

1. Thadingyut Festival of Lights

The Thadingyut Festival takes place during full moon in the month of Thadingyut (October 5, 2017 and October 28 in 2018), and marks the end of Buddhist Lent or Vassa. 

At this time, the country is at its wettest, the rivers are at their fullest, and they celebrate a bounty of harvest, fresh water, and the coming of cooler weather.

The Thadingyut Festival is known as “The Festival of Lights” because it celebrates Buddha’s return to Earth from the heavens, and to symbolise the enlightening power and radiance of Buddha, the Burmese light millions of candles, lights and oil lamps – bringing to life many pagodas, monasteries, and banyon trees throughout the country.

During the festival, travelers can witness zat pwes (Burmese musicals) and free stage plays on streets across the country. You may hear some firecrackers going off while you walk around the streets, sampling street food, and being entertained by the spectacle – both on the stages and in the streets.

The Thadingyut Festival is best seen in larger cities like Mandalay and Yangon, but you can also witness quieter versions in small villages, as the entire country celebrates.

2. Thingyan Water Festival

Myanmar’s answer to Thailand's Songkran Water Festival, the Thingyan Water Festival is held during Burmese New Year (usually around mid-April), and is another major Buddhist celebration in the country.

Offerings to monks during Burmese New Year. Photo credit: iStock

This time, the water is meant to cleanse the soul from sins, and from the second day onward, it’s complete mayhem. Thingyan actually means “changing over” in the Burmese Language.

The festival is basically a massive water fight, where participants throw water at each other from any vessels they can find. Some use super soakers, some use pots from their kitchen, and others have massive water cannons!

It’s easy to join in the fun – you can hit the streets with your water-weapon of choice, and start soaking everyone you see. This is the most fun you can have in Myanmar, so if you can make it, try to be in Yangon or Bagan on April 14–16 in 2018.

Thingyan Water Festival, streets of Bagan. Photo credit: iStock

3. Pagoda Festivals

There are well over a dozen Pagoda Festivals held at different times at different pagodas (holy places of Buddhist worship) throughout the country. Some of these celebrations continue for more than 20 days, and pilgrims from all over the country travel long and difficult journeys to attend them.

The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is one of the largest of its kind in Myanmar, and it takes place on the breathtaking Inle Lake. Spectators can cheer on boats full of men and women, who showcase the incredible feat of balance of traditional one-legged rowing.

Images of Buddha are placed in an incredibly ornate, gilded vessel and are paraded around the lake by a series of long boats manned by countless one-legged rowers.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival, Inle Lake. Photo credit: iStock

If rowing competitions and parades on Inle Lake isn’t your thing, consider checking out the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival, which is held at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon each year.

The event takes place in March (Tabaung) every year. Thousands of candles are lit, and the city comes alive at night. Travelers can join the crowds and enjoy the incredible ambiance throughout Yangon.

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