Every year around mid-April, Myanmar celebrates the arrival of the new year with a number of days of celebration. This can take 3 to sometimes 7 days, depending on whether there is also a weekend in the period. It is originally a Buddhist ritual. By washing the head, the soul is cleansed. In practice, this now means that everyone throws or soaks each other with anything containing water. Everyone suffers this cheerfully and it is also a welcome cool down during the hot days.
We were in Mandalay during the first day of Thingyan. Immediately after leaving our hotel we were soaked by some children. When we were near the Mandalay Palace, which is completely protected by a high wall, we saw a huge crowd. Even on the wall, which is about 8 kilometres long in total, there were countless stages where loud music was blaring from and huge water facilities were installed. All the passers-by were soaked with large hoses. Everyone danced, sang and drank, completely drenched.
As Western tourists we were often invited to dance and drink with them. Gradually the streets turned into huge rivers, so much water was sprayed around. The many mopeds and cars of the residents, who honked loudly with music systems at full blast, had difficulty driving through them. We walked around the entire wall and also regularly stood up to our knees in water. What’s more, when a group of water sprayers noticed us, we inevitably got the full soaking, we were a willing “victim” for the locals. However, the atmosphere was really special, it looked a bit like King’s Day in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
We saw the rest of the festival in Ngapali. The locals celebrate it here mainly by sitting on the beach with the whole family. They have something to eat and drink and are often swimming in the sea, fully dressed. On the “public beach” of Ngapali Beach it is a hustle and bustle of importance. On the roads, there are several stages with water hoses and music systems. After sunset the people stop soaking each other. The next day, the ritual continues as usual.
Some tips for a great Thingyan experience:
- Provide waterproof covers for your valuables. The days before Thingyan, every street stall is selling waterproof phone cases. So handy to have. However, you also need to keep your camera waterproof, because there really is a lot of water going to hit you.
- Be happy as a tourist and don’t get angry when you get soaked. You are an interesting victim for the locals, so a dry day is really not going to happen. They also like it very much if you participate and throw water at others.
- If you’re on your way to a restaurant in the evening with dry clothes on, ask in a friendly way if they would “spare you”. Generally speaking, they keep to that quite reasonably. What’s more if you still get a splash of water on you it dries really quickly.
- Arrange transport and accommodation in the period of Thingyan well in advance.