Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

The Water Festival in Myanmar

I finally have photos to aid me in my attempt to describe the undescribeable – the insane Thingyan holiday, aka “the water festival” in Myanmar.

First a little background:

  • Thingyan is the name of the Burmese new year holiday.
  • It’s celebrated over the course of 5 days in April according to the Buddhist calendar.
  • It’s the most important public holiday in Myanmar.
  • It coincides with the both the peak of the dry/hot season and the beginning of kiddies summer vacation from school.
  • In the past, it was a traditional part of the festival to sprinkle water into a silver bowl, to metaphorically “wash away ones sins” before the beginning of the new year. This has morphed into an all out water fight involving buckets, hoses, and water guns that persists through all 5 days, hence the modern name “Water festival”.
  • For more info, check out the Thingyan wikipedia entry.

Now some more specifics about the “water” part. Here are a few typical street scenes during the festival. This is what it looked like everywhere in Yangon and Mandalay over the five days of the festival:

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Everywhere, and i mean EVERYWHERE, there are people in the street with the buckets and hoses just waiting for someone to walk or drive by. From my observations, no one is exempt except for monks. Women, young children, the elderly, a car with a window rolled down, everyone gets a bucket of water poured on them if they are out in public. Foreigners are especially popular to douse. It appeared to me that anyone who spots a foreigner coming (such as greg & i) informs everyone else nearby so they can have their water spraying implement ready and/or begin an active pursuit of the targets. There are no exceptions, for example, if you’re holding a camera, which made it challenging to get photos of the action!

Clustered around town are sponsored “hose stations”; a stage facing the street with a dozens of hoses for partakers to use:
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Lots of folks, especially teenagers and young adults, pile into trucks and jeeps and drive slowly around town getting repeatedly soaked with water and throwing their own buckets at random people they pass (such as Greg & I). In the areas with high concentrations of hose stations there are also crowds of people dancing in the street amidst the spraying water.

The night before the start of the festival, Greg and purchased some water guns so we could participate. Here is an action sequence of Greg engaging with some partakers:
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We realized later that compared to the buckets and hoses we were up against we were way outgunned.

This is one way to participate if you don’t want to get wet!
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This kid wanted to look cool while getting sprayed with hoses:
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Looking back, the water festival was an amazing experience, a lot of fun, and a great way to interact with the locals. There were some downsides however… As much fun as it was I would actually recommend to prospective visitors to Myanmar to avoid it unless it is something you definitely want to experience. During the festival everything shuts down – the markets, many restaurants and shops, transportation in and out of town… so you can get stuck in Mandalay or Yangon for the full 5 days unless you take a flight, which still run on schedule but fill up in advance. The water fight continues for the full 5 days of the festival which means that you cannot leave your guesthouse or hotel without getting soaked, and lets just say that the water used is not clear or clean. You will feel trapped in your room at some point because you don’t want to get your last dry t-shirt soaking wet. You may even go hungry because you can’t get to the restaurant down the street without being sprayed with a hose! That said however, it was so hot there that the water felt good and generally our clothes dried quickly. And wow, where else you can go in the world and be able to throw buckets of water on anyone, anywhere without violating any social norms and/or getting arrested? 🙂

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May 10, 2007 - Posted by | Myanmar, Photography, SE Asia, Travel

5 Comments »

  1. what great pics! thanks and hope you guys had loads of fun.

    Comment by absolutely alex | May 10, 2007 | Reply

  2. Wow, that is the coolest national holiday ever! I wonder if the folks that thought up http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAfANb2Cs9Q have been to Thingyan.

    Comment by Michael Courage | May 11, 2007 | Reply

  3. Awesome! I love water fights! I wonder if I could convince J to go there sometime :D.

    Comment by Jill | May 14, 2007 | Reply

  4. I looked at the latest pictures and I keep noticing the English inscriptions on people’s clothes, especially the youngsters’. Isn’t it strange to see “My Friend” or “Alternative” or “Sonic Boom” (wink wink nudge nudge) banners walking freely on the streets, on the other side of the planet?
    Oh, yeah, Tracy says that something of that sort (water balloons festival?) happened in Peru, too. Quite popular, that water-fighting thing, ain’t it?

    Comment by Roxana | May 15, 2007 | Reply

  5. Excellent.

    Comment by A different Jill | May 17, 2007 | Reply


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