Tom Williams, of Five Dollar Traveller, tells us about his experience getting drenched at Myanmar’s Thingyan Festival.
How wet is wet?
Forget the log flume at Disney Land. If getting blasted by a firehose at 2 paces whilst drinking whisky straight from the bottle sounds crazy to you, then get ready to go crazy.
You can expect H2O drive-bys, minor injuries, riding around in the back of overloaded pickups with 20 locals and getting wetter than should be scientifically possible.
Stand at a street corner and flag down pretty much any vehicle full of locals, then prepare for the wettest, wildest ride of your life! It’s the craziest water fight in the world – and it’s not Songkran in Thailand.
You may have heard of Songkran. Thailand’s famous Buddhist new year celebration runs for 4 days from the 13 April every year and involves washing away your sins. For foreigners, this often means using water pistols on Bangkok’s Khao San Road to do so.
However, there is another country celebrating the water festival with such vigour and insanity that I was lucky I made it out alive… That country is Burma (Myanmar), where they celebrate the Thingyan Festival.
Burma has only recently become an open democracy. The water festival is still one of the few legal forms of mass public gathering allowed. As a result, people letting loose after years of repression know how to blow off steam. It’s intense.
In 2013 I decided to compare Songkran and Thingyan by attending both. I thought that Songkran was nuts – until I got to Burma.
Thingyan is off the chain
A young Burmese man with red streaks through his long black hair, a neo-Asian punk rocker, grabbed my arm and hauled me onto the dilapidated white pickup truck. The only toll for the ride was sharing my $2 bottle of whisky with the other passengers.
I stood shoulder to shoulder with ten or more people, holding onto the crudely fashioned safety rope as the pickup lurched along Yangon’s wide boulevards. Around us, yet more people sat, legs hanging off the sides of the truck. Countless hoses made a watery assault on us and the vehicle. We retaliated using cups, buckets and anything else that could scoop water from the 20 gallon drum beside us.
My doctor had warned, “don’t drink the water in Burma”. Today I wasn’t going to get a choice. Maybe this is what all the vaccinations he gave me were for.
But where was all the water coming from? April is many months into the dry season, yet the streets were flooded from the run off of the fight. Children swam in the gutter water. Roads were filled with advisories, truck after truck, like ours, overloaded with saturated revellers.
Pandemonium is a word rarely appreciated until you’ve actually experienced it first-hand. This was it.
Whilst Bangkok authorities in Thailand are actively cracking down on dangerous behaviour during festivals, Burma is still raw and uncensored. As our driver told me “I don’t drink whisky whilst driving, only beer.”
No matter which water festival you head to you are going to get drenched. But for off-the-chain “Anything goes” breaches of health and safety, take off the training wheels of Songkran in Thailand and head to the Thingyan Festival in Burma (Myanmar).
How to get involved in Thingyan
Getting involved is easy – just turn up.
* Thingyan is celebrated all over Burma but big cities such as Yangon and Mandalay are where the extreme action is.
* The festival runs from 13 April to 16 April every year. It’s almost impossible to walk outside during daylight hours without getting wet for those 4 days.
* Foreigners are free to participate and generally encouraged by locals to do so.
Burma is changing fast. Now is the time to visit, before westernisation and regulations come in to control the fun and turn this into a tourist attraction. Burmese people are very welcoming and kind spirited. Crime is low and scams are still minimal but this will start to change in the coming years as it has in Thailand, Cambodia and other Asian countries.
So get to Burma this April and get soaked!
Tom Williams is chief editor of the Five Dollar Traveller website and author of Budget Burma: A comprehensive budget travel guide for Myanmar. From riding a crocodile in Thailand to getting drunk and going clubbing with Muslims in Mongolia, Tommo is living the dream… and then writing about it! Facebook. Pinterest.