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Discover Myanmar’s must-see festivals in 2019

  • By The Easia Travel Team
  • March, 15, 2018

Myanmar is famous for its smiling and joyful people, its multitude of shimmering, golden pagodas, and its ubiquitous Buddhist culture. In fact, there is an astounding diversity of festivals to choose from, and each celebration represents a different and wholly immersive opportunity to delve into the heart of Burmese culture, so it is very important for the Easia team to understand these festivals and which ones will appeal most to their travelers.

From the big, lavish festivals that keep the whole country from working, to the smaller, more intimate ones that only encircle a single pagoda, all of the festivals have their own special significance and unique atmosphere. With centuries of celebratory history and no sign of stopping anytime soon, these are truly authentic events, perfect for immersing oneself in the joyous and welcoming Burmese crowds. Festivals invariably draw everybody in; rich and poor, young and old, they bring everyone together-including the wayward traveller!
If your travellers are looking for the local, the authentic, the real” Myanmar, invite them to blend into the melting pot of Myanmar’s capital Taunggyi, let them cheer on the boat races of Phaung Daw Oo (in which the racers use their legs to row the paddles!) with hundreds of others, and finally give them the chance to watch the countless candles illuminate the streets during Thadingyut: there’s truly a festival for every desire and taste in Myanmar.
As you can see, all kinds of festivals are celebrated in Myanmar throughout the year. Many of them feature a market where Burmese culinary specialities, as well as clothes, fabrics, cooking utensils, and other sundry goods are sold. These markets may also be a great opportunity for the bravest travelers to ride a manually operated roller coaster or Ferris wheel ride, on which they can enjoy the death-defying acrobatics of the human motors! If this panoply of attractions simply isn’t enough to pique your interest in Burmese festival culture, we have compiled a list of the absolute must-see celebrations this country has to offer…

1. Ananda Temple Festival in Bagan (13– 28 January 2019)
On the first of the year, the Ananda Temple Festival takes place in Bagan, around the temple of the same name. The temple area hosts music, dance and plays for almost a full month, and ushers in two particular events: the first, a play of Anyeints, is a Burmese traditional performance lasting several hours and combines song and dance, instrumental music, theatrical scenes, comedy routines and puppetry, ranging from formal and almost ritualistic, to light-hearted.
The second happens on the day of the full moon when over a thousand monks arrive from the surrounding villages to accept the alms bowls, filled to the brim. One particular highlight of note is that the festival draws in caravans of bullock carts from far and wide, which arrived a few days in advance and set up camp near the temple.
2. Thingyan Water Festival everywhere in Myanmar (13 – 16 April 2019)
April is the month of Thingyan Water Festival and also considered to be the Burmese New Year. April is one of the hottest months of the year but, on these days, may feel much cooler. Why is this?” you may ask. Well, everybody spends the next five days of the festival throwing and spraying water at anyone and anything in sight!
This annual celebration is just one big water battle, taking with it the whole country: while a huge number of people celebrate in the streets everywhere, others choose to escape the mayhem by taking retreat in monasteries to meditate in peace and earn merit.
3. Phaung Daw Oo Festival in Inle Lake (29 September – 16 October 2019)
A few months later, in October, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on Inle Lake has its own festival to honor its uniquely round and golden Buddha statues. On a gilded barge in the shape of a Hintha bird (a golden swan), surrounded by several leg-rowed boats, four of the five Buddha images of the pagoda are taken from village to village over a period of 18 days. Locals, as well as foreigners, can follow the procession by boat, as well.
On some days, the procession is followed by a series of boat races, during which the rowers use their legs to swing the paddles- it’s really a sight to behold!
These races can easily give the impression that the whole of Myanmar comes together to support their national champions: the canals, packed to the brim with boats, turn into a sea of people; well-dressed Shan tribes mix with monks and foreigners, spectators get comfortable on their boats, taking out meals and umbrellas, all waiting for their chance to witness Burmese glory in this wonderful and impressive display of strength.
4. Balloon Festival in Taunggyi (05-12 November 2019)
Not that far from Inle Lake, Myanmar hosts yet another festival that lasts an impressive few days of intense competition. During the Balloon Festival of Taunggyi, in November (which marks the end of the rainy season) huge home-made balloons in the shape of animals, from parrots to elephants, are released into the sky and slowly rise, one after the other throughout the whole afternoon. When the night falls, the light rises: these balloons either become serene lanterns or, packed full of fireworks, illuminate the sky and end the day with a real bang.”
How to incorporate it into a program?
Incorporating festivals into your program can be a fantastic way to give travelers a taste of Myanmar’s vibrant culture, but balance is key. When designing these drips around festival times, it’s important to give your travelers a chance to experience the festivals, while also exploring other areas and activities in Myanmar (or just to give them a rest!).
During a day on Inle Lake at the time of the Phaung Daw Oo Festival, your travelers can attend processions and boat races in the morning and go on more classic, touristic visits in the afternoon. Such an organization of the itinerary allows the travelers to discover another aspect of well-travelled places like Inle and Bagan, without giving up on any of the other wonderful experiences. They can step into Myanmar’s festive life for a while and will most certainly feel welcome doing so and they’ll be able to say: I saw the floating gardens in Inle”, but also: I saw ten men dancing on a boat while forty others were rowing with their barefoot.”
Here is an example of an itinerary based around the Phaung Daw Oo festival. You can send your traveler to Myanmar for a 16-day trip, from the 29th September to the 14th of October 2019
  • D1, 29/9: Yangon
  • D2, 30/9: Yangon
  • D3, 01/10: Yangon
  • D4, 02/10: Yangon Loikaw Daw Ta Ma Gyi Loikaw
  • D5, 03/10: Loikaw and the ethnics villages
  • D6, 04/10: Loikaw, Sagar, Inle Lake
  • D7, 05/10: Inle Lake + Phaung Daw Oo festival
  • D8, 06/10: Inle Lake + Phaung Daw Oo festival
  • D9, 07/10: Inle Lake, Heho, Bagan
  • D10, 08/10: Bagan
  • D11, 09/10: Bagan, Pakokku, Monywa
  • D12, 10/10: Monywa, Mandalay, Amarapura
  • D13, 11/10: Mandalay
  • D14, 12/10: Mandalay, Sagaing, Amarapura
  • D15, 13/10: Mandalay, Kyauk Se, Mandalay
  • D16, 14/10: Flight to Yangon, departure
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