Travelers of South East Asia are likely to find themselves drawn to Myanmar. An up and coming country, Myanmar opened its doors to tourists in the last decade and, despite being a slow starter, is gaining traction with some of the most untouched regions and culturally rich areas to be found in Asia.
During the middle of April, the temperatures in Myanmar skyrocket. The average daily temperature is around 40°c and often pushes past the 42°c mark. While this may sound somewhat unbearable, the Myanmar people use this period of intense heat to hold an amazing new-year-water-festival called the Thingyan festival.
The only way to describe Thingyan is to think water fight on a mass scale. The whole country comes alive with people hurling as much water onto each other as possible. No one is safe, not even those driving. During a brief tour on an E-Bike, I found my bike and myself continuously splashed, and oftentimes soaked, while travelling from destination to destination.
The water is refreshing and almost makes one wonder why all hot countries don’t hold a festival like this to deal with the intense heat.
In Yangon, visitors can find the Kandawgyi Lake, this mass body of water is host to one of the best parties I think I have ever been to. With views of the magnificent Karaweik Hall and beers that only cost around 70 pence, it was not hard to fall in with the crowd and have a dance.
The border of the lake is lined with large platforms and the water from the lake is pumped onto the platforms, anyone higher off the ground has the opportunity to take a hold of the firemen’s hoses and spray the dancers below. Needless to say I was below and withing seconds I was absolutely drenched. Sidenote – take ziplocs for your valuables.
The music is great, with the best of the western artists playing with absolutely no censoring involved. You can literally see children and adults alike screaming “fuck me like the Fourth of July” with practically no understanding of what’s being said.
The most noticeable thing about this part of the festival is the welcoming nature of the Myanmar people. As previously stated, Myanmar has not been open to tourists for very long, but damn do they know how to make you feel welcome at the party!
The whole time I spent at the lake I saw maybe five other Caucasian people, which to be perfectly honest was a little refreshing. It gives you an opportunity to really blend in with the locals. That being said, being Caucasian in Myanmar is like being Brad Pitt at the Oscars; everyone wants to be seen with you and everyone wants to dance with you at the lake. Groups would literally grab my travel partner and I as if we were status symbols and show us off to the other groups.
This leads me to the “wang” in the title. If you do your research on Myanmar you’ll see that being LGBT is not legal, however the law is not regularly enforced. Clearly some of the Myanmar men and women were gay, and some of them were dancing with us at the lake. Whether it be alcohol, libido or just the joy of the festival, while we were dancing with one particular group, one or two of the men took it upon themselves to explore their sexual desires, a phrase which here means grab a hold of my travel buddies penis and have as good of a play as one can have before being pushed away. Now we are no strangers to LGBT culture and we were certainly not offended in any way, but it was an oddity of sorts to see a man in a country like Myanmar take no precautions when clearly trying to make a move. What was more of an oddity was the fact that even after several no-thankyou’s the man in question tried harder and harder to get his hand onto ones private area.
All in good fun, and with no judgement from us, we sauntered off to a few different groups before the sun and the beer took its toll. If anything, it was interesting to see how the Myanmar people approach a situation like that, clearly with a balls to the wall attitude.
The festival was amazing fun and in all honesty the groping was more comical than anything. I’m a firm believer that when in another country, you should act and respect as the natives do, and while I’m most certainly not saying go out and grope, I think it’s important to see the comical side, understand the people and learn from the experience.
Thingyan Festival 2016: April 13th – April 16th
Photo’s courtesy of my travel buddy Pete. Check out his site for more of his excellent photography – WanderPi!