Myanmar maybe a little tricky and expensive to drive your car through but it certainly is worth it. We timed our trip well, making sure we were there for the country’s New Year water festival.
Like most of South-east Asia, Myanmar celebrates it’s New-Year in April with a week long festival of water throwing, hosepipe soaking and beer drinking! During the celebrations it is impossible to walk down the street without someone tipping an icy cold bucket of water over you: great in the +40°C heat, not so great if you have your phone in your pocket!
To remedy this we purchased waterproof zip-lock dry-bags for our phones and armed with our waterproof Go-Pro we headed out onto the street! In under a minute we were drenched!
Thingyan, as it is officially known, originates from the Buddhist version of a Hindu myth. As we learnt in India, Hindu mythology has some pretty ‘interesting’ stories. Long story short… The King of Brahmas lost a bet to the King of Devas, Sakra aka Thagya Min, who then decapitated The King of Brahmas but then a head of an elephant was put onto the Brahma's body who then became Ganesha (The elephant god). The Brahma was so powerful that if the head were thrown into the sea it would dry up immediately. If it were thrown onto land it would be scorched. If it were thrown up into the air the sky would burst into flames. Sakra aka Thagya Min therefore ordained that the Brahma's head be carried by one princess Devi after another taking turns for a year each. The new-year henceforth has come to signify the changing of hands of the Brahma's head.
Thingyan truly arrives on the second day of celebrations when the King of Devas, Sakra aka Thagya Min makes his descent from his celestial abode to earth. At a given signal, a cannon is fired and people come out with pots of water and then pour the water onto the ground with a prayer.
A prophecy for the new-year will have been announced by the brahmins and this is based on what animal Sakra aka Thagya Min will be riding on his way down and what he might carry in his hand. Children will be told that if they have been good Thagya Min will take their names down in a golden book but if they have been naughty their names will go into a book made from dog!
Then the water throwing begins! The water festival is now symbolic of cleansing ones sins for the coming year, or an excuse to get drunk and act like a child! Which suits me just fine!
Truckloads of partygoers cruise around fully armed with a trough of icy water and buckets looking for unsuspected dry pedestrians. No one is spared! Many houses, workplaces and hotels, ours included, get into the spirit of things with huge sound-systems blaring the same two songs over and over. A huge water trough was placed outside and we duly took our turn at soaking anyone and everyone who passed: pedestrian, scooter rider and car!
All this merriment is great for the first two days, after that it all gets a bit tiresome. I must have committed a fair few sins last year for the soaking I received! In +40°C heat and with no air-con in Bee-bee we were forced to drive with the windows wound up in fear of 10L buckets of water being launched into our car as we drove past! With temperatures in the car over +50°C we were literally melting inside! From early morning into the darkness of night drunken partygoers are dancing dangerously on the edge of the road! Small kids, often unsupervised, are also throwing themselves, along with a bucket, into the road to try and soak you as you cautiously drive past. We were lucky, most scooter riders normally take a dangerous drenching regardless of sex, speed, age, whether or not they are carrying a small baby whilst sat sidesaddle or already saturated.
The whole fiasco goes on for 7 days, culminating in a huge party on the eve of the 7th day, which actually was a lot of fun! Most big cities organise huge street parties and stages, fully armed with water cannons where thousands of revellers come to enjoy the free show, get soaked and sink a few beers; slightly more fun than a drunken verse of Auld Lang Syne and watching fireworks on the TV.