The Champagne Backpacker: Michael's Round the World Trip 2005-2007-- The Adventure of a Lifetime travel blog

Thingyan, Myanmar's Water Festival Celebrating The Buddhist New Year

Water Festival

Mr. Hollywood

Stage In Front of Yangon City Hall

Getting Ready To Get Wet

Cars Line Up In Front Of Yangon City Hall To Get Sprayed...

Shwedagon Paya, Yangon's Landmark Temple, At Dusk

Shwedagon Paya

Shwedagon Paya

Enjoying Thingyan

Trishaw--Myanmar's Version Of The Cycle Rickshaw Where Passengers Sit Back-To-Back

Botataung Paya After Dark

125,000 Myanmar Kyat Equivalent To US$100 (Myanmar's Largest Bill Is The 1000...

I arrived in Yangon on the first day of Thingyan, Myanmar's four day water festival celebrating the Buddhist New Year (Similar festivals are held in Thailand and Laos). The festival is celebrated by throwing or squirting water on everyone in the streets. Tourists are not immune from getting wet. Temporary stages with corporate sponsorship lined many of the main thoroughfares of the city, with people on the stages (presumably employees, family, and friends of the corporate sponsors) spraying water at vehicles full of people. While rock music plays from the stages, mostly young people, soaking wet, are dancing in the street. Everyone is having a great time. Water is supposed to cleanse the body and spirit for the Buddhist New Year.

Due to the festival holiday, everything was closed except for some restaurants and street vendors. So it would be difficult to get a sense of the "real" Myanmar until after the festival.

About half the men wear traditional sarongs called "longyi" instead of pants. Unlike sarongs, it's sewn together in a tube shape and tucked in at the waist. Most of the women wear a tan colored powdered bark called "thanakha" on their faces that serve as a combination make-up and sunscreen. Mens' teeth often are black and red in color due their chewing and spitting of betel, made from chopped nut and a paste of slaked lime. Several locals have commented to me on how nice and white my teeth were.

Another interesting thing of note to first time visitors is that they drive on the right-hand side of the road here. However, being a former British colony, most of the cars are left-hand drive (steering wheel on the right side). (This is the similar driving situation found in the U.S. Virgin Islands). Apparently, at some point, the government decided that it was more auspicious to drive on the right-hand side. They don't honk their horns--at least in Yangon. According to a taxi driver, honking your horn will get you fined. (I also noticed a lack of horn honking in Bangkok).

Food is generally pretty cheap. I ate lunch at a sidewalk stall (mostly fried stuff) and it cost 300 Kyat (US$0.24). The current street exchange rate is about 1250 Kyat to US$1. Everyone exchanges on the street--usually your guesthouse. At the end of 2005, the exchange rate was 1000 Kyat to US$1, so tourists' buying power has increased by 25 percent over the last six months. There are continuous money changing offers in the street because the Kyat keeps depreciating against the dollar. Beer, in 650 ml bottles, costs 1500 Kyat (US$1.20). Entrees in restaurants average 600-2000 Kyat (US$0.50-1.60). Travellers visiting Myanmar must bring US dollars (no Euros, Thai Baht, etc.). In addition, the notes must be clean with no tears or blemishes; otherwise, the notes are not accepted. This standard does not apply to Kyat, however. There are no ATMs as Western banks have all pulled out of the country due to the economic embargo imposed by the United States.

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