Myanmar is a vibrant country full of lively people, ready for a celebration at any time. It’s a good thing too, as the country’s calendar is chock-full of festivals revolving around the lunar cycle.
Getting to witness or even partake in a festival in Myanmar is a thrilling experience, and one that isn’t had by many foreigners. Adventurous travelers ready to immerse themselves in local culture and tradition will be lavishly rewarded by the wild celebrations that await them.
As the festivals depend on the lunar calendar, dates change annually, but no matter what, you can always count on a good time when attending a festival in Myanmar.
Here are 10 of the best festivals in Myanmar that anyone would be lucky to experience!
10 Festivals in Myanmar You Can’t Miss
Kachin Manaw Festival
Held in the Kachin State each January, the Kachin Manaw Festival is how local people ring in the new year.
During the celebration, giant, decorated Manaw poles are set up in the center of the festival area for people to dance around. The dancing and poles signify tribes coming back together and victories won in battle. This is a special time for the Kachin people as members of the seven tribes travel far and wide to participate in the festival.
Local people are clad in traditional garb filled with bright colors and costumes. It’s a lively time that shouldn’t be missed if you’re traveling to Myanmar at the start of the new year!
Ananda Pagoda Festival
Where: Ananda Pagoda, Bagan
While there are many famous pagoda festivals in Bagan, the Ananda Pagoda Festival is certainly the most popular.
This week-long festival generally happens during January and people from all over Bagan come and set up camps for the entire celebration.
During this time, there are lots of acts put on by local theater troupes and plenty of traditional food to go around. But what’s really stands out about this festival is that while the celebration is going on, 1,000 priests chant sacred writings for a full 72 hours!
Thingyan Water Festival
The most popular and fun festival in Myanmar has got to be Thingyan Water Festival, celebrated by taking to the streets and engaging in a giant water fight! It lasts for four to five days before the final Myanmar New Year celebration.
Thingyan is basically like Thailand’s Songkran. Stages are set up in the streets, truck beds are full of buckets of water and everywhere you look, water is sloshing out of toy guns. There’s loud music, dancing, and a whole lot of excitement during this festival!
The throwing of water symbolizes cleansing people of their past sins, but if you’re participating, be mindful not to toss water on monks or elderly people.
Shittaung Pagoda Festival
Where: Mrauk U
If you find yourself in Myanmar in April, make your way to Mrauk U to witness the Shittaung Pagoda Festival.
This traditional pagoda festival is the most popular one for the Rakhine people.
During this time, people go to the pagoda to light candles and offer flowers to pay their respects. But this festival is really all about fun as the Rakhine people put on traditional dances, have thrilling boat races, and even hold boxing competitions when they’re not at the pagoda!
Getting to Mrauk U is a long journey, but it’s completely worth it to learn about the pagodas and monasteries in the area while watching traditional wonders.
Throughout Myanmar, you can find people celebrating the Kason Festival come May, celebrating the birth of none other than Buddha himself.
The festival happens during the full moon, which is not only when Buddha was born, but when he reached Enlightenment as well.
To commemorate these special days, the Bodhi trees in pagodas throughout Myanmar are watered by pilgrims to keep them fresh throughout the torturously hot summer.
During this festival, you can see people of all ages dressed in their finest clothes parading and sitting on large platforms at their local pagodas. Younger folks walk to the pagoda with pots balanced on their heads or sitting in their hands, full of water for the tree just next to the platform.
It’s really a remarkable sight to behold as everyone comes out in their best clothes simply to water a tree and walk in processions. It’s a moving day that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Myanmar in May!
Waso Chinlone Festival
A festival of a different kind, Waso Chinlone pays tribute to a royal sports game that was played in ancient times. This festival has been going on for over 90 years in the Mandalay region and is an exciting time for both players and spectators alike.
In 2019, the festival had over 1,000 teams from all over Myanmar competing at the grounds near the Mahamuni Pagoda!
So what exactly are they playing? In a game similar to soccer, players kick around a ball but instead of passing it on the ground back and forth, they try to keep it in the air as long as possible.
In terms of unique festivals in Myanmar, Waso Chinlone may take the cake!
Taungbyone Nat Festival
While Myanmar is a widely Buddhist country, there is still a large population that believes in Nats which are spirits that guide humans in life.
The Taungbyone Nat Festival celebrates two of the most well-known spirits through drinking, dancing, and eating delicious local food in hopes of bringing on good luck. It’s a lively time when those who believe in Nat bring beer, money, and fried chicken to the shamans who act as vessels for the spirits.
During this festival, you’re likely to see people dressed in wild costumes depicting spirits for performances and dance shows that go late into the night.
Taungbyone Nat Festival is certainly one of the most boisterous and colorful events of the year in Myanmar, with more than 10,000 people (a healthy mix of tourists and locals) in attendance and an entire week full of celebrations!
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
Where: Inle Lake
If your travel plans in Myanmar include hitting Inle Lake in October, you’re in for a treat as this is the time and place of the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival.
Spanning across three weeks, this festival is dedicated to Buddha. Four of his images are removed from the pagoda and rowed around Inle Lake on a barge moved by foot rowers (yes, they row the boat with their foot!). The boat travels to 14 villages so everyone can have a chance to see the Buddhas and pay their respects.
At each stop, the villages meet the boat with crazy excitement to welcome the barge which will stay overnight.
Another standout part of the festival are the rowing competitions, Shan dances, and martial arts that are performed in each boat!
Thadingyut Festival of Lights
When: October / November
While it doesn’t get cold in Myanmar, the three-day Thadingyut Festival of Lights during the full moon signifies the beginning of winter and the end of Buddhist Lent. It also commemorates Buddha’s return to paradise after living among mortals.
It’s certainly one of the most beautiful festivals in Myanmar as the sky is lit up with an unbelievable number of lanterns that have been released by people down below. If you have a chance to enjoy this festival, you can either watch locals lighting their lanterns or make one of your own and create your own offering!
Besides the lanterns, the skies are lit up with fireworks and string lights. This is the one time you may actually be happy about one of Myanmar’s infamous power outages so that all you can see are the lights in the sky! Plus, when this happens, windows are lit up with candles instead of blinking string lights.
Taunggyi Balloon Festival
A final festival Myanmar that is simply remarkable is Tanggyi Balloon Festival which is held all over the country to celebrate the end of the rainy season. As you look up in the sky, you’ll see thousands of paper balloons lit by candles soaring over Myanmar – especially fun if you send a balloon up yourself!
The balloons are meant to chase away evil spirits and bring happiness and positivity to the people of Myanmar — how sweet is that?
This is one of the most popular festivals in the country because besides the balloons, there’s tons of beer, food, and loud music pumping through the night.
If you’re in Myanmar during November, this is something that can’t be missed! Just be sure to book your accommodation well in advance as hotels sell out quickly for these dates.
Getting Around Myanmar
Myanmar is a shockingly large country and as it’s largely underdeveloped, getting around can be a little tricky. That being said, there are still plenty of buses, boats, and cars to get you where you’re going.
Flymya is your best bet when it comes to traveling in Myanmar as it has the best flight prices for flying around the country. There’s also an option to book a private car through the website, which is convenient if you’re taking a day trip or traveling somewhere nearby!
When traveling around Myanmar, roads are rough so be sure to always wear your seatbelt in cars and bring along motion sickness pills if you get car sick!
After seeing all the amazing festivals in Myanmar, aren’t you just aching to get out there? There are so many to enjoy, it’s hard to keep track of them all, but what they all have in common is they’re vibrant times to celebrate with local people!
My biggest advice if you’re planning a trip to Myanmar is to check out what festivals are going on during the time you’re there and make a point to attend, Getting to engage with local people and see their traditions and culture in this way is an unparalleled, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Looking for more on Myanmar? Check out these articles
- Yangon Itinerary: A 3-Day Guide to the Best of Yangon
- Why You Need to Visit Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago Now
- Best Things to Do in Myanmar Off the Beaten Path
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