This five-day festival leading up to the full moon is most convenient if your trip to Myanmar is in late February to early March. During the festival, weavers compete to loom the most cloth for monks. Visitors come from all over the country to make offerings during the festival at the country's most sacred pagoda.
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda's Festival (Inle Lake—October/November)
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda's Festival in Inle Lake is the country's largest, celebrated over nearly three weeks on sublime Inle Lake during October and November. The festival has been a feature of our Myanmar Photography trips for several years.
Taunggyi Hot Air (Fire) Balloon (Tazaungdaing) Festival (Inle Lake/Taunggyi—November)
This popular, well-attended festival hosted by the Pa-O tribal community is famous for the releasing of gigantic hot air balloons into the air. The event takes place during the October/November near Inle Lake in the regional capital Taunggyi during the new moon on the 8th month of the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated as a national holiday in the country, marking the end of the rainy season. It also marks the end of the Kathina (Kahtein in Burmese) period, during which monks are given new robes and alms.
At the festival, the fiery and colorful balloons which can come in various shapes such as birds, tigers, and some are big as a house are prepared and launched into the night sky. The balloons are released as an offering to the Sulamani Cetiya in Tavitisma, a heaven in Buddhist cosmology and home of the devas, or as a way to drive away evil spirits. However, the origins of the balloons launching tradition dates back only recently to 1894, when the British held the first hot air balloon competitions in Taunggyi, capital of the Shan State, soon after the annexing Upper Burma. There are also parades, carnival games, concerts, feasts, and massive fireworks with the last two days being the most interesting. Villagers from around the region congregate for this important festival and we have arranged travelers to attend the festival in Taunggyi for many years.
View a video of the festival below by photographer Richard Curtis.
Thadingyut Festival of Lights (countrywide—September/October)
Myanmar's second most popular national festival, after Thingyan, celebrates the end of the Buddhist lent, the three-month Buddhist period time, during which all monks and novices must remain in their temples and typically marks the end of the rainy season.
The 3-day event is held on the full moon day of the Burmese Lunar month of Thadingyut in September/October. The event takes place at pagodas all over the country but is most spectacular in Yangon and Inle Lake. Feasting and performances compliment the lighting of lanterns and candles.
Tazaungmon Festival (countrywide—November)
A one day full moon festival during the eighth month of the lunar calendar falls within the month of November. The celebration is marked by monk's robe weaving competitions and parades, and lighting of candles set adrift on waterways.
Kachin New Year Festival (Myitkyina & Putao—March)
Kachin is location of the delightful Manaw festival. Kachin, the hill people or the "Scots of Myanmar," celebrate this most popular March event, a celebration of the new year, victories in battle, and the reunion of the tribes. Events include line dancing around traditional poles (similar to totem poles of North American Indians). Colorful tribal costumes are on full display. Manaw festival is held in Myitkyina and Putao in Kachine State. It's also an ideal time and location to visit the Himalayan foothills around Putao, for light hiking and clear views of the mountains.
Ananda Pagoda (Bagan—January)
This is a convenient and popular festival in Bagan during January. Celebrated during the first full moon, evening entertainment includes traditional zats (a variety of dance, song, short and long plays) and anyeints (a performance of jokers and jesters who caricature current social and politicial topics). The festival also hosts a large flea market where all kinds of goods, some of them are locally produced, are sold. The most popular event at the festival is the parade of bullock carts into the pagoda compound. It is most popular around the peak full moon day the second week in January.
Naga New Year Festival (Sagaing—January)
High up on the mountains of remote Northwest Myanmar are the Naga, one of the over one hundred and fifty different ethnnic tribes in Myanmar.
During this 5-day New Year celebration, cups of rice wine are toasted and emptied as bison and wild boar meat are roasted. Powerful tribal dances are performed to the loud beating of drums (right). Visitors are not only welcome but to join in as honored guests as is the traditional custom of the Naga. This festival is as off the grid as you can get, with overnight in traditional tents or hut.
Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda Festival (Golden Rock—October)
The Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda Festival is a special festival of lights celebration taking placce on the Full Moon Day of Thadingyut when locals proceed with the lighting of 9,000 candles and 9,000 flower offerings to the Buddha. On the next morning, rice, sweets and other snacks are offered. The platform and passage of the pagoda are usually filled with visitors from all over the country. A visit to the Golden Rock and pagoda are part of this side trip. Thadingyut usually falls in October, depending on the lunar calendar when the weather can be cooler up on the mountain.
Floating Light Festival (Shwe Kyin, Bago—October)
Similar to fire kites of the Loi Kratong festival in Thailand, lights, usually candles are released onto water as a ritual for bringing good luck, a picturesque sight to view the floating candles float away. The day long festival features boat racing. traditional dances and songs performed from boats on the Shwe Kyin River. In the evening, fireworks light up the sky over the river. In Located in the small town of Shwe Kyin north of Bago, an ideal festival to combine with the Belmond Orcaella cruise.
Thingyan Water Festival (New Years—April)
Southeast Asia's most raucous festival, as in Thailand and Cambodia, Thingyan celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year. The festival, which has traditional roots as a cleansing celebration, takes place annually in mid-April. when locals take to the streets dousing each other with water as they welcome in the Buddhist new year with a fresh beginning. Mostly younger people eagerly participate in water throwing by buckets, water guns, hoses or any method possible.
It's an especially boisterous time in Yangon and Mandalay, where the celebration has become virtually unrecognizable from its past traditions. In these places, cars and trucks full of young people, playfully throw water onto each other, the backdrop of water and celebration primarily serving to facilitate courtships. Indeed, ask any young Burmese when they met their partner and the answer is likely to be Thingyan. During your trip, however, we'll plan celebrate the annual festivities in small villages where the festival is more subdued and traditionally expressed.
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San Francisco at (415) 731-4377, or in Hanoi contact us at (84-4) 3562-6665