In April, Myanmar celebrates it’s new year in a spectacular event called Thingyan or Water Festival. For five days (recently cut down from 10), people take to the streets with buckets of water, water guns, water balloons, and an exuberant spirit and commence in a country wide water fight.
I’ve been told the reason for this is to cleanse yourself from any “sins” or negativity from the previous year. This is a wonderful sentiment, but is sometimes hard to remember when you’re completely drenched for five days straight. To take advantage of the substantial time off from work teaching English, I traveled to Bagan, Mandalay, Ngapali, and Inle Lake during and a bit after this holiday.
These are four of the top destinations people visit when traveling to Myanmar. I’d like to share my experiences and photos with you below and hope you’ll be excited to explore them yourself!
Bagan is by far one of the most incredible places I’ve ever traveled. Thought to have first been built in the 9th century, Bagan is a spectacular sight filled with temples and pagodas sprawled across the desert landscape (I recommend you Google immediately).
There are only a fraction of the temples originally thought to have existed there, but this doesn’t retract from the magic of Bagan. We arrived early Wednesday morning, fresh off a night bus and eager to get exploring. My boyfriend and I rented motorbikes as soon as we checked into our hostel and were on the road before 7:30 a.m. We cruised around back dirt roads as we drove past the absolutely breathtaking structures.
Every site we visited was completely different. Some were very large, filled with small shops inside and too many tourists (but still completely beautiful) and some were truly off the beaten path and you couldn’t see another person in sight. Many of the temples here are also being refurbished and appear under construction, something that is highly contested–whether it is better to maintain the dilapidated beauty or to continually upkeep the temples but lose the original charm.
We spent three days exploring this magical place and I’m totally taken by it. I would go back in a heartbeat and I know there’s still so much I have to explore. Below are just a few of my pictures, it’s quite the photogenic place.
Mandalay is the second biggest city in Myanmar. We didn’t do too much exploring here as we were just celebrating the holiday, but we still had an amazing time. We spent two full days in Mandalay during the height of Water Festival, one of which was my absolute favorite day I’ve had living abroad so far.
We had experienced a taste of Water Fest in Bagan, but we didn’t realize how insane it was until we got to Mandalay. In Bagan, people would whip water at you while you rode past on motorbikes and while it was unpleasant, you eventually dried off. In Mandalay, it was full on water insanity. It felt like a giant street fair that you would see in the States but more ridiculous.
Lined up along the canal were endless stages, each one blasting dance music and equipped with powerful water guns. We were instantly soaked. We spent the whole day running through the stages, taking over one hundred selfies with strangers who were mystified that foreigners would engage in this craziness, making friends with locals, and being a part of this special Myanmar tradition. By the end of the day, we were completely exhausted and had definitely contracted some illnesses, but it was an unforgettable experience.
Ngapali is one of the gorgeous beaches in Rakhine state. Myanmar might not be known for its beaches like Thailand, but they are definitely worth a visit. There are many along the coast that are only a bus ride away from Yangon.
I traveled here with my parents and relaxed on the beach for the weekend. We indulged in excellent, fresh seafood and rented motorbikes to explore some local fishing villages. It was a great way to get out of Yangon and relax for a bit while also sharing Myanmar culture with my parents.
The following weekend I traveled with my parents again to Inle Lake. Similar to Bagan, there’s something undeniably special about Inle. We began our stay here by visiting a local winery and a market, both great ways to see how people utilize local products.
Our hotel was quite spectacular and entirely built on stilts over the lake, as all the houses around Inle are. To get around the lake for the following days, we cruised around in a long, wooden fishing boat. We visited many different villages around the lake that all produced different things from silk to cigars to metal farming tools.
We went to a bustling floating market and also saw the floating gardens, an incredibly inventive way to make use of the watery landscape. My favorite part of the whole trip was probably just driving around in the boat. You can observe the fisherman and villages as the mountains roll past in the background. It was a stunning and memorable weekend.
These are just a few of the places you can travel to around Myanmar; they each hold something special and are entirely different from one another. I’m so glad I’ve gotten to do this exploring so far and I hope you want to come see more of this beautiful country too!