As the leaves turn golden before falling to the ground and a crisp chill sets into the evenings, one can’t help but feel that autumn is just a (very pretty) fanfare of the looming winter. Whilst I love the warm autumnal colours that set the trees ablaze at this time of year, I can’t help but here them whispering, as they sway in the wind, “winter is coming, winter is coming…” Some would call me a pessimist, personally I prefer to think that I just am a very loyal, die-hard fan of summer.
Either way, for me the highlight of winter is Christmas – which conveniently falls smack bang in the middle of those long cold nights. My mother planted a theory with me as a child (when I’m sure we should have been regaling tales of Mar and Joseph’s epic journey to Jerusalem) that Christmas may just have been created in December to cheer us all up… a month of gifting and boozing to get us through the hardest months of the year. It stuck with me.
The colours, the lights, the mulled wine, it all just makes winter feel rather tolerable, even pleasant. And it is with this in mind that it dawned upon me to share some important information… we don’t have to wait until December to start the festive season! If you, like me, are not quite ready to say cheerio to the long sunny days and warm evenings, I have a suggestion… head to Myanmar (Burma)… right now.
The next few months are the best time to visit Myanmar for Festivals… here you don’t have to wait until December to start the festive season! Following the three-month Buddhist Lent the country is now coming to life with all sorts of colourful and unique celebrations from September to November making it the perfect time to visit – and by happy coincidence, it also marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of blue, sunny skies!
From colourful parades that include giant papier-mâché animals dancing through the streets and the festival of lights where candles light up every home and shop throughout the towns and villages, it is a really unique time to be in the country.
See 50 or 60 people move a huge barge (standing up and rowing with one leg) as they take sacred Buddha images across the majestic Inle Lake in the first two weeks of October – quite a sight to behold! Or marvel at the sight of huge papier-mâché hot air balloons in all shapes and sizes filling the sky before exploding into fireworks in all directions in the Taunggyi balloon festival in November (my personal fave).
So, without further ado, here’s a little a summary of the (sunny!) festivities that are taking place in Burma from now until Christmas:
Manuha Pagoda Festival (Bagan – 12th to 14th September 2019)
Expect to be gifted rice cakes and pickled winter melons during this festival! Also, colourful papier-mâché figures competitions take place during the Manuha Pagoda Festival and you will see a parade of colours around the city in the forms of the Manuha King, tigers, cows, elephants, horses, etc.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival (Inle Lake – 29th September to 16th October 2019)
A spectacular festival whereby boats with up to 50 or 60 leg rowers pull a barge with sacred Buddha images from one village to the other on the lake. Try to be in a private boat on the lake and ask the boatman to find out where the procession will be passing and you can be sure to make some great images. Be sure to add a few days here to relax too.
Dancing elephant festival (Kyaukse – 12th to 14th October 2019)
Kyaukse, about 3 hours’ drive from Bagan (same distance from Mandalay) is famous for the big papier-mâché elephant costumes made there. Two men wearing the elephant costume perform acrobatic dancing on the streets.. it is excellent fun and rest assured no real elephants are involved in the celebrations!
Thadingyut festival of lights (Nationwide – 12nd to 14th October 2019)
The end of the Buddhist Lent is a time to pay respect to parents, teachers and elderly people. On the full moon day of October (often the middle of October) houses and pagodas are lit with candles. If you’re in the country on this day, light a candle near your hotel and walk around the city in the evening (or visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon if you happen to be there) and enjoy the magical atmosphere.
Shinpin Sagyo Pagoda Festival (Salay – 20th to 24th July 2019 and 21st to 24th October 2019)
Shinpin Sagyo pagoda located in Salay (1.5 hrs.’ drive from Bagan) celebrates this festival twice a year where thousands of pilgrims from the different villages participate in alms offering to the pagoda and monks. You can visit the market as local vendors selling local snacks, seasonal fruits and goods.
Shwezigon Pagoda festival (Bagan – 29th October to 12th November 2019)
This is a temple festival attended by thousands of villagers from the whole region. The highlight is the procession of hundreds of monks collecting donations on the full moon day of Thazaungdine.
Taunggyi balloon festival (Taunggyi: 03rd to 12th November 2019)
Taunggyi is famous for the Thazaungdine celebrations when huge papier-mâché hot air balloons (in different shapes) are launched from the crowded festival field in Taunggyi. Once the balloon reaches a height of about 20 meter the fireworks attached to the balloons are launched in all directions. A fun and spectacular festival which you should try to join if you’re in Inle Lake area. Don’t get too close to the launch site of the balloons, hot dripping wax (or fire cracker) tend to fall on the crowd.
Thazaungdine festival of lights (Nationwide – 10th to 12th November 2019)
This is the time that yellow robes (and many other monks’ accessories) are offered to monks around the country. During the days prior to the festival, you will see bamboo poles with donations (including bank notes folded in beautiful shapes). On the evening of the festival, hot air balloons are launched throughout the country and most of the temples organise weaving competitions. A good time to be in any medium sized town in Myanmar.
Burma is a magical country at any time of the year (all of our customers return hopelessly in love with this special place) but combine it with a once-in-a-lifetime festival and get ready for fireworks. Literally. Get in touch if you want some help planning a sunny festive getaway before the festive season gets underway here…
Love Delia x
PS/Disclaimer: The Myanmar festive season sadly does not come with mince pies, although there are plenty of other delectable treats on offer.